When nine-year-old Niamh died, her mother, Gilli Davidson, knew how she wanted to say goodbye – and her local funeral director made it possible.
Niamh Storey Davidson was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor – a rare kidney cancer affecting children – when she was six.
For nearly three years she endured treatment but kept relapsing. The family was told she was terminally ill.
- “The thought that she wouldn’t be here was unbearable,” remembers Gilli.
- “She died at home at 1:30 in the afternoon, with me and her dad.”
Gilli’s other children – including Niamh’s twin, Zach – were at school or college.
But through the blur of upset and sorrow, Gilli knew one thing clearly: she wanted to donate Niamh’s eyes, the only part of the little girl unaffected by the disease.
Organ donation is significant to Gilli’s family – as a baby, one of Niamh’s brothers had a heart transplant after contracting a serious chest infection.
She needed to act fast. By 5 pm she was in touch with Arka Original Funerals – a Brighton company that is part of a movement in the UK to re-personalise and de-industrialise death, dying and funerals.
When funeral director Cara Mair arrived with her colleague, Sarah Clarke-Kent, to pick Niamh up, there was no heavy-duty, black plastic body bag to zip her into.
She has carried away on a stretcher with a pillow, cotton shroud, and a soft felt covering appliquéd with large leaves.
“Removing someone from their home is such a hard thing for families to witness,” says Cara.
“It’s important to have something of beauty to wrap them in. A person may have died, but it’s still their shell, their vessel.”
Niamh was taken quickly to Arka’s premises, where her eyes were removed by a medical technician that same evening.
“Sarah stayed with Niamh while the procedure was done,” says Gilli. “That was a real gift because then I knew it had been done respectfully.
“The man operating told Sarah that Niamh’s eyes were beautiful and in excellent condition, so they would be given to someone else. I was pleased to hear that.”
The next day, Niamh was retaken home. Keeping a body at home before a funeral is rare in the UK, but it is not illegal.
The most important consideration is temperature. Some funeral companies supply air conditioning units in the summer months to keep a body cool, and electric cold blankets may be used as well.
But in Niamh’s case, a temperature was not an issue.