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The Woman Who Inspired ‘How To Say Goodbye’

by | Jun 12, 2019

Nikki Whiting from Co-Op Funeralcare with the novel that is inspired by her 

Yesterday I went back to where it all began  – the funeral home where my brother and I sat disbelieving on that cold November morning about to discuss plans for our dad’s cremation.

I wanted to go back to see the woman who unknowingly inspired my next novel, How To Say Goodbye, and that meant being brave and not let the memories of my previous visits there floor me.

Back then I remember crying, huddled together around an oak table in a neutrally decorated room, clutching at tissues in a complete state of disbelief. Sitting opposite my brother and I was Nikki, a calm, polite and patient lady who would be in charge of handling our father’s funeral.

This is a lady who has seen it all. The tears, outbursts, lengthy silences and even hysterical laughing do not faze her. As a Co-Op funeral arranger it is her job to help in giving dad the best send off that we could. Planning his funeral was the most adult thing I think I’ll ever so it helped having our hands held during this process.

Once that day was over and the sympathy cards stopped arriving, life was supposed to ‘move on’ but Nikki’s kindness stayed with me. So much so that when an idea for a novel looking at the way we deal (or don’t deal) with grief popped into my head, I knew who to turn to.

She kindly let me ask her question after question when I was researching the novel. I wanted to know how she finds working in a role that many wouldn’t be able to do. She told me that you need to be able to sit comfortably in silence, that you can’t fix people despite how much you want to. You can’t make their sadness go away but you can make sure their loved one receives the best care and the best goodbye possible.

You only get one chance at saying goodbye – this stuck with me and became a key thread in the novel – out on Thursday.

How To Say Goodbye is the story of Grace Salmon, a funeral arranger who deals with death everyday she doesn’t realise she is barely living. Grace is an unconventional funeral arranger who scours social media sites to build up a full picture of the person who has died in order to give them the best send off. However, she soon realises that she has discovered too much and that some things are better kept hidden.

Obviously Nikki would never go to such lengths with the services she looks after. When I met her I explained that although she inspired the novel, Grace is by no means based on her! Although, I guess that Grace’s heart is in the right place even if her methods are a little extreme.

I never imagined our paths would cross but I am so grateful that we were helped through this most devastating time with someone so compassionate. I’m in awe of those who work in the funeral industry. They meet people in the worst possible states and have to witness horrific things every day.

The day of my dad’s funeral is a bit of a blur but I know that he would have been proud with how my brother and I handled it, and that was thanks to Nikki. She is a very special person who I will never forget.

 

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