Don't dare to bury me in blue jeans: Mark Crowther, an Aids sufferer, does not want his family and friends to agonise over his funeral. So he's organising it himself. He talked to Andrew Morgan

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Indy Lifestyle Online
TAP A code into Mark Crowther's word processor and out comes a frenetic print-out with the neatly spaced heading: Funeral Arrangements.

It is for himself. Living with Aids at the age 28, he gives himself a few years at most before friends will have to carry out these stark last wishes. 'It's intended to help them to organise the grand send-off,' he says. 'So many are lost on what to do at that stage.'

The programme, he admits, reads a little like a Desert Island Discs and he even has a luxury: a perfume called Bal a Versailles. This is to be sprayed over his coffin before he is cremated with Sandra, an ageing toy bear.

The print-out says he must not be dressed in blue jeans, rather white or cream (ready pressed in his wardrobe). Flowers are to be mainly white and restrained, with no Baby's Breath - a small, wispy flower. A single wreath will

top the coffin and donations will go to Body Positive, an HIV support group of which he is a

director.

Importantly, the local Co-op must not organise the funeral, for which he will pay. 'Pure snobbery, but there you go.'

Such arrangements are part of a pioneering approach among those with Aids to make their funerals more of a celebration, highlighting the sounds and smells that gave them pleasure.

'I've tried to accommodate as many of the senses as I can, making it a total experience,' Mark says. 'It's the last thing people will remember of me and it has to be right.'

Hospice priests comforting those dying from other diseases have discussed funerals in the past but surely never down to the detail of the music list for the post-funeral party.

Aids counsellors welcome the new attitude because friends rarely broach the subject of funerals. 'Families feel it will be too painful,' says Anna Harris, a

former 'Buddy' to people with Aids. 'But not knowing the dead person's wishes is even more

disturbing.'

Mark Crowther was in that position when his mother died suddenly in her fifties. Nobody knew her favourite hymns or poems and the family was at a loss.

'I saw the anguish my father went through, not knowing what she wanted. We even had no

idea whether she wanted to be cremated.'

Anna Harris adds: 'Everybody knows a different side of the person and it's hard to judge what they would have liked. Stress is reduced if the dying person chooses.'

The idea for listing arrangements emerged last year when Positive Theatre, a theatre group of six men with HIV including Mark, toured the country describing their experiences.

One actor has just died, leaving his requests for records and readings, and this was adhered to at a cremation in south London.

For Mark, compiling his list was depressing at first, but then became enjoyable. He saw his funeral as theatre, working on the service at his flat in Brixton, where he lives alone.

Framed Queen Victoria prints hang on the walls, an interest going back to childhood. There is a wooden model of a cottage, based on his grandmother's on the Welsh borders. Chinese ornaments sit above the gas fire. A half-finished tapestry leans against a grand chair, where he sits in the thin light.

Mark lives on benefits, although he is a graduate of London University, and has in the past been the manager for both a computer software firm and landscaping company.

Doodling with alternatives for his funeral, first calculations suggested the service would last three hours to fit in all the tunes and readings. It was reduced.

Hymns will be absent - he finds them too slow - and, anyway, his friends would make a hash of them. As a non-practising Christian, he would like a vicar to say a prayer or two before the cremation. 'It must be that. I'd hate to rot.'

The service (self-confessedly camp) will have introductory music from Edward the Seventh, the television series. It will give way to Victoria Wood's 'Old Man's Love Song', about an old man losing his wife, and picking up her nightie from hospital. 'It's more moving than most opera.'

'There is then a death-scene reading from Rita Mae Brown's novel Six of One. Bette Midler's version of 'Shiver Me Timbers' comes next. It's about new horizons, sailing away to something new and I've always liked the sea and water. So it fits rather well.'

A reading from Twelfth Night follows, where Feste, the clown, consoles Olivia after the death of her brother. The service will finish in camp glory with Mama Cass's 'Dream a Little Dream of Me'.

Then, as the print-out insists, it is back to his Brixton flat for a party, with strawberry liquorice laces ('my grandfather introduced them to me') to be served at some stage.

The music to be played there includes Edith Piaf's 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien', Victoria Wood's 'Fourteen Again' and the Bangles' 'Eternal Flame'.

With wistful irony, there will also be Fascinating Aida's 'The Condom Song' ('Where is your Johnny now?').

Mark thinks he may have caught the virus 10 years ago but he never lingers on the precise moment. Negative stress, he says.

He was diagnosed as having Aids three years ago, and suspects it was brought on with the trauma of his grandmother's sudden death. His father, knowing he was gay, first suspected he had Aids after he became seriously ill in late 1989 with PCP, a form of pneumonia. 'My father's been incredible - supportive without treating me as an invalid.'

Mark is still weak after contracting cryptosporidiosis, a severe stomach disease, in April. It was then, with friends hovering around, that he started to think seriously about his funeral.

He avoids foods with infection potential, such as pate or unpasteurised milk, but he still smokes. The stress of giving up, he claims, could be more damaging. His main fear is debilitation rather than pain.

Some details of his funeral still have to be tied up, such as where his ashes will go. Possibilities are near his mother's remains in a Hertfordshire cemetery or on the Shropshire-Welsh border with his grandparents. 'It may even be half and half.' There is also no

final decision on the type of

headstone.

When compiling the list, Mark realised his funeral could be fun. 'I suppose I want to be there, alive, because I think I'd really enjoy it. I want to make certain people smile and remember me in a particular light. And carry that forward with them.'

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