To some, death is a morbid affair. To others, it remains a mysterious concept, and offers a chance to serve others. Despite how we feel about it, a question that haunts many of us is, who will be there when it's our time to go? One compassionate woman has taken it upon herself to witness the exit of those who leave this world entirely alone. Jeane Trend-Hill from Islington in London has attended the funerals of hundreds of people she has never met, who had no friends or family to mourn them.
Trend-Hill, now 55, knew loss early on—her father passed away when she was just 14, and her mother when she was 20. Back in 2012, Trend-Hill entered what she thought was a pretty church, and walked straight into a funeral service. Her Catholic sensibilities had taught her that it was bad to leave, and so she stayed at the back, and was moved by the experience. Not long afterwards, a cemetery worker reached out to her and asked her to attend a funeral for a veteran who had no one to attend, and so she went along. That single act of kindness started something that kept expanding—from then on, at the cemetery she often visited, workers began asking her to be there for funerals of deceased people who had no relatives. Although she has lost the exact count, she has been the representative mourner at well over 200 funerals of complete strangers. “I realized that everyone has a story to tell, everyone has lived a life and should have someone around to remember them when they die,” Trend-Hill says.
Trend-Hill is an actress, an artist, and a photographer. Death with the rituals and symbols that surround it intrigues her, and she has spent hours sketching and photographing London's eerie and beautiful Victorian cemeteries. “I've always been fascinated with death, since I was a child,” Trend-Hill says. She has an eye for the mysterious and unearthly beauty that surrounds death, and has come to see cemeteries as outdoor art galleries. She acknowledges the importance of forgotten people, and for them to have someone to witness their exit at the end.
Trend-Hill spends time tidying and maintaining graveyards, and she has visited cemeteries across the world. Her unusual passion has led her to earn her PhD in mortuary science, to enable her to work as a cemetery historian. Her book, One Designer Clad Foot in the Grave, tells of her path from a happy childhood growing up in London, to how domestic abuse and a chronic illness turned her life upside down, and how she subsequently became an award-winning photographer, got involved with monument restoration and preservation, and was asked to act in films after being spotted by a film director in a cemetery.
Now that her penchant for cemeteries and funeral services is well-known, Trend-Hill gets invitations to attend send-offs on Facebook, and she will even wear a mourning dress if people ask her to.”Death has never worried me,” Trend-Hill admits. “I hope I can make death feel less scary for people. It’s my way of giving something back.”