When is it time to let go of your deceased love one and move on?
I think that it depends on the person but at the emporium of G Saville & Son Funeral Directors in London a decade is still not enough and that kind of disturbs your writer here at the Final Taxi.
For ten years the funeral parlor, in a busy shopping street in North-West London, has been receiving weekly visits from two middle-aged sisters.
Valmai and Josephine Lamas visit separately but their purpose is the same. They come to see their mother, Annie, who died a decade ago aged 84.
The body of the widow has been kept refrigerated on the premises on the instructions of her two daughters and is brought into the funeral parlour’s chapel of rest each weekend for the visits.
This bizarre, but entirely legal, arrangement has cost the sisters an estimated £13,600 in fees, replacement coffins – there have been five so far – and “make-up”, including lipsticks and foundation, for their mother.
It is understood that the remains of Mrs Lamas are barely recognizable now.
When she died in 1997, the body was preserved with formaldehyde but it has deteriorated to such an extent that it is largely skeletal with some skin remaining on the upper half and head.
But that has not deterred her children. Valmai Lamas, 59, a bank worker who lives in a council flat in Harrow, three miles from the funeral parlor, visits every Saturday lunchtime to sit silently beside the coffin.
Josephine, a 66-year-old from Chiswick, West London, who works in catering, is said to attend to her mother’s make-up, lovingly applying foundation and touches of lipstick and refreshing padding in her stomach cavity.
And the rituals would have continued had it not been for a family member speaking out.
The relative, who has not been named, was quoted as saying: “Enough is enough. Valmai and Josie have been diligently visiting their mother’s corpse for more than ten years but it is getting ridiculous now.
“The body has degraded to the extent that it is just a skeleton with a bit of stretched scaly skin on the head.
“It’s horrific – like a character from a horror film that has had all its blood drained by a vampire.
“What makes it even more creepy is that the sisters still make up their mum’s gaunt leathery face with lipstick and foundation.
“They don’t seem to think what they’re doing is in any way bizarre. But it’s disturbing.”
It is a view echoed by Anglican vicar the Reverend Francis Adu-Boachie, whose church and graveyard stand directly opposite the funeral parlor.
Mr Adu-Boachie, who has been vicar of St John the Evangelist, Wembley, for six years, said: “I did not know this was happening but I worry what this is doing to the two daughters.
“They are in denial and it cannot be helping them in their grieving process. Perhaps they are numb to it now after ten years but I hope it ends for their sake.
“I have never heard of anything like this before. It is not like visiting a grave at all, it is a denial that death has happened. Most troubling.”
It is believed the extraordinary situation arose after Mrs Lamas’s daughters refused to accept that her death in 1997 was caused by a deep vein thrombosis.
According to family sources, they wanted a second opinion and asked G Saville & Son to keep the body in cold storage until they were ready to arrange her funeral.
But that day has never come. Instead, the daughters have paid £20 a week in fees, spent £2,000 on replacing four coffins as each rotted away, and £800 on make-up.
Undertaker Philip Saville is quoted as saying: “We are simply acting on the family’s wishes and keeping Annie ‘alive’ in this way, for visiting seems to be what they want to do.
“No health and safety violations have been breached and the corpse does not smell.
“There are no laws saying people can’t keep a corpse for years after registering the death, though it is normal to bury the body after just two weeks.”
The firm declined to comment further yesterday, claiming “client confidentiality”.
Neither of the sisters could be contacted to talk about their weekly pilgrimages or the future of their mother’s remains.
But Valmai Lamas is said to have told reporters: “I have always been a private person and I am not interested in discussing any issues of my life.”
A spokesman for the National Association of Funeral Directors said the family had done “absolutely nothing wrong” in legal terms.
He added: “It is a private matter for the family. As far as we are aware, all the legalities have been complied with.
“The law says that provided there is not a health and safety issue from a body remaining unburied, there is no reason why they cannot do this.
“If there was any risk to public health, the environmental health department would have been involved. There has been no risk.”
I think it is time these ladies get much needed counseling.