A LARGER than life character has had the last laugh from beyond the grave – by writing her own death notice.
Elizabeth Duncan – known as Lizbeth – described herself as a “demanding and grumpy wife” and a “nagging mother” in the notice, which appeared in the Evening News.
She died on March 13, days after her 59th birthday, following a long battle with cancer, and said the “silence will be deafening” without her.
Husband David, 53, said the words summed up Lizbeth, who remained in good spirits as she struggled with the disease.
The engineering inspector – Lizbeth’s “toy boy” – said: “Lizbeth was always looking for the humour in any situation. When people came to the hospital it would often be them who left feeling cheered up. I laughed when she showed me the notice and said ‘but you know I don’t think of you like that’, and she said she still thought it was funny.
“We also let our son Iain, who is 20, see it. I was a little concerned that some people may take it the wrong way, but everyone seems to have taken it in the spirit intended.
“She always wanted to look after everyone else. She made sure she had everything in order before she died and was even very involved in arranging her own funeral.”
David said the notice summed up his wife’s character and revealed she had long proved herself good with words – a talent which allowed her to wriggle out of trouble.
He said: “She was a very talented poet and also loved motorbiking. One day in the late 70s she apparently left the bike in St Andrew Square and got a ticket. She felt it was undeserved so wrote a funny poem explaining why to the then-assistant chief constable. To her amazement, he wrote her a poem back and did cancel it.”
Lizbeth was born Elizabeth Ogden in Glasgow in 1954, but soon moved to Edinburgh and attended James Gillespie’s School. She met David, who grew up in Zimbabwe, when he was visiting the Capital en route to the United States in the 1980s. She worked mainly in insurance and also played her part in the community, organising local Girl Guides, Scouts and Beaver groups.
Lizbeth went on to work as a clerical assistant at Flora Stevenson Primary School, but was admitted to hospital in September 2011 after developing muscle weakness and a skin rash. Further tests showed she was suffering from ovarian and peritoneal cancer.
But she refused to let her illness get her down, and two months later raised £1500 for Red Dot Radio at the Western General by having her head shaved. At the time, she said: “It feels great, and I wish that I’d let my hairdresser have his way with me sooner.”
Last summer, after being told Lizbeth could only be offered palliative care, she and David, from Stockbridge, decided to renew their wedding vows on a Norwegian cruise. David said: “I remember asking her if she was frightened of dying.
“She immediately said ‘no’, she was going on a new adventure to somewhere she’d never been before. That’s how she was, she would never shrink in the face of a challenge.”
A poignant poem – called Somewhere Else – Lizbeth penned in hospital not long after falling ill was read out at her funeral.
Reverend John Combe, who conducted the service at Warriston Crematorium, said: “The first time I met her she was wearing a hat – she removed her hat to show she was completely bald. She then produced a wig. I was so surprised – so many women in her situation would have never let anyone see them like that. But that’s the kind of person she was – a unique lady.”
This poem, written by Lizbeth while in hospital, was read at her funeral
I’m comfortable here in my hospitable bed,
Sheets up to my neck, pillows under my head.
I’m comfortable here and I’m feeling quite good
But I wish I was somewhere else.
I’m comfortable here at this time of my life
A daughter, sister, auntie, cousin, mother and wife
I’m comfortable here and I’m feeling fulfilled,
But now I must go somewhere else.
I’m comfortable here leaving this illness behind,
To slip away quietly to find peace of mind.
I’m comfortable here and I’m feeling sublime,
Because now I am somewhere else.