My dad died on early in the morning on the 19th May 2020, during the first Covid lockdown. He had been in hospital for a week, and his death was expected (see part 1). This helped in a way, as it meant we knew it was coming- it was inevitable. But, still. Death when it comes is always a shock, always sudden. I remember many years ago seeing this clip, which is still one of the few places I have seen death discussed. Given my dad had just died my mum, brother and I were in a state of shock and upset. That sounds so trite, so nothing, and yet so overstated. I think imagining the emotional reaction to death is nothing like what actually happens. There was not the deep mourning expected, there was sadness, and despair, but also a sense of release, and relief, tempered by a sense of responsibility and oppression. I am not going to talk about how things felt – I imagine it is so different for each of us, and it is something everyone will experience at some time. I guess what I did realise, was there is no “normal.”
As my dad died early in the morning, for the rest of that day it was up to me to start organizing all the business of death. My mum was not in a fit state to do too much. Because this was during lockdown, everything was done over the phone or online. I was quite grateful for this, as it meant I could still deal with things when I went home and I didn’t have to travel to the places such as the registry office close to either my parent’s home, or the hospital he died in. This really saved on travelling for me and allowed me to manage things that otherwise my mum would have had to do.
The first thing I remember doing was phoning the hospital to speak to the bereavement office. They explained I needed to get a death certificate and would need to contact the registry office. We would need to collect his effects from the hospital (although in actual fact these were sent to us) and we would need to start informing people of his death. Most of these things could not be done until we had the death certificate. I remember being asked about what he died of. I explained it was pneumonia and sepsis. However later that day I got a phone call from the bereavement office to tell me that whilst it was pneumonia and sepsis, this was caused by his underlying idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. I knew this but hadn’t realised I needed to say this. Apparently though there needed to be agreement on the cause of death from the doctors and family. I telephoned the local registrar to ask how to register the death. It was quite a simple process, as he had died in hospital, so the doctor sent the details to the relevant people as a matter of course. I had to give birth and death dates, addresses, where he died, his marital status and his job (before retirement). I remember being quite nervous about this as the information given was for prosperity and, despite knowing the answers, I was worried I would mess it up and get the details wrong.
I also need to let people know. My mum phoned my dad’s sister and brother and let them pass it on to their families. I took on the task of informing his friends and acquaintances. This I did by email. I am not sure I could have told people face to face, so a mass email was the easiest thing to do. It let many people know with as little stress to us, his family, as possible. There were a couple of people who were not on email, including the person who had been his best man at his wedding to my mum, for whom we only had a postal address. My mum did write to him, but that was later.
We had to sort out getting his things back from the hospital. A ward nurse from the hospital rang us later that day to say that he was when he came into the hospital in the list of things that he bought with him, were a phone and a wallet. These could not be found. My mum explained that as the phone had no charge, she had taken it home. However, no one had touched the wallet and if he had it when he went in it should still be there. This was followed by other calls, including from the ward sister (the nurse dressed in red I mention in part 1) to say they couldn't find the wallet. We were told we needed to speak to bereavement, who told us to speak to lost property, who told us to speak to the ward again, who told us to speak to security, who told us to speak to complaints. We never found the wallet and my enquiries were pushed from pillar to post. My mum was accused by the ward sister of taking it home and lying about it, or it was suggested on more than one occasion my brother had taken it – deliberately or accidentally. The attitude was that because he had Autism he could not be trusted and must be a thief. Obviously if you know anyone with autism, you will know that is highly unlikely. Theory of mind, the prerequisite for deceit is the lacking or poorly developed in people with autism. The whole business of the wallet was quite unpleasant. I ended up reporting it to the police as theft, as that was the only form of redress the hospital could advise. It did leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
Once I had spoken to the registrar about the death certificate, some of the other things I remember from that time included a lot of official and financial people I had to tell. There was some information on the Age UK website, which was a great starting place, although it was out of date due to the changes that Covid had brought about. I was quite grateful in a way that COVID meant I could do all of this online or over the phone; in fact, there was no option to do things face to face. As soon as I got the death certificate, I scanned it in and sent it round to all and sundry. This included government official channels (there is a good website called tell us once – this worked well for me). I had to go through all his financial details and let them know. I was quite lucky in that most accounts were shared with my mum, so it was very simple (once the death certificate had been emailed) to put them just in her name. There were just two accounts only in his name – a credit card which he owed a small amount on and a pension. We asked for the credit card to be frozen until we had sorted things out, and as he had no other accounts in just his name this was eventually cancelled. I did find a lot of the terminology confusing: estate, executor, probate and more. Fortunately, we had a funeral with a Co-op director, and as part of this they offered a chat with their bereavement support who advised on financial matters as well as other things (it is available to all, you don’t have to have a co-op funeral). This was really helpful and helped set my mind at rest. I have added the links to some useful death related contacts at the bottom of this blog.
I was grateful that my dad was a very organised (read: slightly obsessive!) person. He had everything filed in clearly labelled files and had listed all his accounts and passwords. Without this we would not have known things such as who supplied utilities, how to access his email account or how he paid for anything. I think in the end the hardest thing was that I was not his official executor. That was my mum. This led to me frequently giving her details online and on the phone, as people would not speak to me directly, and she was getting very worried and confused by everything. My work was really good. And they told me I could take as much time as I needed. In the end, I didn't take that much time. I think for me keeping busy was quite important.
I needed to sort out a funeral. Because of Covid this had to be a very simple affair. My mum wanted my dad cremated so I contacted three funeral directors near to the crematorium to get quotes. I then rang the minister of our old church and asked her to do the service. She agreed to this and suggested I used a particular funeral directors, as they were the people she normally dealt with. This I did, and they were the ones we chose to deal with. Due to Covid we could not visit them, or see the coffin. Everything was arranged over the telephone and confirmed by email. I arranged for the funeral to go ahead. We were quite lucky as it could be in just 10 days. If he had died a month earlier there was a much longer waiting list due to the number of Covid deaths. At the time we were arranging the funeral we were told we were only allowed six people in attendance. As it was, by the time the funeral came around, numbers had been increased, and we could have had 15 people. However, by the time that was announced we hadn't invited anybody, and had recommended not attending. We decided to keep to this, partly because my dad's closest relatives were elderly, and lived quite a long way away, we were concerned that it would have been possible that the travel may have been too much, especially in the height of the Covid crisis. Instead we were offered the option of having the funeral screened online. We opted for this.
I wasn't sure what to do for the funeral, but decided to put together a eulogy. My aunt wrote and with the aid of one of her daughters filmed a short piece about my dad up to when he was married. We gave this to the funeral directors and asked them to see it was played in the service. I wrote a piece about my dad from when he was married. This was an interesting exercise, as I spent time asking my mum lots of questions about how she met my dad, what he was like, and about the early days of marriage. I guess like most children I knew the basics of how they had met, but not a lot else. So I was learning much more about them. I also included various reminiscences from my brother and our cousins and uncle. I wanted there to be an opportunity to participate, even if no one could actually attend. I recorded my piece, and made it available to people later, but during the service I presented it live rather than recorded. I thought it would be good to have some photos and some music as a reminder of him. He loved big band and Jazz. In discussion with my mum and brother I picked music to play during the service, and I put together a video clip of a lot of photos set to some music by Glenn Miller.
There were only 4 of us actually at the funeral – myself, my mum and my brother. We invited everybody to attend the funeral online. Although not having a face to face funeral might not be everybody's choice. I quite liked it. Because the family is scattered across the country and some members of the family are the opposite side of the world. It meant they could attend. I feel in particular my cousin in New Zealand appreciated being a part of it (even if the timing was a bit odd for her) as she would have been able to participate otherwise. The filming of the funeral could have been better, but I also sent around some YouTube links of various parts of the funeral. The crematorium was busy. I commented on this, but was told it was a lot less busy than it had been a couple of weeks before where they had hearses lining up, waiting for the bodies to go into the furnace. Covid again was making its presence felt. Having not been that sure what to include in the funeral, I realised I may have slightly over planned everything. I'm glad. I put in a lot of work, which I think that gave me a focus and something to do at the time, which otherwise would have been much harder. It was my way of remembering my dad.
It is a year on now and I have been looking back. For my mum, her grief has ebbed and flowed, with the lowest points being a long time after his death. For me, I have taken on care for my mum, which has impacted my life hugely. I also think back to when he was in hospital. He was asking to come home. He said he didn't like being at the hospital, if he had known they would just leave him in a room bored he wouldn't have bothered going in. I think he was denying quite how ill he was, but I do also wonder how much he really understood. The nurses said he did know death was imminent, but I am not sure. I remember that last night. Flashes of it occasionally come back to me. The noise as he breathed; we were watching someone drown. I wonder if we should have stayed, sat out the night with him, I wonder if that would have been for him or us. I wonder if we would have been allowed. I wonder if it would have made a difference.
Some useful links