Family Planning

Losing Mum has made us think more about Dad too, about our loss, his death and his funeral. It feels more final this time as nobody needs the house anymore and when our father died, Mum handled everything and we simply supported her. We were a tight family unit who stayed by Dad’s hospital bed for almost 3 weeks as he was dying. This time, my sister and I did the weeks of hospital visiting and now we are the recipients of the kind sympathy cards and bouquets. My sister and I are the grown ups this time, we are in charge of funeral decision making, which feels more daunting. Our only concern right now, is to give Mum the funeral that she deserved, a real celebration of a life well-lived, everything else can wait.

We made good progress on the funeral arrangements this week : we have a date, venues and we have let mourners know. Mum was heavily involved in her local Methodist church, where she became responsible for room bookings, amongst other things. So as a tribute to her role there, we were keen to book a room in the church hall for  refreshments after the celebration service. It seems fitting and hopefully, as there is no travelling to be done, more mourners will be tempted to join us afterwards for a cup of tea and something to eat. The church became her social life and she went there everyday pretty much, so it should play a part in her send-off.

Her garden was another love and occupation of hers and the garden is looking beautiful at the moment. So we have extended a welcome to family to come back to the house afterwards, to have the opportunity to sit for a while in the peace of her garden. Since Mum was ill, she had organised a gardener to cut her grass and tidy up, as she was no longer able to manage it herself. On the day of her death,  when we went back to Mum’s house, we confirmed that we wanted him to continue to garden all summer; we could not allow her garden to become unkempt and uncared for, as that would be heartbreaking. We are also hoping that some of the flowers or foliage from her garden will be used to decorate the church and hall, to bring another piece of her to the service.

My sister and I share a clear vision of how we would like her funeral to go and we are laying plans in order for that to happen. As with last weekend however, we need our quiet weekends to restore our strength and to rest at our own family homes, ready to tackle more jobs together next week. So I was at home yesterday, and after what felt like a morning on the telephone, my husband and I took the dogs and Joshua for a walk in the park and then we had lunch in a cafe, which was the first half term activity that I have been able to do with Joshua, on the last day of his school holidays. It was restorative to just be us three together. The importance of family – our tight family unit and the wider extended family too – is brought into sharp focus in times like those we are living right now.

We are Underway

So, we survived our first busy day since Mum died and we achieved a great deal. We had three matters to attend to, to start the official ball rolling in acknowledging Mum’s death : to collect the medical certificate of death from the hospital, to register Mum’s death and to take the necessary paperwork to the Funeral Directors. They were all big , serious tasks and once again, we consider ourselves fortunate that we were able to do them together, as all of those venues would have felt more daunting alone.

We arrived at the hospital 30 minutes before the Bereavement Centre opened and we were both shocked by the physical reaction that we had to turning into the approach road to the hospital car park. At the same point precisely, our stomachs flipped and we felt sick : just knowing that we had arrived, only this time it was not to visit Mum on the ward. That nauseous feeling continued into the car park and when walking along the main corridor. We went into a cafe, one we had never used before, for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake to calm our nerves and to fill the time, and that did the trick. Collecting the paperwork was a fairly painless process in the end and the lady there helpfully advised us on the next stage of our journey to the Registrar.

As it was pouring with rain, we took a taxi to the Registry where we had been warned, without an appointment, we would be asked to simply wait our turn. So we settled down, in full view of reception, so that we would not be forgotten,  and we watched families come and go, some in pain to register a death and others delighting in registering the new life in their families. But it was only 20 minutes or so before we were called through and a very human, helpful registrar took our details and printed off the death certificates that we requested.

We were feeling as though we were on a roll then, so we walked 5 minutes, in the rain, to a branch of Mum’s bank to inform them.  There was a lot of information to take in at the bank and it took some time to untangle Mum’s varied accounts. We were reminded of Mum’s kindness as we saw a list of her standing orders and direct debits to cherished charities such as Wateraid, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Cerebra. We thanked the helpful lady but I felt rather woozy on leaving the bank, so we stopped for some lunch and a sit down, to recover ourselves as we had achieved all of that by lunchtime. Then we drove back to Mum’s hometown and confident in our resilience, we went straight to the funeral directors where some difficult decisions had to be made. The funeral date still has to be finalised, but we now know  that at least it will not be next week, so we have some time to pace ourselves.

On leaving there, I just wanted to go back to mum’s house, I did not want to see anyone else but I needed a cup of tea and a nap in Mum’s lounge. We needed time to assimilate all that we had been told and to congratulate each other on how brave and efficient we had been. We rested, took some phone calls, wandered in the garden and then did some chores :  I did some ironing and my sister hoovered up and did some dusting. We both knew, without saying it out loud, that Mum’s high standards had to be maintained, even in times of crisis.

We both drove back to our family homes last night, which felt very welcome but strange at the same time, after an intense 24 hours together. Joshua gave me three big bear hugs when I arrived home and dogs never fail to give me an enthusiastic welcome. It seemed that I had been away from home for ages, as I checked if the puppies had doubled in size, but then I reminded myself that it had only been 24 hours. It was reassuring in a way to find things at home, the same, when everything had shifted, irreversibly at Mum’s house. We are well on the journey now…..

Farewell Grandad

I am really not sure if Joshua understood what exactly was going on yesterday , at his Grandad’s funeral, I guess we will never truly know. But he behaved himself impeccably : we were on the front row, right next to the coffin, but he did not try to grab out at anything thankfully. He alternately jiggled in his wheelchair, we sang some rousing traditional hymns that Grandad would have approved of, or rested with his head on his knees , as we had only had about an hour’s sleep the night before. I was very proud of how well he behaved both in the church and at the graveside, as both are stressful and emotional situations where the potential for a scene was huge. In fact I was the only one who caused a scene at the burial, when I fell over onto my muddy knees, while stooping to place some flowers next to his grave!

Each of his grown up children bravely spoke out, giving eulogies, explaining what their father had meant to them and giving us a greater insight into his life and his eldest grand-daughter read a poem. Joshua and his toddler cousins showed by their presence, all dressed up in their Sunday-best, what their Grandad had meant to them.  I am not truthfully sure how much any of the three of them understood, but they certainly appreciated that it was a family day that Grandad was missing from and they picked up the sadness from all of the tears that were being shed and they all tried to cheer their weeping parents up, each in their own way.

The loss of  a father/grandfather leads me inevitably to think of my own Dad, who is still sorely missed, and of course of our own mortality and my fears for Joshua’s future, when we are no longer here to protect and take care of him. Who will love him like we do and keep him safe through his adulthood? Who will explain to him where his beloved parents have gone and that they will no longer be able to look after and protect him? I find those questions heart-breaking to consider and so, I tend to push them away ordinarily, but days like yesterday mean that they cannot be ignored. Those questions have to be confronted, no matter how painful, and plans need to be put in place; we need to take as much care of Joshua when we are dead, as we do now, so that he does not need to worry about his future. Rather than expecting our son to take care of us in our old age, we have to take care of him in our old age.