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Archive for May 2011

Royal Wedding Bank Holiday (Friday)

Four days after Ian’s death, I learnt the meaning of “taking it one day at a time”. I was angry, upset and raging. I posted online to various communities from which I have drawn much strength and support – nobody objected and many people knew how I feel. Most touching was a comment from a contact of mine who lost her dad a few years back – she’d written an article about it so was able to easily share her words. I got the impression that unlike many others, she truly did know how I was feeling.

I was overcome by the fact that Ian always fought illness, always thought he would be there for longer, that he thought he had “all the time in the world” (in the words of a favourite tune) yet he was so very wrong. Just 8 weeks after he turned 60, he left us.

I drafted my tribute to Ian for the funeral and worked on the layout of the Order of Service.

Saturday 30 April

A duvet day.

To my surprise, I discovered that Ian’s death notice was the top “most read” page on the local newspaper’s website. My friends had been reading! I hoped that it had been noticed by readers who knew him, so they might remember him.

Sunday

A stronger day. I rose at around 11am and threw myself into printing the Order of Service, finalised my tribute, and created another idea – an SAE to be given out at the funeral, inviting people to share their memories of Ian with us.

Over the weekend I’d been sending questions to Fiona – on reflection, perhaps some of which ought to have been addressed to the funeral directors, but they are on the end of a fuzzy phoneline while Fiona responds quickly to email. She was wonderfully patient with us, and I do hope we were not overly demanding – knowing how we can be perfectionists and how we wanted the very best for my father. On the other hand we were utterly confident that she would give Ian the send off he deserved, even though she never met him.

I received emails and tributes from friends. It helped to know I’m not alone, that people had noticed what has happened and what we were going through.

Early May Bank Holiday (Monday)

We left our dog in kennels, then set out for Taunton again. All day I felt nervous and sick, so poor Mike was implored to drive extra smoothly on the four hour journey. We checked in at the hotel and then visited my mother, showing her a sample order of service. I left my signed card for the flowers, so my brother could add his name to it. At this point we were supposed to go for drinks with my best friend and her wife, but I still felt unwell so we withdrew, and had an early night.

Tuesday

Bank holidays over, there was business to finish off. We picked up the cards from my mother and dropped them at the florists’, where we also settled the bill. We also had a short list of questions for the funeral director to which Mike attended; finding out that we should bring the order of service on the day, which the funeral directors would hand out, and that we would be able to view the flowers directly after the service.

By now my father’s death announcement had been read over 1200 times on the Somerset Country Gazette website, keeping it on the front page every day (in the list of “most read” pages). My online friends had decided it was a nice thing to do, to make sure as many people as possible would see, and indeed I heard of people who had only noticed Ian’s passing because of this. We received 28 candles on that page from friends and followers, which was very touching.

I deliberately sat up late, putting off going to sleep, dreading what the next day would bring. At around half one I finally turned off the light.

Wednesday

The alarm went off. I moaned “already?” thinking that I’d only been dozing, because I’d been dreaming about trying to sleep. In fact I’d also been dreaming about all sorts – a horror movie scene where the coffin burst open, and another sequence in which I and my family were dressing and preparing to leave for the funeral while my father stood around saying “Come on you chaps! Where are we off to? Come on, tell me!” and I muttered “You shouldn’t be here… what are you doing here…?” in a panic.

A quick wash wiped away the memories of those nightmares, and I went into a carefully planned sequence. I sat in bed, distracted by a motorsport magazine and BBC News 24, while trying to eat a banana. At one point I got up, straightened my hair, then returned to bed. A quick call was made to my mother at 2pm, an hour before the service. Only at 2.20pm did I rise and dress, ready to leave at 2.35 exactly. I succeeded in distracting myself and when the time came to leave for the funeral I had a few butterflies but felt ready – much stronger than in the preceding days.

When we arrived at the crematorium I saw familiar faces in the carpark. We gathered, but couldn’t see Fiona, the Celebrant. I suggested we go through to the waiting room, and of course there she was, waiting for us with Barry from the funeral directors. We were ushered in to a family waiting area, and everyone else shown to a general space. It was strange to meet a cousin who I hadn’t seen for 20 years, and a mix of familiar and new faces.

A moment later Barry ushered us forward, ensuring a formation with family first, queuing us in a rather formal manner before gently ushering us into the chapel. Family filled the first row and as others filed in behind, it looked like there were around 50 people in the chapel at once. A reasonable showing, everyone from neighbours to close friends; some who had only met Ian a few times but been very touched by him, as well as those who saw him regularly but never got to know him quite as well. A good turnout, and given that illness had stopped Ian from getting out much during recent months, it was good to see how many people were there – I’d been scared that he’d have been forgotten.

I noticed that Stairway to Heaven was playing – Ian’s favourite song – and then it faded as the service began. Everything went well; Fiona described Ian’s life; his old mate Terry spoke about their discussions on the state of local roads, fine dining and a trip to Monaco Grand Prix (which happened when I was just a child). He said that there had been a toast to Ian that lunchtime and a band of friends’ trips to top restaurants would continue in Ian’s memory. Then came the reading of a tasting menu at the Fat Duck in Bray, which Ian had very much enjoyed. Next, Mike read my tribute to Ian, before a contemplative time while we listened to a Jean Michel Jarre track that he’d liked (Last Rendezvous) and those of a religious nature could pray. Finally came the moment I was dreading – the curtains closed around Ian’s coffin. Fiona read “If”, the poem by which Ian had truly lived his life, before the ceremony ended on a track which Ian had always said he wanted at his funeral (I checked with him every few years just to be sure) – Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

So the ceremony was a true celebration of Ian’s life. People learnt something new about him. There was laughter in the right places and very little sadness. But as we left the chapel, and I had to leave Ian’s coffin behind, I welled up. I muttered “Bye Ian” and pushed myself into the daylight, trying to hold my composure while turning to thank people for coming.

The flowers were perfect – fronds of asparagus and bulging aubergines amid traditional greenery and fuchsias. They looked spectacular – normal from a distance but distinctive close up – just as I’d requested.

Ian's flowers - and vegetables

We’d asked people to donate in Ian’s memory to Mendip Ward – where he spent a total of several months out of the previous 2 years, and where staff had been so kind to him. Apparently the funeral directors would hold donations open for 6 weeks before sending a list of donors and the total to us, and the money to the ward – giving us time to write and let the hospital know that something would be on the way!

After the ceremony my mother asked to be alone, so Mike and I went for a drive out into the Mendip hills (which were covered in bluebells), and then we went for a drink at Ian’s favourite place, Brazz, where we were joined by my mother and brother.

Returning to the hotel, I felt as though a weight was lifted from me; things were more easy and relaxed, I was able to eat without feeling unwell. Then I received a text message from a friend saying “Well done for getting through today. This is where the real grieving begins.”

So grief is only now beginning? Oh hell, is it really?

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Easter Monday

At 6.03am I received The Call. I dressed at once, met my mother outside the hospital, leaving Mike to park while we went in. We were greeted by a member of staff who told us in a sombre voice that “he’s just this minute gone”. The time of my father’s death was 6.20am.

We went into his room, I held his hand, kissed his forehead, and said goodbye. Then I left my mother to do the same, before we moved into a staff room to learn what came next – we had to meet the hospital’s Bereavement Officer tomorrow morning, who would arrange an appointment for us to visit the Register Office to formally record the death. From then on, we’d be on our own.

That afternoon, at my mother’s house we decided tentatively on a funeral date. It was Easter Monday and for some reason the following Wednesday afternoon seemed like a good idea. Although it was a bank holiday we decided to make calls right away.

At this point, we needed to know who to call. Normally, you’d call a funeral director. In our case we knew we wanted a humanist funeral, so I’d already looked up the profiles of local humanist celebrants. We were doing things by reverse – finding a celebrant first, and their choice of funeral director second, rather than picking a funeral director seemingly at random, then being limited to their own officiant. I guess if you had a vicar you’d call them, but if you had no faith you might normally be guided by anyone from the phone book. Instead, we chose a humanist to guide us through.

The celebrant whose profile chimed with us happened, by coincidence, to be the partner of a friend of mine. Her name was Fiona Ferguson. I called her and she agreed the following Wednesday afternoon would be suitable for the funeral, and suggested a funeral director. I arranged for Fiona to visit us the next day.

My next call was to the funeral director, E White & Son. They were happy to represent us. I was glad we’d found a celebrant we liked and a funeral director with whom they would work, rather than the other way round.

Whites could access the Crematorium booking system, so we decided upon Wed 4 May at 3pm.

Next, we grabbed a copy of the local paper to plan the announcement. The deadline was 11am the next day, so we quickly agreed upon wording and that I would organise it online in the evening if I could, or by phone the next day if necessary. I failed to get the options we wanted via their web interface, so I set the alarm for early on Tuesday morning.

All this was arranged, and yet it was still only a few hours after my father had died.

This was supposed to have been the first day of my holiday.

Tuesday

Shortly after 9am I arranged the death announcement in the local press.

We then tried to call the hospital’s Bereavement Officer – their office opened at 10am but White’s had suggested that we might get through on the phone a little earlier, but there was no answer. As there had just been a 4 day weekend, they were likely to be very busy – so we decided to simply turn up at opening time.

My mother got there just before us, and booked an appointment for 2.30 that afternoon, with a trip to formally register the death at 3.30. This clashed with our visit from Fiona – my mother was coping but not quite remembering everything that had been said. Never mind – Mike could go to the bereavement office and collect the doctor’s death certificate while I and my mother met Fiona, and that’s what happened.

Fiona was lovely, and very patient as we ran through the arrangements – easily agreeing on the music and deciding on readings. I think Fiona thought we were quite mad, as instead of flowers we wanted a flower and vegetable mix, to reflect the foodie in Ian!

We made as many arrangements as we could, Then as Fiona left I dashed out of the door with Mike to register the death at the Register Office. I felt this was the last thing I could do for Ian and that it was important that one of the immediate family did so. My brother also joined us. I was amused to see the walls of the office covered in very serious warning signs (against fraudulent declarations, etc.) in the style of Keep Calm and Carry On notices.

Mike handed over the doctor’s death certificate, and then we were led through questions about Ian’s birth, marriage and death dates, and occupations of both him and my mother. Next came my own details, before I signed the register – using a fountain pen. It felt so
odd to see a sheet headed with the word DEATH and then my father’s details.

As well as certificates of death (ten at £3.50 each) we also received a form for the funeral director (I think this was stating that it was ok for a funeral to proceed; Mike already had a form from the hospital regarding collection of the body).

The Funeral Directors had requested a progress update in the afternoon, so when I returned to my mother’s house at 430pm I rang, and we agreed they would drop over the next day at 1pm – “to sort out paperwork”.

There were other things to sort out, such as bereavement benefits. My mother organised Mike to spend over an hour on the phone to the DWP in order to sort out the necessary funding for her. Fortunately just one call is necessary to arrange everything that is available – this includes the state payment for the funeral as well as extras we hadn’t known about – bereavement payment (a one off lump sum) and bereavement benefit (paid for 52 weeks if you are under state pension age). Mike was wonderful in arranging all of this.

Wednesday

I got up around midday, eating simple food that we had kicking around the hotel, before going to my parents’ house and meeting the funeral director for the first time. Barry, with whom I’d been dealing, turned out to be a serious and loquacious old man who had never heard of Led Zeppelin, let alone Frankie Goes To Hollywood; very much old school. Still, we got the basics agreed, and paperwork exchanged (some from the hospital which Mike had collected, and “the green form” from the registrar which I’d gathered) so things could now be confirmed. Barry could now arrange to collect “Mr Wilson” and everything began to fall into place.

After his visit Mike and I hit the town to try and sort out floral arrangements. We’d decided on just one spray from our family, requesting donations from other people. Because Ian didn’t really like flowers but was a gourmand, we found a florist who could incorporate asparagus and aubergines into the display. I was nervous and repeated myself many times, but it was important to me that the display looked normal and tasteful from a distance but when you got close up you’d notice “oh goodness – vegetables!” We took cards for my family to sign, to go in the display later on.

Fiona kindly emailed over a first draft of service on Wednesday, so we visited my mother in the evening with the draft. It was delightful and we were very happy.

Mike also went into the Job Centre today, to get forms for my mother to formally register the death and so on. Mike has been quietly getting on with everything necessary, and holding me together at the same time. He was amazing – I don’t know how I’d have coped if it was just me and my mother trying to do this.

Thursday

At last we drove home to London for some respite. I found it very hard to cope – playing my favourite music tracks all the way home, but welling up at various moments. We arrived home and fetched my dog back from kennels for company.

Ian’s death notice went online on Somerset County Gazette’s website today.

(to be continued)