Between a death and the funeral: Part 1
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.
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.
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.
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)