So today my granddad has died. Aged 92, we are supposed to agree it’s a good age and he was lucky to die at home with loved ones with him . We do agree but it hurts like hell and at the time of writing I reserve the right to find it raw. After all, I’m only 5 hours post his death.
My nan and I were present when he went. We both immediately fell apart. My nan is nearly 90 so she remains as lost as a child would be in such a situation. My mum is lost but caring for my nan. So I decided to figure out what to do next.
What happens next is the hardest thing to deal with. It’s odd and undiscussed. I don’t know why but we don’t. So here is a post to plant a seed, to bookmark if it may be applicable sometime soon, to remind you of one of the oddest chain of thoughts we have. What happens next we all in someway bluff our way through, but if I can ease it for someone else I will. So here goes.
If your relative is poorly and you are told that time is limited, ask the doctor for phone numbers. Both office number, out of hours and also ask what about lunch times. Today we didn’t. We had 50 minutes till we could inform the doctor so we could then be told what the next stage is. The doctors surgery don’t really tell you much even when you get through. “The doctor will be out to you”. You wait.
What happens in the interim period is that you take a seat and spend the time with your deceased loved one. You get over the immediate desperation of it all. What begins as grief stricken chats of fondness and love, descends into talk about the next steps. In our case we chatted for a good hour or so, we all realised how ill prepared we are. We seemingly got used to my granddad’s body being with us. We talked about what was coming, funerals, who needs calling, I cancelled prescriptions. I told my dad to call some old friends. We decided who gets a call later on when things are sorted out. Funnily enough, we didn’t talk very much about the here and now. The doorbell rang around half an hour after if called the doctor.
Two district nurses appeared. As he was elderly I didn’t know if they were carers who have attended before or if it was a planned appointment as granddad was ill and he was receiving social care assistance. They weren’t. The doctor had notified them.
Politeness took over me. “I’m sorry he just passed away” I told them. “Oh so do you ladies know what’s going to happen next?”. I asked them if they wanted us to step out, they said they would see how we are. As I walked into the room they followed. They smiled with such a dramatic air of sympathy and kindness I immediately thought them a bit over the top. I was a tad irritated by them for a second. Do we look pathetic? We are coping ok. They went straight Over to my mum and nan, his wife and daughter, and asked how they were. They said “bit of a shock?”. Their tone soft, sympathetic.That’s when I realised they were not silly, or over the top. They were kind. They were understanding of what happened to us, and intelligently handling us at an emotional time. They were telling us we were in shock. Everyone immediately began to cry again. We had numbed but they knew it would flood back again. They understood this even if we didn’t. They talked to us briefly and asked for a few minutes to be able to tidy my granddad up. There is something wonderful about people dealing with someone so we never had to realise what the grimmest reality of death was.
In the meantime I called the carers agency who came to provide care at home. I soon realised no one is any good at speaking to the family of the person who just died. “Has he really passed away?” Don’t be precious about the gaffs they make. Don’t insist they are insensitive. They are all trying their best. Behind everything nearly every one of them is decent. And as unprepared as you are for all of this no matter what we may think.
The doctor confirmed his death. He told us we needed to decide on funeral directors. He will ensure the death certificate is ready for the next day. You need this to register his death.
Funeral directors are like wedding planners. You tell them what you want, they will flash up a few options then make it all happen. They take the body from your home if your loved one dies at home. You end up racking your brains for details and names. I called a few, immediately asking for a breakdown in charges. They varied wildly, including the disbursements which include doctors fees and crematoriam charges, which in my head shouldn’t vary but did. These are all hard things to cope with when all you want to do is ensure your loved ones body is tended to as you need to help his wife of over 65 years deal with all this. If you can, plan for this in the days before, weeks before.
In the end we decided on those who had helped my mums friend when her husband passed away. Funeral directors ask a lot of questions. It is a bit overwhelming. Write down whether it’s cremation or burial, where you may want the service, any benefits they may be in receipt of. The sentimental bits are still to come. But it’s the practical bits you need to be thinking of.
They were supportive to my family when discussing the next step. This includes funeral arrangements being made, cremation arrangement sorted, coffin etc. So I suppose what you need to bear in mind is when you think what happens next, it’s that the professionals will help you. Stress not.
I sat and spoke to my nan with my granddad for 10 minutes before they readied my granddad to go to the chapel of rest. They held our hands, condolences given and next appointment made to speak about the finer details of what happens next. Then he was taken out the home. This was awkward. Bodies are after all heavy things. I watched them struggle past the stairlift and over the bannister. Granddad was as lifeless as anything and as cumbersome as trying to get furniture upstairs. That’s the bit I wouldn’t watch next time. But perhaps everyone does. I thought it was respectful to see him leave home for the last time. It didn’t feel significant when I saw it, almost not.
What happens next is you have a drink. A real drink. This is absolutely fine.
In the meantime one also has to remember that the death needs to be registered. You get a call centre number. A call centre operative makes you an appointment. They talk you through options. The options are limited, and to be honest you don’t care if you have to go to one registry office or the other but you somehow make a decision based on convenience. And in time I will register the death at the same place his birth was registered. Poetry in motion.
It’s the next morning. I’ve slept well. It’s been a pretty rough 24 hours, although we aren’t all sat in pieces on the floor. I’ll be heading back to Sheffield this afternoon, after meeting the funeral directors later to talk arrangements. My mum will want me there as in her mind I can help understand these bigger arrangements. And I’m not ready to go just yet without some master plan being forged. Hymns have to be chosen, readings decided on, flowers ( although as a former florist my mum can take this task on ) and the wording for the newspaper announcement chosen. Apparently this is not as redundant task as I think, as they are of a generation who check everyday.
The most awful part of this whole process may be yet to come, the recovery from it all. Thank god, thank whoever one chooses to have faith in, that I travelled down and saw him and was there. He wasn’t alone, and I was talking to him just before. I didn’t know what to say. I just told him it was ok, and he didn’t need to worry. My nan lay beside him, I sat the other side and we held his hand as his laboured breathing just stopped. There was no grim scene, nothing undignified. The exact opposite. This mental image doesn’t break me in two or churn my stomach as to be honest I would want everyone to have such a death really. It was sadly drawn out as he had been bed bound and deteriorating for weeks but it was a peaceful moment.
So there you go. A post about the hours after death and what you do. How survival kicks in. If you can, do a checklist of things to do and the numbers to call and keep it somewhere that in a state of panic you will be able to put your hands on. That way your families equivalent of me will be able to pick it up, make the calls and help in their own way.
I’m sorry if there are fewer gags and nonsense asides in this post. I’m dripping in realness right now. Normal service will resume no doubt shortly. But for now I’m just sad about my wonderful granddad, the man who taught me about good food, and that too much of a good thing can be wonderful.