I am back in the Wirral working on the order of service for Dad’s funeral. I have already chosen three pieces of music and am beginning to draft my eulogy. I’m looking for suitable photographs.
But the thing is, he’s still alive
For the second time, and now definitively, Mum and Dad have moved into Upton Manor care home. Mum is looking much better now that she’s being helped to wash and dress in clean clothes every day. She is having her hair done every Wednesday and getting her medication on time. Not only that, but, after months of searching under furniture and in drawers I’ve finally found her wedding ring… in a zipped pocket in a handbag.
But Dad is exhausted and is no longer leaving his room to be with Mum every day. Nonetheless I’m convinced that they are both in the best place.
Anne and I finally managed to get home to London, then to France for a week. It was intended to be for longer but Storm Eunice was threatening, so we took an earlier ferry to Portsmouth. So, I’m back visiting Mum and Dad after a fortnight away. They have been in the home for three weeks.
Dad now only leaves his bed to go to the bathroom. His eyes are rarely more than half open. He has stopped going downstairs to visit Mum because it’s too difficult for him, and he hasn’t even the energy to get properly dressed. So I take her up in the lift and along the corridor to room 411, and watch as they hold hands. “We’ve been through some times together,” he says. She holds it in, but back in her room she says, “It’s terrible to see him like that but what can we do?” In a word, nothing. It is sad, very sad, to witness his decline.
A senior nurse tells me the obvious: he is going downhill fast. He no longer bothers to wear his glasses or hearing aids. Only last week when I was in France he was ringing constantly to ask when I was coming to see them. But he no longer does. He admits to being confused. It is as if now that Mum is “safe” he no longer has a role and can finally let go. The nurse explains what happens when people begin to die and what she and her colleagues will do to make it easier. There is an end-of-life plan and I am glad we are talking about it. He won’t go into hospital but will end his days in the care home.
Most of my friends faced this situation years ago
Of course I knew it was coming, but I was superstitious about finding out what to do when people die. But now I do know and I am going to tell you, just in case you’re reading this and might find it helpful.
First, a doctor will have to ascertain the cause of death. If there is any doubt, a coroner will get involved. Assuming that is not the case, a notice will be provided. If your parent is in a care home it will be a lot easier because the staff will know what to do. Even before he or she passes away, you could appoint a funeral director to take care of the body when the time comes. Get a recommendation. Once you get over feeling uncomfortable about it you will be glad you started the process.
Start now, because when death comes you might freeze like a rabbit in the headlights. Do you know that sort of funeral they want? Are they religious or not? Burial or cremation? Does it say anything about it in the Will? Have you discussed it? If not, steel yourself. Who are you going to invite to the funeral and the reception? Can you find his or her passport, birth certificate, NI number and so on? You will need to register the death with the Town Hall to obtain a death certificate. You’ll need to buy extra copies because you’ll be informing the bank, energy companies, etc. Do you know who they are?
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself
I’m in my parents’ house, on my own, in the knowledge that they will never be back. I start cleaning and tidying up. I throw stuff in the bin. Dad kept everything, literally everything, including electronic goods that no longer worked, and in their original boxes too. I take a bootful to the recycling centre in his two-decades-old Astra, which is officially mine now. Then I start throwing out clothes, shoes, cracked plates, old calendars, magazines… The house is full of crap, but there are nice, and sometimes valuable, things amongst the old toot: Moorcroft vases, silver cutlery from Java, Grampa’s pocket watch, watercolours.
Sometimes I think I’m the unluckiest person in the world. I’m an only child, outnumbered by my parents. My home is over 200 miles away. On the other hand I’m retired so I don’t have to take time off work. I won’t be arguing with brothers and sisters about what to do for the best. There is no lack of money so we don’t have to sell the house immediately. The care home is round the corner. I have a loving wife, and kind and supportive friends.
I pour myself a glass of wine and switch on the TV. It is hard to imagine anything more depressing.
Ukraine’s citizens are being terrorised and killed in their thousands
I try to get a sense of proportion. The imminent death of a 96-year-old man in a care home is not a tragedy. Should not be. But I still feel miserable about it. Not only because seeing him so weak makes me sad but because I will have tell Mum, then leave her on her own in “that awful place” as she calls it.