Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ashes

It’s been a very stressful couple of days. My mum’s sister – my aunt – died suddenly of septic shock / kidney failure late on Saturday night.

Although she was in hospital for another illness it wasn’t life threatening and this sudden development has taken us all by surprise. She was only 54.

Unfortunately the situation is made worse by her estrangement from much of the rest of the family, bad feeling between her and my mum and her and my granddad (her father). It’s made much worse by the fact that she was – and I hate using this term about her – an alcoholic and, like all alcoholics, abused those she thought had wronged her to her pub mates and all who would listen... the result being that we, the family, feel unpleasantly under scrutiny and a little besieged by “well meaning busy bodies” who are all intent on “having their say” or making their wishes known. It’s all been polite so far but I’m already feeling like I’m having to pour oil onto troubled waters just to maintain the fragile status quo. It almost feels like we, the family, aren’t supposed to have any rights.

To complicate things my aunt left no will – despite the urgings of many of her friends to do so – and no indication of what she wanted with regards the details of her own funeral. She seems to have accounts and investments scattered all over the place and mountains of un-filed paperwork. Sorting it all out is going to be a nightmare – the all pervading sense of estrangement makes only makes the job more difficult.

The icing on the cake – and maybe this is selfishness on my part – is that the funeral is going to be next Thursday: Tom’s first birthday, and my first reaction was a sense of disappointment that we aren’t going to be able to celebrate his first birthday in the manner that we’d originally planned. But maybe it’s fitting in a way – as we mark a death so we celebrate a life?

As for my aunt. I feel a deal of ambivalence towards her but mostly sadness. I personally got on with her ok though I was, of course, always aware of the “family war”. But that all seems so empty now. What good has it done anybody? It’s just left a load of business that can never be finished. The saddest part of all this is that my aunt chose her friends from her local pub to be her first point of contact when she was in hospital rather than a member of her own family. Therefore they were with her when she died and knew about her death many hours before we did. And we only knew about it because my mum’s cousin is a nurse at the hospital. The family, I know, feel quite offended by this snub but for my part I just think it’s deeply sad for my aunt. What a miserable state to be in. In her defence though, I doubt that my aunt had any idea that she was going to end up on her deathbed when she was first taken into hospital...

Having to visit my granddad on Sunday morning and inform him of his daughter’s death wasn’t a nice job but with my parents in Sheffield it fell to me to deliver the news. It’s not something that can be done over the phone. The grief took him hard. I was glad that I was there. What must it feel like to be burying your own child? As a parent myself I can’t even go there in my imagination...

So, folks, that’s been the last two days. Apologies for the fragmented nature of this post. My thoughts are everywhere and nowhere at the moment. The shock of the news and the shock of the practicalities are weighing me down. I don’t feel myself at all. And the road ahead feels dark.

21 comments:

Deirdre said...

So sorry .... there is so much in what you say that I can empathise with...families are all and nothing at the end of the day..just do your best for your loved ones...

Steve said...

Thanks Deirdre.

Brother Tobias said...

Steve, I'm so sorry. I sense that you are going to be in the heart of it, as sorter and peacemaker. And that it will be a bad time for your mother and grandfather, who will remember earlier, happier times and regret later ones. What is it with families?

Happy birthday to Tom; he won't mind.

Brother Tobias said...

Oh - and what I should have added is that you are probably the person best equipped to play those roles, and should take great comfort in that.

Daisy said...

i am so sorry to hear of your loss...death always strikes me hard as i never expect it...even when it is expected...i don't understand it i guess...i know that everything that is alive also dies but it just never seems to hold fast to statistical values, that is something i can get my teeth into...it makes sense...one thing though, i would still celebrate Tom's first birthday...it is a celebration of life...and while Tom won't remember it...you and Karen will and you can either make it something you regret or something that celebrates the love that created this wonderful child...i'm not saying it will be easy, but it may be necessary for the future...my thoughts will be with you and your family (as they are often)...take care, my friend!
xxLisa

The Sagittarian said...

You've said nothing to disagree with Steve! What a sad end and for "real" reason either, as you pointed out.
Deepest sympathies to you and your family, and your dear ol' grand-dad. I think you're right, your Aunt probably didn't know she was heading off never to return and therein lies the lesson really. None of us know what is round the corner (and even if we did...?, so you end up living your life doing the best you can for those you love. What matters most in life? It is people, it is people, it is people.

kate5kiwis said...

hugs to you and Karen and the family, Steve. really sorry this has happened this way. hopefully you can all draw strength from each other as you share worlds over the next few days.

will be thinking of Tom as he encounters his first Birthday Candle! X

TimeWarden said...

Very sorry to hear the sad news, Steve. The fact you got on with her ok means she obviously had some redeeming features and it may help a little to focus on those.

Practically, I hope you manage to sort out all her paperwork. I dread the day I have to wade through my parents' documents partly because I know I won't be in any fit state to do so.

I've been thinking about making a will, too, turning fifty next year and not wanting my life savings, such as they are, to be frittered away on frivolities.

I hope you are still able to celebrate Tom's birthday in a fitting manner and I wish him a Happy first!

Steve said...

Thank you all for your kind words of support - it is very much appreciated.

Inchy said...

Sorry for your bad news Steve, but as someone who's currently having to watch his father succumb to glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, let me tell you that the short sharp shock is a blessing in diguise every single time.

That doesn't make it any easier I guess, but these things never are.
Chin up old bean.

Steve said...

Inchy, your experience sounds much harder to cope with - I don't know how you are doing it. Thanks for the good wishes - I'm sending my own to you, mate.

Reluctant Blogger said...

Oh dear what a sad and stressful time. And so young to die too at 54. Very scary.

I don't have a problem with those who choose friends over family but it is not good to sound off about anyone really is it? Not good at all.

I do wish everyone would go to the trouble of making a will. No-one ever knows when they will "go" and it is so much more difficult for those left behind (practically, legally and emotionally) if there is no will. I think it eases the grief a bit if you know you are doing what the person wished. Personally I think it is nice to have small gifts in the will to named individuals - my granny did that and it was kind of nice. I have followed her example and added a number of codicils to my will - just little things that i think people would like.

As for Tom, you can celebrate on a different day. I have often done that with my children if I have had to be away or whatever. Remember it was a leap year so really his birthday should perhaps be a day earlier this year anyway! Or would it be later? Oh I am brain dead today - and me a mathematician as well!!

Big hugs to you though Steve, being the family mediator is no fun at all.

Steve said...

Thanks Gina, your thoughts mean a lot. Karen and I got a will made up not long after we got married. It felt kind of weird and morbid at the time - rather discomforting - but these feelings passed very quickely and on the whole we felt glad and satisfied with what we've done. Mostly knowing that the kids were taken care of was a large weight of our minds. I guess most people avoid will making because they want to avoid thinking of their own deaths but as it comes to us all I think it pays to be practical! It certainly avoids extra headaches for those left behind who have to sort it all out! As for Tom's birthday, Karen and I are going to hold a kiddie party for him on the Saturday after the funeral - he's too young to pay much significance to any particular day anyway! :-)

EmmaK said...

thinking of you during a shit time. My dad died recently and unearthed huge amounts of resentment amongst family members. Best not to get involved in the will wrangling

Steve said...

Thanks Emma.

KAZ said...

What you write here combined with what I learned from the Griff Rhys Jones progaramme has made it clear that it's just not worth fighting, sulking and bearing grudges.
Thanks.

Steve said...

Kaz, no matter how long you live life is too short for constant aggro and grudges...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Perhaps this is heartless but I haven't always gone to family funerals if I've felt the member of the family has pushed me away or we didn't get on very well.

I know it's sad that your aunt wasted her life on booze, but it was her choice and it was a selfish choice (ie she wasn't thinking about you or anyone else), so I think you should feel free be selfish in turn to put your son's birthday first if it feels right.

You can always do something else to remember her - a tree perhaps.

This may sound harsh, but people reap what they sow and it sounds like your aunt can't expect too many tears at her funeral.

Steve said...

There's a lot of truth in what you say, Laura, and I truly admire your stand. However, I know my granddad would be heartbroken if people boycotted the funeral so we'll be going for him and having a nice time with Tom before and after the funeral. I also feel that it doesn't matter what other people do as long as I do the right thing... other people have to live or deal with the consequences of their own behaviour; I have to live with my own.

Old Cheeser said...

Belatedly - I'm really sorry to hear about the passing of your Aunt. As everyone else has said, I hope you get through the difficult stages. And it's true, it makes you think about will writing and catering for the future - you never know what is round the corner. Of course you and Karen have kids to cater for but it's still something to consider. Anyway best wishes to you and yours.

Steve said...

Thanks OC, the funeral has now been organized and we're beginning to get through all the paperwork. The solicitors are all primed and ready to go so thattakes a lot of the pressure of me and the family. Grim times though. Thank you for your good wishes.