I was interviewed today, by a student from Liverpool University about some of the aspects of widowhood.
One thing that got me at the time of C’s death, was how professional some organisations and companies were and on the other hand how sloppy some others were.
I was moved to write to The Times, and this is my letter they published on April 16th, 2008.
The paperwork carried out when a relation dies should be standardised across all organisations.
I was widowed last year, and it is only now that I’m starting to get my life together. The response of the various government and local authority departments in handling all the paperwork involved has been very patchy.
Registrars: excellent, very sympathetic and efficient; Work and Pensions: bereavement allowance came through with a few hiccups, but not too difficult; Premium Bonds: system worked but could have been better; council tax: this was reduced automatically on signing a form by St Edmundsbury — totally painless; DVLA: its online systems worked well; winter fuel payment: found difficult to claim and missed it for last year.
The private sector wasn’t that much better, with some companies having people whose sole job appeared to be to deal with bereavement faring much better than those that didn’t. Some wanted death certificates, some accepted faxed copies and others took my word.
We need a lot more joined-up thinking in this important area, as, with nearly a million deaths in the UK every year, it would surely help the bereavement process for those left behind if every company, organisation, government department and authority were automatically notified. After all, if St Edmundsbury can do it here in supposedly sleepy Suffolk, then surely everyone else can.
Since moving to London, I could add a few to both lists, although nothing has been specifically about bereavement. In some ways the biggest surprise has been that the London Borough of Hackney hasn’t made any mistake, that has caused me the slightest bit of inconvenience.
Perhaps because yesterday was St. Valentine’s Day and it was my sixth without her, I think I should say more about the cancer that killed C.
Not to elicit sympathy for myself, as I’ve had enough of that in the past few years, but to put the true record on the Internet, so that it can be found.
It’s not pleasant reading, and there may be a cure by now, but typing “squamous cell carcinoma of the heart” into Google, just gives a couple of references other than the few in this blog or where I have posted in other forums.
C started to become short of breath in about July and in September, she went into Papworth Hospital to find out the cause, as it looked like it was something wrong with her heart.
In late October, they found the problem which was a squamous cell carcinoma actually growing inside the heart. So it was actually behaving like a valve shutting off the blood flow around the rest of her body.
They did try an experimental chemotherapy using a drug called Tarceva, but all this did was destroy her gut and make her mouth incredibly sore. It had no effect on the cancer.
The pain was so bad, she refused to see any of her friends and effectively withdrew into herself, just seeing her carers, and the immediate family. The pain was so bad at one point, that she asked me to take her to Switzerland, but by then, she would probably have found it impossible to travel. When I said no, she realised she hadn’t got long to live.
She died on December 11th, 2007, just a couple of months after the terrible diagnosis.
I said earlier, that I hope treatment is now possible. However do bear in mind, that C’s cancer was the only one of its type in 2011 in the UK and she was a very fit, non-smoker and light drinker, who’d hardly been ill in her near sixty years. She had had breast cancer, which was unrelated to the one that killed her, and had made a complete recovery.
A squamous cell carcinoma of the heart, must be one of the worst cancers you can get.
According to this article on the BBC, smaller pack sizes for paracetamol has led to fewer deaths, many of which are suicides.. However the number of suicides on the railways continues to grow to such a level, that special measures had to be taken.
And yesterday, it would appear that someone jumped off the roof of Eastfield. Accident? I doubt it!
The trouble with suicides, is that we try to stop them, by limiting the methods, when it would be better to stop the reasons people feel they might take their own life.
As to pain-killers, I rarely take them! A couple of years ago, I did have some severe pain after the stroke and had to resort to paracetamol, codeine and later amitriptyline. But I haven’t had a pain-killer since late 2010, although I may have had a small glass of the Scottish all-purpose remedy.
After Oakwood, I thought I take a bus through Barnet and come home on the Northern line, but I got off near where my mother-in-law used to live.
This picture shows St. James’s church in New Barnet. which was where my mother-in-law worshipped.
C, my late wife, also used to worship there as a child, but as a teenager she just didn’t get on with the vicar, so she moved her patronage to the church where we got married at Cockfosters.
By the time my mother-in-law died, there was a new vicar, who we’d not met until her funeral. He was incidentally an ex-policeman and we did know that my mother-in-law liked him a lot. She was taken into the church and the vicar started to go through the funeral service. Every time, he spoke of my mother-in-law he called her Frances and her many cousins in unison would chant her birth name of Edith.
After the cremation, we came back to her house round the corner and sandwiches and soft drinks were partaken. Most of the cousins left and we were left with a couple of my mother-in-law’s half-sisters and their family. We did then have a bottle of wine and about an hour later, when everybody had left, we were drinking by ourselves in the empty house, when the door bell rang.
It was the vicar! He’d been unable to come to the cremation or even back to the house, as he had had two funerals that day!
He congratulated us on our drink, as he felt it was a good practical idea. He then asked us, what all the hissing was about and we told him, how my mother-in-law had hated her first name and had always used her second. but the cousins had continued to use Edith.
He then said, that the first day, he’d met her, she’d walked up to him and said hello, indicating she was Frances and in the six months they’d known each other, he’d not used anything else.
So as she was virtually a friend, he felt that he didn’t need to check with the family. As it was, we’d have given the same name.
Today was probably the first day since then, that I’ve gone anywhere near that church.
This morning I was at Highbury Corner, waiting for a bus.
A funeral cortège passed and several of the men present took off their hats.
Michael Winner who died yesterday, is one of those people you just can’t replace. You can always put him down as another Great British Eccentric like Patrick Moore or Henry Blofeld, but in some ways he was more than that!
He may not be looked upon as a great director of films, but he did make some good ones, although not all were to my taste. I remember the film, West 11, being discussed in the papers in the early sixties. It was one of the first serious roles for that tragic actress; Diana Dors. And then there was Hannibal Brooks, which must surely be one of the most unusual war films ever. But look at the credits and cast lists of his films and he certainly could persuade the best to work with him.
But no-one is saying this morning he didn’t have lots of personal charm.
As to his restaurant reviews, I can always remember C, searching for them in The Sunday Times and then having a good laugh.
I doubt, we will see the like of Michael Winner again!
In a piece by Anne Spackman, the Comment Editor, which describes him as an editor, who knew the value of editing, there is this final paragraph.
When his wife rang just days later to say that William had been taken into hospital, she said he wasn’t afraid of dying. “It’s going to be so very interesting,” he had told her.
If we could all be as brave and dignified, when the time comes.
He will always be remembered for Thunderbirds. Although, Wikipedia doesn’t mention this, I remember seeing the first episode, Trapped in the Sky, in a prime Saturday evening slot and ITV billed it as Gerry Anderson’s first adult program. Only later did it settle into being a children’s program.
That first episode is one of the best pieces of British television. If it had a problem, it was that it set a standard that was impossible to attain consistently.
This is some interesting research as reported on the BBC.
Apparently, solo artists seem to die younger than those in groups.