Do Pokémon Go and Cemeteries Mix? Let’s Find Out…

Pokemon Go

by Christina 

Unless you’ve been living under the sofa, you’ll have heard talk of the latest craze – a smartphone game in which you wander the real world with your eyes glued to your phone screen as you hunt around a Google-Maps style landscape for virtual creatures that you can catch and collect. You can find them in parks. You can find them in the street. And surprise, surprise – you can find them in cemeteries. There are even rumours that the ones you find in cemeteries are SPECIAL Pokémon that only reside among gravestones. And if, like me, you’ve become addicted to Pokémon Go over the past few days, then the lure of rare Pokémon is rather strong.

Pokemon!

You may also have seen news reports about people getting locked in graveyards after hours because they were hunting Pokémon, and various museums and war graves’ commissions pleading with people not to play the game on their property, because it’s just not a very sensitive thing to do.

At the same time, stories have started to break showing that in some places, the opportunity for game players to make important real life interactions and discoveries that they would not normally seek out had been recognised, and potential for good seen.

Even on my Facebook page, informal discussions have started to happen. Is Pokémon Go a stupid game that is dangerous and not always appropriate, or is it an opportunity for adults and young people alike to get out there, get active and get noticing the world around them?

After thinking about all these things in relation to Cemetery Club, I decided to carry out an experiment, the objective being to discover two things:-

1.) Does it feel insensitive and wrong to play Pokemon Go in a cemetery and

2.) Would I gain anything positive from the experience, i.e. learn something I didn’t know, find things I would not have otherwise seen and generally pay attention to my surroundings, turning a smartphone gaming dalliance into a meaningful real-life experience?

This afternoon, I went to Nunhead Cemetery, one of the Magnificent Seven Victorian garden cemeteries of London as well as a working cemetery, intending to find out.

The Gates of Nunhead

I chose Nunhead because people go there for a host of different reasons – not just to visit graves but also to learn about Victorian History, to have a nice walk, to take the dogs out for a run, to see nature…and there’s a lot of tree cover. If I felt like I was in the woods then perhaps it wouldn’t be as weird as if I was just standing in a graveyard trying to catch cartoon pigeons.

Pokémon Go at the Cemetery

The first thing that happened on arrival at Nunhead was that the game crashed (it crashes a lot) and we couldn’t open it. When we did, there was a lot of aimless wandering around without any action. We were hindered every time another human being walked past us, because we felt self conscious and hurriedly put our phones down by our sides.  If I don’t want anyone to see that I am playing a game in a cemetery, then on some level do I feel that it is inappropriate?

After a while, the game loaded enough that we were able to see that several parts of the cemetery had been made ‘Pokéstops’ – points on the map that when in close range, yield virtual prizes. They also can be clicked on in order for one to learn a snippet of information about that point of interest. At Nunhead, it turns out the Anglican Chapel has been made a Pokéstop (I know right? You’d never know it just to look at it). Several areas containing war graves have also been made Pokéstops. This feels slightly weird. I personally would take the opportunity to look more closely at the graves and try to have the proper respect for them, but would everybody else? It’s hard to know for sure.

Pokémon No....

Pokémon No….

We didn’t find any actual Pokémon until we stumbled out into the open air of the modern end of the cemetery, with the most recent graves. These ones were actually being visited and so when a large orange crab appeared on top of one of the gravestones, I felt intrusive and insensitive in catching it, rather than excited.

Oops....

Oops….

Cemetery Mayhem...

Cemetery Mayhem…

Once home, I decided to walk down to Beckenham Cemetery – this is a more modern cemetery (although it does still house some pretty old graves) with an open-plan layout. It would also be busier today, with a flower seller outside the front gate and several people dressed in their Sunday best, coming to lay flowers at gravesides. I figured that if it was completely inappropriate to play a video game in a cemetery, I would find out for sure here.

The game crashed again as soon as we entered, rendering the trip almost pointless. Except that in my rage at not being able to access my virtual army of big-eyed creatures, I started stamping my foot and huffing loudly. Then I looked up and realised I was pretty much standing ON  the grave of W.G Grace and the game was up. If you come to a cemetery and have a loud tantrum because you won’t be able to catch a giant yellow mouse then you are probably missing the point.

It's just not cricket...

It’s just not cricket…

To be honest, I am still undecided and therefore there will be no neat conclusion to this post. On the one hand, I see the potential for people who wouldn’t normally go into a cemetery to discover the peacefulness, the nature, the history that all resides there. On the other hand – you risk offending/disturbing those around you who might be grieving. And if you don’t look up from your phone screen, you don’t see anything of your surroundings anyway.

What do you think?  Should cemeteries welcome Pokémon Go players as long as they abide by some rules, or should players stay well away and have a bit more respect for these spaces for the dead?

A polite notice to dog walkers....will a polite notice to gameplayers soon follow?

A polite notice to dog walkers….will a polite notice to game players soon follow?

 

 

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We Went On A Walk Around Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in a Rainstorm…You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next!

by Christina

I would apologise for the ‘clickbait’ title but I really like it. If you clicked on it purely to find out what happened when me and my mum got caught in a downpour at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park a couple of months back then you are in for a treat! The conclusion to the story is that we were wearing macs, so we were fine. But then the rain ended, and we were left with a dripping forest of green, sheltering centuries old graves from the elements. It was beautiful and tranquil and a pleasure to wander around for an hour on a cold, grey May afternoon.

Here are some photographs – I hope you like them and if you’ve not been to Tower Hamlets Cemetery before, then I hope this inspires you to take a walk up to E3 to delve into this half hidden slice of East End history. And if you are free this weekend, maybe we can convince you to join us at Shuffle Festival, where Sheldon and Sam will be giving tours of this wonderful old Victorian Cemetery-slash-nature-reserve.

Angels dance among the trees

Angels dance among the trees

Not just a cemetery - this place is a haven in the midst of the city for flora and fauna too

Not just a cemetery – this place is a haven in the midst of the city for flora and fauna too

 

Richard and Sophia Duck

Graves closely packed together under the branches of ancient looking trees.

Graves closely packed together under the branches of ancient looking trees.

Maybe the ghosts of The East End were trying to tell us how to vote in the EU Referendum?

Maybe the ghosts of The East End were trying to tell us how to vote in the EU Referendum?

Graves half hidden by foliage, some completely hidden, some lost forever. This grave is one of the lucky ones.

Graves half hidden by foliage, some completely hidden, some lost forever. This grave is one of the lucky ones.

A vast, sprawling empire of the dead, hidden away behind houses and busy roads in E3

A vast, sprawling empire of the dead, hidden away behind houses and busy roads in E3

Its hard to capture the beauty of such a green place just after the rain. But we tried...

Its hard to capture the beauty of such a green place just after the rain. But we tried…

Identical graves all lined up....between 1854 and 1929, Tower Hamlets Cemetery was used as the burial ground for the Brothers of The Charterhouse (Monastery turned almshouse) in Smithfield

Identical graves all lined up….between 1854 and 1929, Tower Hamlets Cemetery was used as the burial ground for the Brothers of The Charterhouse (Monastery turned almshouse) in Smithfield

Sometimes maybe the living and the dead shouldn't mix?

Sometimes maybe the living and the dead shouldn’t mix?

Tower Hamlets is full of art installation pieces from previous festivals. We ran across this colourful bench which made us happy!

Tower Hamlets is full of art installation pieces from previous festivals. We ran across this colourful bench which made us happy!

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park has been home to Danny Boyle’s Shuffle Festival since 2013 and this weekend (starting on Sat 9th July), once again, you can turn up for talks and walks, outdoor film screenings at midnight, food, music and apparently there’s also a water bomb war for the kids, or if you’re into that sort of thing. Get your tickets here! And discover this most wonderful of old Victorian cemeteries for yourself.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 23.23.30

All photographs (except Shuffle Festival image) copyright Christina Owen 2016

 

 

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Shuffle Festival 2016

by Sheldon

Death usually depresses the hell out of people and 2016 seems to be doing a good enough job of that already – from the loss of icon after icon and Brexit; this year is one to be remembered.

But there are still plenty of things to be chipper about – such as the return of the ever-fantastic Shuffle Festival 2016 on Saturday 9th July 2016, which I’m pleased to say we’re part of again this year. Any festival celebrating life, humanity and community which also happens to be in a Cemetery, goes down well in our book.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 23.23.30.png

Partnering with our good friends at the Tower Hamlets Cemetery, myself and Sam will be guiding you around the heroes and villains of this east-end Valhalla. This is the third year we’ve been involved – read the testimonials from previous tours here. Seeing as the Somme celebrates its centenary this year, a new person of interest is being added to the tour – a man who remarkably survived the entire First World War from start to finish unscathed, but whose heroic death had the East End turn out in their droves to pay their respects.

Running over a 24 hour period, the festival will see the park see both sunset and sunrise. We’ll be running the tours at 3, 5, 7 and 9pm – I’ll be doing the latter two as I have prior work commitments and Sam, master of Highgate and Abney Park, shall be doing the first two. Come along, hear about these old characters of the E postcode – others have and have loved it! 

Other events include a Fallen Idols DJ Set where the works of Bowie, Prince and A Tribe Called Quest will be played to commemorate the musicians we’ve lost this year, films (including Steve Jobs, directed by festival founder Danny Boyle, which will be shown at midnight), music, live performances and head ranger Ken, who will be giving a talk on how to curate a funeral.

Tickets for the tour can be booked here. See you then!

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Scar of the Somme

One hundred years ago tomorrow, a terrible event happened that would change the face of British warfare, forever robbing the lives of men and boys, not to mention sons, daughters, nieces and nephews who would never get the chance to be born. This week, we invite Westminster Guide Charlie Foreman of London War Walks  to give us a taste of 1916.

by Charlie

At 7.30 am on 1st July 1916 tens of thousands of British troops left their trenches on the Somme and walked slowly into the greatest massacre ever experienced by the British army. Twenty thousand died.

Back in London, anyone reading the Sunday Pictorial over breakfast the next morning would have been delighted to read that 16 miles of the German front had been captured. Except it hadn’t – and the Sunday Pictorial was just typical of a programme of misinformation so complete that very few people back in Blighty had much idea of the enormity of the catastrophe.

Outside Charing Cross Station, July 1916. Casualties from the Battle of the Somme arriving in London” by J Hodgson Lobley (c)IWM


With those 20,000 dead came 37,000 wounded – their plight in many ways more urgent and immediate. Most of the twenty hospital trains, ordered up to the front in preparation for the offensive had not arrived. And in the delay more men died.

It was days before the hospital ships got them across the channel and a succession of further trains took them up to London. Troops had been leaving from the London railway termini and coming back wounded ever since the war started. So it was the scale of the arrivals in that first week of July, not the newspapers,  that started to alert the London public that something was seriously wrong.


At Charing Cross detachments of stretcher bearers waited for the long grey trains with red crosses on them. They carried the men out – four to each waiting ambulance – and then a nurse was assigned to travel with them. These trains were rolling in almost every hour day and night. Drivers and nurses were working nights without a break for two, three weeks on end – with drivers getting so tired falling asleep at the wheel, working so incessantly they could go all night without food. Nurses didn’t give any pain relief, could provide a little reassurance  but could always rustle up a cigarette, sometimes lighting up and sticking them between the lips on heavily bandaged faces.

The relentlessness of these convoys didn’t go unnoticed. Crowds gathered at the station gates. The girls who – like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady – used to sell flowers along the Strand and in Covent Garden threw them into the open back doors of the ambulances.


By 1916 London had over 200 hospitals of many types ready to receive soldiers. The nearest to Charing Cross Station was – Charing Cross hospital. It was just two minutes walk away– not that these men were doing any walking . It was close enough to take emergencies – those who perhaps should never have left the coast on arrival, or who developed unexpected complications on the train journey. Even here crowds gathered at the gateway, so thick that police were needed to control them – and again they watched as the convoys arrived.

Turn left further down the Strand and you would soon reach Endell St, the site of one of London’s most remarkable military hospitals. It was run entirely by women. Flora Murray, the doctor in charge was on the pay of a lieutenant colonel –  she wasn’t actually a lieutenant colonel as no woman could hold military rank. Assisted by Louisa Garrett Anderson – the daughter of Britain first female doctor– this hospital treated nearly 30,000 patients during the war; its surgeons carried out 7,000 operations.


This was almost certainly the first time on British soil that women had operated on men. During the Somme offensive Endell Street received convoys of up to twenty ambulances at a time; often in the middle of the night.  Murray and Garrett Anderson were suffragettes and they expected the success of their hospital to have an impact on perceptions of women in public life. They photographed their work meticulously.  They were right – this was indeed part of the big push that led to the enfranchisement of women.

Shocking and new, this was total war and London was central to it. City of Westminster guides are recreating the feel of London during that Somme offensive in a series of walks running through the summer. The first one will be at 7.30am on that fateful 1st July exactly 100 years after the first offensive. The walks run regularly through the summer and can be booked via http://tinyurl.com/somme100walk

Posted in Heritage, History, Memorial, Military, Somme, Uncategorized, War | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Pirate’s Graveyard

Today’s post is written by Archaeologist, Egyptologist and Death Historian Lorraine Evans, founder of Morte Photography. Founded in an attempt to stem the tide of destruction that Evans witnessed in many burial grounds her blog was born in the autumn of 2013 to bring to life the plight of such historical and architectural treasures found within. 

The Bad Cook High Res Copyrighted

OK, I admit it, the Pirates Graveyard isn’t really a burial place for pirates, in fact the correct name is St. Regulus’ Graveyard, but as almost all the gravestones bear skull and cross bones the locals have named it thus. Tucked away at the eastern tip of the Black Isle, in the pretty village of Cromarty, Highlands, Scotland, the Pirates Graveyard is a tranquil yet evocative site. The graveyard itself is not signposted, but you will know when you have reached your destination as the entrance path is just opposite the servants’ tunnel (now disused) that leads up to the secluded Cromarty House.

The ruins of the old chapel of St. Regulus once occupied the edge of a narrow projecting angle, but it is now lost by the encroachment of the adjacent ravine. What remains are a few shapeless mounds and the grassed-over walls of the private chapel of the Urquhart clan chiefs. Entry to the crypt is still possible today. A single flight of stairs lead down into the musty darkness, the crypt opening protected by the Urquhart clan crest, situated proudly above the doorway.

Urqhuart Clan Crest High Res

A few yards from here there is a rather splendid skull and crossbones gravestone, which bears the name of the ‘burnt cook.’ According to local tradition it is said that the children of Cromarty must spit on this particular stone as they pass by. Why is not known, there is no account of its origins, although in Clavis Calendaria it states that in some places in England it was customary for people to spit every time they named the devil. Maybe he was just a really bad cook!

Hugh_Millers_Daughters_Gravestone High Res

The graveyard has a particular significance to the highly-acclaimed writer and renowned geologist Hugh Miller. Opposite the Urquhart crypt stands the little headstone of Hugh and Lydia Miller’s first-born child Eliza, who died of a fever aged only seventeen months. In fact, this is the last piece of stonework that Miller carved. Several of his ancestors lie beside her and before their marriage, the Pirates Graveyard had been one of Hugh and Lydia’s trysting places during their long courtship.

Hugh Miller gives an interesting description of the gravestones in his Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland. He states:

‘They are mostly all fashioned in that heavy grotesque style of sculpture, which, after the Reformation had pulled down both the patterns and patrons of the stone-cutter, succeeded, in this part of the country, to the lighter and more elegant style of the time of the Jameses. The centres of the stones are occupied by the rude semblances of skulls and crossbones, dead-bells and sand-glasses, shovels and spectres, coffins and armorial bearings; while the inscriptions, rude and uncouth as the figures, run in continuous lines round the margins. They tell us, though with as little variety as elegance of phrase, that there is nothing certain in life except its termination; and, taken collectively, read us a striking lesson on the vicissitudes of human affairs.’

A somewhat derogatory account of what I consider to be some of the most stunning gravestones that have survived to date. But Miller was writing at a time when Presbyterianism ruled the day and such emblematic insignia was considered an affront to such religious dogma.

st_regulus_converted

Viewed from the ruins of the crypt, the designated burial ground clusters beneath a fence of trees, where a number of seventeenth and eighteenth century grave slabs, each one intricately decorated in the ‘memento mori’ style, sit. For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘memento mori’ is Latin for ‘remember you will die’ and it gives its name to a unique style of burial sculpture, which includes the skull and crossbones, angels of the resurrection, dead-bells, coffins, spades, timers and so on. The Pirates Graveyard is exceptional in that practically every grave-marker above ground falls into this category. I have chosen just a few examples for your enjoyment.

The Davidson Stones High Res Copyrighted

The so-called ‘Davidson Stones’ lie sheltered beneath the branches of a large Cyprus tree and consist of a delightful matching pair of ‘husband and wife’ memento mori grave slabs. Although the dates have been somewhat eroded the style of sculpture fits neatly into the eighteenth century pattern. The inscription reads as follows: ALEXANDER DAVIDSON notar public in Cromarty who died (? eroded) spouse ELSP(eth?) (? Eroded)….Sapienter Sincere

The_Bog-Eyed skull john urquhart high res

The second example belongs to a member of the Urquhart clan and dates to 1712. It consists of your standard memento mori carvings complete with an Urquhart heraldic shield. The inscription reads: Here lyes the body of JOHN URQUHART glover in Cromarty who died in 1712 and his spouse MARGARET SIMPSON/who died the—–of——-MARY THOMSON his second spouse.

The Pirate Stone High Res Copyrighted

Leaving the best to last, it could be argued, is the quite stunningly beautiful ‘Swan Stone.’ Lying precariously on its side, and somewhat ‘green’ in nature, this particular example is one of the oldest grave slabs to be found in the burial ground, the earliest inscription notes the death of a JO.SWAN in 1675. Again we find the standard memento mori carvings of a skull and crossbones et al but also the unusual addition of a ship, a ship with sails no less. It, therefore, begs the question, could there be a ‘pirate’ connection after all?

So there you have it. I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to a gem of a graveyard and if you are ever venturing into these distant lands, a detour to St. Regulus is well advised. You will not regret it.

You can see more of Lorraine’s work and photography at Morte Photography.

 

Posted in Heritage, Lost, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Rubbing Shoulders With The Living: A Great Day Out At Nunhead Open Day

Nunhead

By Christina

I have a leaflet in front of me about The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery. They gave it to me when I visited their stall at Nunhead Open Day on Saturday. It costs £2 a year to join and I’m going to sign up right after I write this post. The leaflet says ‘Nunhead Cemetery is unique and it’s future is of importance to the whole community’. I would argue that it has 6 grand old Victorian brothers and sisters and actually, in London it isn’t quite unique. But it’s rare – rare to find a tranquil green space like this in London – one that’s so quiet. I wrote in a previous post that Nunhead feels almost forgotten, and it’s hidden away in a far-flung corner of south east London. A lot of people commented on the post, saying ‘it’s not hidden or difficult to find! I love it and I go there all the time!’ And that sums Nunhead up nicely. To the people who know of it’s presence in our modern world, it is much beloved. As it should be, for it is truly Magnificent and even though 6 other Magnificent cemeteries exist in London, this one belongs to the south east bit of it, and in my part of the capital, there really is nothing else like it.

Nunhead

Every year the Friends throw open the gates to the public – in a manner of speaking. The gates are always open. But on this day, the gates are REALLY thrown open. You can go into the normally fenced off Anglican chapel, you can tour the crypts, which are also usually closed to the Everyman and his dog. I even found that Nunhead’s one mausoleum, which I have peered into so many times (it’s empty) was open and I could *gasp* go in it! There was an art exhibition in there, something to do with animals during World War I. On the shelves where coffins used to be stood plastic cows and elephants. It was rather bizarre, but fun.

Animals in the mausoleum

Animals in the mausoleum

Opposite, a woman was sitting on a tomb in a picnic chair. Her belongings and the things she had for sale were spread around her, on the neighbouring tombs. She didn’t appear to realise she was using people’s graves as a pop-up shop and I wondered what the inhabitants of the tombs would think. They might have liked it. There was something sort of exciting about the living and the dead existing together like this, if only for an afternoon.

A colourful mat on a gravestone.

A colourful mat on a gravestone.

Nunhead

I hadn’t been to Nunhead Open Day before and I wasn’t prepared for how busy it was. Every time I have been to this, the second largest of the Magnificent Seven, it was quiet and sparsely populated by humans (and dogs). Today it was HEAVING. What a sight to see! The main walkway looked like Main Street at Disneyland. How wonderful to see members of the community enjoying the cemetery and supporting local charities and small businesses. Stalls lined the path – The East Surrey Badger Protection Society, Camberwell Gardens Guild, Nunhead Art Trail, the WI to name but a few.

Nunhead

I stopped at Mike Elliot’s bee stand and although I was disappointed to learn that he hadn’t brought any bees with him, we spoke about the difference between bumble and honey bees for a few minutes. Book stalls were everywhere. This pleased my Dad, who I was with. He had brought his own carrier bag in anticipation of second-hand book Paradise. Plant stands, more local charities, a refreshment stand and picnic area which saw crowds of people having lunch and chatting, clustered around the Scottish Political Martyrs monument.

Nunhead

Up a side path and into a clearing and here was a tent full of falcons and owls! For a small donation you could have your photo taken with one of the birds. I have always wanted to take falconry lessons, so getting to put on the Big Glove and let a Tawny Owl hoot gently on the end of my arm was a treat indeed.

Nunhead Owl

Old style undertaker carriages and even a rock n roll Cadillac drawing up to sit on display just over the way from a flock of magnificent jet black horses…this day had everything.

Nunhead Open Day

Nunhead

I wandered around the inside of the chapel, for the first time, drinking everything in, exploring all the corners of it as a crowd crammed in to hear a choir sing Moon River. Everything was so alive! What a novelty to see a cemetery burst with so much vitality.

Nunhead

Nunhead doesn’t get as much attention as some of the bigger players in the Victorian cemetery world, like Highgate or Brompton. But today it got plenty and I think it was pleased.

Busier than Florida

Busier than Florida

Keep an eye on the FONC web site for details of upcoming events and next year’s Open Day!

All photographs by Christina Owen May 2016

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Bereavment – Finding My Way Through

While death is an inevitable part of life  many of us, myself included, find it difficult to talk about dying and bereavement. This week is Dying Matters Awareness week ( 9 – 15 May 2016) and I’d like to share my own personal experience of bereavement. I’d like to begin with a  special welcome to those of you who have had a bereavement and to express my sorrow for your loss. There is no right way to grieve, we all have to find our own way to get through it and this blog is how I’ve got through my first five months.

50 Mum & Dad's Grave

My mum died of cancer in 2005. We had six months from the diagnosis until her death. My mum, who had nursed my maternal grandmother though cancer, had always said that she didn’t want to know if she was very diagnosed with cancer, so during that time, I never got the chance to talk with my mum about her terminal illness or to find out her final wishes.

My dad died in November 2016. He had been frail and had had a serious heart attack and a cancer scare the year before. We’d got through all that and I was beginning to feel he would live forever. One Friday he was admitted into hospital for something quite minor, was diagnosed as terminally ill and died on the Sunday morning.

8

Loosing my mum was my first significant bereavement and had been really hard at the time but now that I have lost both parents it feels even harder. I’m in my forties and I feel like an orphaned child, left with a void and emptiness that will never be filled. While at the same time as next of kin, and an only child, the sorting out my dad’s house and his personal affairs legally rests with me. Bereavement is never easy but the finality of going through the contents of my family home and selling it brings an additional layer to the grieving process.

I was with my both my parents when they died. I had never been in the presence of someone who was dying before and I had no idea what to expect when I was with my mum. I just had this intuitive feeling that if possible I wanted to be with both my parents when they died. From getting the phone call to arriving at her nursing home took about 3 hours but it felt like 3 million, the journey was unbearable. I am so thankful that the nursing staff made that phone call and as I was able to spend my last afternoon with her before she was sedated to ease her pain. She died the following morning, one of the nurses had told us the last sense to go is a person’s hearing so I held my mum’s hand and talked to her until she passed away. I was also with my dad but I felt totally unprepared for his death that I was so tearful I couldn’t talk to him and was only able to hold his hand. I feel so privileged  that I was with both my parents in their final moments and this has brought me comfort, especially as I know other people who have wanted to be there for their own loved one and have not been that fortunate.

Afterwards there were so many feelings including disbelieve that my dad had gone, overwhelming sadness that he was no longer with us and a feeling of utter emptiness. With my dad the thing that struck me the most was the suddenness of it all. I had 24 hours to get my head round that my dad was dying, I still find it hard to believe that he left us so suddenly.

For me one of the hardest things to deal with was that there had been no discussions about death. With both my parents neither of them wanted to talk about their terminal illness and I respected their wishes. From the practical questions such as finding out where they wanted to be buried to the more profound and personal things that were left unsaid, in both cases this has made their passings even harder for me to come to terms with.

Support:  One of the things that has helped me get through this is the kindness and compassion of others. The emotional and practical support from friends and family  with messages on condolences cards, texts, phone calls and meeting up, was really appreciated. Expect a few surprises, sometimes the people who you are closest to are not necessarily the ones that will offer the most support. Consider professional support if you are finding things difficult.

The funeral:  I decided to see both my parents at undertakers before the funeral. I had gone with my dad to view my mum’s body and I had found it very unsettling. When my dad died I decided to go and although it still wasn’t easy I felt better prepared as I had been through it before. On both occasions I got a lot of comfort in seeing that they had been well take care of.  At the funeral to be honest throughout much of the service I was just sobbing  loudly,  but I was really touched by the people who attended and shared their memories of my dad.

Taking Time Out to Grief:  When my mum died I took time off work while she was ill but quickly went back to work after her death. This time as my dad’s death was so sudden it’s only after the funeral that I have started to process what has happened.

Notifying People of the Death:  Alongside dealing with the grief there’s a lot of practical things that needs to be sorted out. The death needed to be registered, a funeral needed to be arranged and there are so many people, both friends, family and organisations, who need to be informed of the death. In the UK there are useful and clearly written guidelines on the government website about what to do when someone dies.

Many times the practical tasks felt totally overwhelming. Other times I got comfort from this as there is a sequence of practical tasks to follow, for example (in the UK) you need the medical certificate from the GP or hospital before you can register the death and likewise it’s only when  you register the death you get the documents you need for the funeral, and for me, having some order at a time when my feelings were all over the place was helpful as it gave me something to focus on other than the intense feelings of grief.

Sorting Out the paperwork:  One of the things I found really difficult was going through their papers to try to work out what they had and which companies I need to notify. My mum had taken the lead in  managing the family finances so when she died I searched the house to find bills, documents, etc, so I could work out which organisations needed to be contacted. This was hard to do on two account, firstly it didn’t feel right going through their personal and private papers and secondly it was very time consuming.

After my mum died we bought my dad a folder for him to keep his bills and when he passed away it was much easier to work out which companies we needed to contact. In the UK the Tell Us Once service, where available, let’s you report the death to most government organisations in one go. However there isn’t a similar service in the private sector.

Contacting Agencies:  I had a list of about 25 agencies I needed to contact, some of which needed more than one phone call to sort out. With each company I had to contact them and let them know my dad had died. It’s hard enough saying it once but repeating it over and over again is like rubbing salt into the wound. For the first few weeks it felt like it was a full time job with waiting to get though automated telephone menu systems before finally getting through to a real person. The reception I got from the agencies was very mixed from those who acknowledged the loss and were confident in their companies procedures to those who when I said my dad has just died were very business like and went straight into filling out their forms. With my intense feelings of grief, the response of the person on the other end of the phone or the wording of a letter made all the difference it could make or break my day. An acknowledgement of my dad’s death could give me the strength to work through the other things on my list for that day, while a lack of empathy would leave me feeling like “don’t you have any feelings, didn’t you hear what I just told you my dad has just died”, I was left a sad crumpled mess having to put off the next task until I regained my emotional strength.

This was my experience. There were the Good:  British Gas have a bereavement team and bills don’t have to be paid until probate is though, United Utilities Water quickly sent refund and have a policy of not charging the property while it is empty following a bereavement, Tax Office were really helpful and gave useful advice, Department of Works and Pensions, where there had been an overpayment, the letter acknowledged that it was a difficult time and apologised for requesting repayment. The Indifferent Council Tax refund just took ages to come through and the Bad:  Unilever Pensions very brisk and business like and no acknowledgement for my loss on the phone but she informed me they would be sending out a bereavement letter, the Post Office expected the telephone bill to be paid immediately but then wouldn’t give refund until probate came through and then the lady at counter seeing the refund letter, probate form and my ID couldn’t work out why I was getting the refund and wanted to discuss with her manager, Nationwide Building Society really helpful initially but when I took the probate letter to the Islington Angel branch I was told they couldn’t see me for a few days but, after I explained to them how difficult it had been for me that day to come in and I  had asked if another branch could see me, the cashier arranged for the Highbury Corner branch to see me immediately and they were really helpful, Nationwide House Insurance just sent a thank you letter returning the death certificate  and condolences letter came a couple of weeks later, which felt like  an afterthought.

Probate:  When my mum died everything went to my dad. When my dad died I had to sort out probate, to give me the legal right to sort out his financial affairs and home. In the UK on the government website there is clear step by step guidance about wills and probate. Personally my dad’s estate was relatively straight forward as he has left a will so I decided to do the probate without a solicitor.  It was a bit daunting at first but I found with the guidance from the website and a telephone call to the Inheritance Tax and Probate Helpline I was able to do it. I had to go to the solicitors where the original copy of his will was kept, complete the forms and send off a payment (this option was about £1,000 cheaper than if I had used a solicitor). When the paperwork was processed I then had to go to the Probate Registry to swear an oath, this was daunting and very emotional but the procedure was straight forwarded  and took about ten minutes. Then about a week later I received the Grant of Representation.

Sorting out the Family Home: This has been the most difficult of all the practical things that I’ve had to do. It’s been very emotional going through my dad’s personal papers and sorting out his belongings. Putting the house up for sale was hard and so too was having to receive telephone calls from the estate agents with ridiculously low offers from property developers who think they can grab a bargain from other people’s grief. In the end I told the estate agent that  I only wanted notification of offers above a certain level and I found this helpful.

Physical Effects:  I was prepared for the tears and sadness but my grief has also manifested itself physically. I feel for the last few months that my life has been work, sorting out my dad’s things and resting/ sleeping. There doesn’t feel anytime for anything else.

Reminiscing: This has been a particularly difficult thing for me as an only child. When my mum died I could talk with my dad about her and keep her memory alive. However now that dad has gone I have no one to remember and share stories about growing up in my family with.

Special Dates:  Christmas, Birthdays and anniversaries times are just the worst as it’s when my pain is at its most intense. This is the single hardest thing for me and one I’m really struggling with. I’m planning annual leave at work to coincide with significant dates so I can just focus on getting through it, marking or remembering the occasion as I want  without also having to juggle the pressures of work.

Bereavement is a journey not a destination. We don’t magically get over our loss we just learn to cope with it.

058 Chatsworth House 2808.93

What I’ve Learnt

  1. Enjoy the Mundane:  My regular phone calls with my dad would have him talking about television programmes or other such trivia, and now what I would give to hear my dad talk about anything just so I could hear his voice again. Don’t underrate the everyday as you don’t know how much we all take it for granted until it’s not there anymore.
  2. A Little Bit of Empathy Goes a Long Way:  Whether it’s a friend or family member phoning up out of the blue to check how you are doing or a worker in an agency just acknowledging your grief before they get on with the business it makes you feel less isolated in your grief.
  3. Life Goes On:  Some days it might not feel like it but we have a tremendous amount of resilience. Someone once told me the best way to honour the departed is to have a good and happy life as that’s what our loved ones would have wanted for us.
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