Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Today, the D-word. (It’s being so cheerful as keeps me going)

When a close relative shuffles off, it may be therapeutic for the bereaved to attend to the details

When a close relative shuffles off, it may be therapeutic for the bereaved to attend to the details of their final chapter. Its a different matter altogether making advance preparations for oneself. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: copyright: Archant 2013

Mum fell over, breaking her shoulder, on October 3, 2013. I remember the date because that day’s newspaper remained by the phone for almost six months, until she moved back into the house.

My brother and I were reluctant to move it. After all, she hadn’t done the crossword yet. It was important for us to believe she still might.

The care home where she stayed during the months following her discharge from hospital was good. After many weeks, however, she began to express a yearning for her own home. She’d need resident care. We said, “Spend the inheritance, Mum. We’ll manage.” She was a prudent woman and reluctant to be a nuisance. But she did want to come home.

One sunny day in February, 2014, we sprang her from the place I’d irreverently nicknamed Olditz.

Her care programme would cost a lot. Yet everyone I knew with knowledge of such matters repeated the mantra “They do much better if they can be in their own home.”


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One experienced carer warned me sombrely, “After a bone breakage following a fall, something like 70% of over-80-year-olds die within a year.”

Bearing this in mind, Younger Bruv and I agreed to just give her the best quality of life we could.

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The agency carer who arrived to look after my mum was perfect. A young Slovenian woman, she was cheery, personable and a great cook.

Within a week or two Mum had visibly rallied. A former army wife and, earlier, a wartime ATS girl, she was pretty tough but she’d worked hard all her life and at almost 88 now needed this help.

Until her early 80s she’d still been helping “older people” and assisting at the British Legion. She still enjoyed her fags and brandy.

One day the doctor arrived. “Mrs Newell, you are smoking,” he said. “I know,” she replied.

Holding up the cigarette packet with her good arm, she asked him, “Can you read what that says?” The doctor peered at the warning on the packet. “Hmmm. ‘Smoking Kills’. Quite right too,” he said.

“It’s taking a bloody long time,” she replied. How we laughed. Except for the doctor.

She died on April 10. There was a day of some discomfort, then she was taken into Colchester General, where she slipped away within a few hours.

I was a little depleted by this time. I had sciatica and, only six days earlier, had enjoyed a fairly major eye operation in London.

These were not great times, you understand, but then we weren’t a typical family. We’d always shared a brutal sense of humour. Just as well.

Bruv and I busied ourselves with the usual stuff. I took on clerical duties: death registration, signing this, signing that, cancelling the other, phoning and writing letters to people who weren’t online.

Then we were bowled a curve-ball. We were informed by the hospital and a funeral director that they’d mislaid mum’s body. Nobody’s fault.

The problem arose partly because of two separate funeral firms – both run by women with the same christian name – operating in our area.

In a strange configuration of the fates, I had phoned one funeral director. The hospital, having been issued by me with the same christian name, had phoned the other.

Additionally, because Mum had died within 24 hours of admission to hospital, by law (following the Harold Shipman cases) a post-mortem was now required. This involved Mum being transported to Chelmsford, then returned to Colchester. Somewhere in the middle of it all, the wrong undertaker had collected her.

There was a brief period where nobody knew where she was. Everyone was a trifle concerned, apart from the Brothers Newell, who seized upon its comedy value, agreeing nobody would have been more amused than our mother herself.

The hospital authority and the funeral directors couldn’t have been more solicitous. “Don’t worry,” I assured them. “We’re not going to sue you. It’s not your fault. If anyone’s, it’s probably mine.” My mother’s body soon turned up and was collected, this time by the correct undertaker.

My brother and I continued, as diligent sons do, crossing Ts and dotting the Is. It’s only what she herself would have done.

Former ATS Corporal B.V. Newell of the Pay Corps was in life militarily meticulous in the administration of her affairs.

Here, however, is where I learned a useful life lesson. When a close relative shuffles off, it may be therapeutic for the bereaved to attend to the details of their final chapter. It’s a different matter altogether making advance preparations for oneself... Part 2 next week…

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