He arrived soon after 6am, but did not issue a death certificate. – and partly because I knew my uncle, her only son, wanted to see her one final time. In some ways, we were lucky: the policewoman was both gentle and empathetic and held off calling the undertaker to take Grandma to the morgue until about 9.30am, by which time my uncle had arrived and we had got ourselves together. But when you have, this loss of control and lack of emotional space is the very last thing you need.Instead, he explained that despite the thick file of medical notes, her age, and the fact that she had been seen several times a day by NHS professionals, he was required to refer the death to the coroner, who would then determine the cause of death. The undertaker, we learnt, is only temporary; you can later switch if you like – and we did, a couple of days later – to one of your choice, who will also look after the body in their own chapel of rest.
The funeral was beautiful; a bright, sunny day at Skipton crematorium; a coffin woven from Somerset willow covered in spring flowers and a cheery lunch afterwards overlooking Ilkley Moor. But when that happens, your private moment of grief is hijacked by the relentless machinery of the state, which can be incredibly distressing. She had been almost impossibly well her entire life, despite a diet heavy in purple Silk Cut, but fell ill just before Christmas.What we had hoped was flu turned into something much worse.'What,” Grandma wanted to know, “did you wear to that dinner you were at last night? I’m writing this piece in the hope that anyone reading it who may be caring for a terminally ill friend or relative who is expected to die at home can avoid falling into the same trap. Mum and I were beside her, and in those last few days she’d been surrounded by friends and family, with life going on all around her. What we didn’t realise was that a single piece of bureaucracy would transform the time in the immediate aftermath of her death from one of private adjustment into a distressing wrangle for which neither of us had the emotional budget.