At 8.58am yesterday I was just about arriving at work and Mr A’s death was certified. I didn’t know about it though. I didn’t know until about half an hour later because Mrs A’s carer had arrived at 8am that morning and had found Mrs A in a distressed state because she couldn’t rouse her husband.
When the care agency phoned to tell me about the recent death, a lot of thoughts raced through my mind. Firstly, Mr A was relatively young – late 60s. I had been to visit Mr and Mrs A last thing on Friday. Secondly my thoughts flitted to Mrs A. She needed pretty much constant care. We have a substantial care package as it is but there wasn’t any way we’d be able to leave her alone. Her upset and distress as well were to the forefront. It was a content and companionable second marriage for Mrs A after a first marriage marked by great tragedy and significant abuse.
So I made a few phone calls to explore possibilities of placement. There was a bed available on one of the wards but fortunately, there was also a bed available at a nursing home where Mrs A had been for respite care – they knew her – they knew Mr A. They could accept her immediately. More telephone calls for transport. Oh, and the animal warden.
And so, just over an hour after an official certification of death, I arrived at the flat. The police were still present as they were waiting for an undertaker to arrive. So I sat with Mrs A and the corpse of her husband all morning.
It was hard to ignore the body, although it was covered. The flat was warm, the photographs were plastered all over the walls. One cat mewed around our feet – the other we think, was too curious about the body in the next room.
The police flitted in and out – checking identities, trying to find out information. Mrs A cried. She has a fairly advanced dementia, but she cried. She sat in her wheelchair and cried. There was an absolute awareness – although I had been told by the police on my arrival that she was confused and therefore didn’t know what was going on. She certainly did when I spoke to her. She told me about not being able to wake her husband. Just as had happened with her first husband. In the same flat. She pointed to the fruit in the bowl that Mr A had bought for her the previous evening. And the other things he had done for her.
For he had done a massive amount for her. My first meeting was in hospital when trying to arrange a return home for her. He came to the hospital every day and sat with her through the entire visiting period. Devotion was an understatement. And for Mrs A, her eyes quite literally lit up when she saw him and when she spoke about him. When making a plea for a return home over the more favoured move to residential care, it was the relationship with Mr A that sealed it. Her clear joy at being with and around him. I think it almost moved me to tears as I explained in probably over sentimental ways to the funding panel the need for a return home for Mrs A. Against most of the advice of the hospital.
I have done some courses in bereavement counselling. Granted it was years ago and you draw on what you can. But I’m not sure about those moments, minutes and hours after a death. But I sat with her. I held her hand when I couldn’t think of what to say. Most of the time, I didn’t say anything except an explanation of what we had arranged. We both knew she wouldn’t be returning to the home.
A neighbour who had seen the police and ambulance arrive popped by. He spoke to the police at length as he had known the couple well. I’d met him before in other circumstances. Another neighbour offered to take the cats. Which was fortunate because the animal warden wasn’t being very good at returning telephone calls.
I travelled with Mrs A to the nursing home. The police stayed on at the flat, still waiting for the undertaker. When we arrived, the care staff and residents at the nursing home who knew her from the respite recognised her. There was a lot of hugging. And more than a few tears. They all knew Mr A too, because even during the respite, he had visited daily. He was a cheerful and affable man who would never pass anyone without a greeting.
It was an out of borough placement so by the time I got back to the locality, I just about made my 4pm visit with minutes to spare. I held it together through that hour – fortunately, it was a joint visit with a colleague. I told her to lead on it.
Today, I go back to the flat and then to Mrs A with some clothes. We hadn’t been able to take any because the position of the body had barred access to the wardrobe.
So just after 5pm yesterday, having left my desk just before 10am that morning without having been back to the office, I got on the bus home. And I started to cry. Not the full-blown sobbing or even the, I’m ashamed to say, more common stress-induced tears of frustration , but more the occasional tear forming, kind of crying. I wasn’t sure what exactly I was crying for.
The uncertainty and unfairness of life and death I think and of a man and a woman who loved each other so much when neither had any other family, but they had created a relationship from loneliness that had added so much joy to both.
He was a good man. The police found no trace of any family. He never spoke of any family except Mrs A. The neighbours told me that he was well-loved in the community and that doesn’t surprise me. The coroner was given my details as a contact for Mrs A though, so I can be informed about the autopsy and funeral.