Last month, our family sadly changed forever when my step mum Liz finally lost her 16 year battle with cancer. Liz’s death was heartbreaking enough. During COVID-19, as my Dad says, it was a double nightmare.
Ever since 7 January, Liz had been an in-patient at The Christie, Manchester’s specialist cancer hospital. For most of that time, my Dad, Barrie, was able to visit every day and spend valuable time with her. However, after the lockdown began on 23 March, he wasn’t allowed to go. This only changed during the final week of Liz’s life, when he was able to see her once more. However, it sadly meant he couldn’t be there when she died.
The challenges we’ve had to face as a family have been immense. Geographically we don’t live close by, which meant that before we could have the funeral, my dad had to spend over 3 weeks on his own coping with his grief without physical support from close family and friends. During this period, neighbours kindly cooked meals and did the shopping as, due to his age, Dad was unable to leave the house.
Funeral arrangements were made simpler by the fact that a funeral director was recommended to us, although it quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to give Liz the funeral she deserved. Our initial fear was that no-one would be able to attend at all. Thankfully in Cheshire, 10 people were allowed. The whole thing would take 25 minutes to allow for a deep clean of the crematorium in between services, the coffin could be escorted in but not lifted, we had to organise our own flowers and arrange for these to be delivered to the funeral director on the morning and we couldn’t have an order of service, only a memorial card. Obviously, we couldn’t get together afterwards with family and friends to share memories.
A few personal touches were possible. We couldn’t meet with the celebrant who conducted the service in person but could have a video call to discuss arrangements and ask questions, which was very useful. We were still able to deliver a eulogy and readings ourselves and could have the music of Liz’s choice. Whilst her friends couldn’t attend to say goodbye, we were able to leave from home so whilst social distancing, people were able to line the streets nearby to pay their respects, which was quite a sight to see. We look forward to celebrating her life with them all as soon as we are able.
Arrangements for sorting out Liz’s financial affairs are underway. This is made much easier by the fact she had made a valid will expressing her wishes. I cannot stress highly enough the importance of making a will – everyone should do so, to ensure that your loved ones are provided for in accordance with your wishes after your death.
There’s a lot to sort out following a death and at a time when everyone is grieving, I recommend taking some pressure off the family by using a specialist lawyer, even if things look to be pretty straight forward. This does not need to be expensive and has certainly provided our family with peace of mind. It’s possible to access a lot of information online, although we found some things confusing and being able to have a video call with our lawyer when we could have all of our questions answered was so useful and put our minds at rest.
There’s a lot to do when someone dies and it can seem very daunting, especially in this time of COVID-19 and nothing is as we knew it. Allowing those who understand what needs to be done to guide you through the maze is critical and will allow you that all-important time to grieve.
I wanted to write this personal blog during Mental Health Awareness week to share my family’s story in the hope that the information here might help another family going through a similar experience.
Our legal support is kindly being provided by Ceri Webster, Associate at Hugh James.
About the author
Deborah Johnson is a consultant lawyer at Hugh James, working in the claimant division on business development and client relationships. Before that, she worked for many years as a personal injury solicitor in the area of road collisions, representing bereaved families and people with life-changing injuries. Deborah is also Chair of Brake, the road safety charity.