Tuesday 29 August 2017

Things to do before you die

Losing a loved one is a very difficult time.

My father died suddenly last month. As an expat, I was fortunate to have been in the UK and to have spent some time with him in the days before his death and to have actually been with him when he died as I have a flat in the same town and was able to be there shortly after he collapsed.

My father wasn't a well man, after a heart attack in June 2012 and I had to make a 24 hour journey from South Africa with little contact not knowing if he had survived until I arrived in the UK.

Since that trip, leaving has been hard every single time, not knowing if I'd ever see him again and I'd always make sure that I'd call in at Mum and Dad's to say goodbye and tell them that I loved them and that I'd see them again soon.

In between visits there would be phone and skype calls and letters written. Sometimes the phone would ring and I just wouldn't be in the mood, they'd forget the time difference, I'd moan, but I'd answer the phone or I'd call back straight away.

Over the past 7+ years since I've been outside the UK there have been other calls to say various family members have been unwell, including our children, there have been deaths in the family and I've been able to come over for the funerals. I've also planned my travels for weddings and other happy events.

Prior to this trip, I was last in the UK in March and April. I'm not sure why I planned 2 trips so close to one another. This trip June till October was planned to help the teen with finishing school, find an apprenticeship and somewhere to live, but I decided to visit in spring also.

In April it was clear to me my father's health had declined, he was having difficulty managing the stairs, doing jobs around the house, my parents were talking about moving. Mum was looking at properties, Dad was contemplating selling some stuff to be able to downsize. Dad spoke to me about the finances, not the details but where I would find things, policies etc. Told me he had funeral cover for them both and he had started the process of sorting his stuff out. But there was plenty of time to go through everything on the next visit and we'd do it all then.

I had 3 weeks with my dad when I arrived back in June. He didn't go through the rest of the stuff with me, he didn't expect to die.

My father collected things, he wasn't a hoarder, but he had a lot of stuff. It's been a bone of contention between us for years. I've told him for years that when he's on his death bed I'm going to call in house clearance, as I sat there with my father the night he died, waiting for the paramedics, that was the last thought going through my mind. I never said it, but I knew it was something I'd be doing in the next few weeks.

It would be my father's 78th birthday on September 7th. I'd already bought him this card.
Seems so apt now, all I've done for the past 7 weeks is sort, tidy, sell, recycle, donate, tip box after box of stuff. Fishing gear, golf clubs, train sets, toy cars, real car, pub ashtrays, sports memorabilia, stamps, cigarette cards, newspapers. All of it of great value and meaning to my dad, all of it a chore to me to get rid of. Some of it of value, most of it he thought was of potential value, but sadly unless I become a full time ebayer, it's just £20-£50 here and there and I have no where to store it whilst I try to sell it.

There will be no house clearance, but there will be an auction. The stamps are more specialised, there are a few other items I will take time to sell on properly for him as he has requested. He would get really upset at the thought of us just breaking up his collections and selling them on for next to nothing after he died, but we told him when he was alive that the reality is that will just have to happen, unless he spent the time sorting through things himself and at least making a start.

My father had started to label items of family and personal interest. His father's pocket watch, his footballing days and trophies. Items he'd picked up on his travels and of course Mum is able to add to the stories, identify items and tell me what things are, their history and personal value and meaning to help decide whether they should stay or go.

I'd been nagging my father for so long about getting his affairs in order that I'd started the process to sort mine out back in Dubai, between trips. Peter and I are downsizing in December and I am determined I will not leave this task to my children to do.

The grieving process for my father has been difficult, I've not had anything else in my life to measure it by to know if I'm doing OK or not, but it really hasn't been helped with all this added stress. I've been angry at him, I've had unanswered questions, I've screamed at the unfairness of why I'm having to clear all this shit out. I've cried in despair at the number of fishing rods one man needs and FFS he's never been deep sea fishing in his life, why so much gear? All the years I've asked for something but he's not let me have it, yet now, there's no satisfaction in it, and besides the bloody thing doesn't work anyway and he'd have known that. The glue sticks had all run dry, the envelopes had all lost their stick.

There are a lot of things I've learnt from my father's death, both good and bad about what needs to be done and I thought I'd share a list of what I'm going to do and/or have already put in place so when the time comes and I'm no longer here it will hopefully make things easier for my surviving relatives.
  • write a will, include funeral wishes and instruct the solicitors to act as executors and do probate where needed (particularly helpful if you predict family issues or family are spread far and wide)
  • write a separate list of every single item you want to go to each person
  • prepare your eulogy (my father had a pack with his CV, brief history of his football career, suggested hymns, readings)
  • arrange finances for funeral cover
  • ensure all policy documents are clearly labelled, keep a list of current/active documents, policy numbers and contact details in the front of files
  • if you have social media accounts set up a legacy and/or leave a list of passwords with someone you trust
  • leave a letter for your loved ones, even if it is 10+ years out of date
  • have your photo taken with all your family at every opportunity you have to do so
  • tell your family you love them and make sure they understand it's not just words
  • tell your family you are proud of everything they do
  • tell your children stories about your childhood, talk to them about the older generations and if they're too young to listen or don't seem interested then write it down
  • listen to the older generations, spend time with them, let them tell you the same stories over and over again, write down the stories
  • take a little sticky label and put it on the bottom of an ornament, object with who it was from and when (christening gift, aunty xxxx 19xx)
  • research your family tree, add photo's, snippets of info, dates, interesting facts like your great grandfather waking the railway lines from Wolverhampton to Newport with his brother to Newport till they found work in the Steel works then sending for the family
  • declutter, tidy, sell, get rid of stuff, only keep what you use/need. Donate items of personal interest to museums etc. Don't leave it to your family to do, they will bin it, they don't have the time. Remember everything can be found online these days.
The most important thing you can do though is just send time with your family, create memories, take photographs and enjoy the moment. At the end of the day, all the stuff you bought will be sold or given away and all the time you spend collecting your stuff together will just be dismantled.

I value this photo, taken 3 days before he died, more than any trinket he could could've have given me.
We spent the morning with mum at 2 boot sales before stopping at the Speech House for coffee. I wish I'd asked more questions. I know what day and time your died, as I was there with you. I know what day and where you were born as I have your birth certificate, but I do not know what time you came into the world.

I have your handwritten notes, but I have nothing in your handwriting written to me.

Dad, sadly over recent years we've not spent much time together as a family, we've all had our own lives, things to do, lived in various places around the world. But since you've died we've all come together and spent a lot of time making new memories, having fun despite the sadness, putting our differences to one side to support one another through this difficult time. We've all learnt that it's the who and not the what that counts these days. I wish you could've been here to see all your Children, grandchildren and great children together, probably for the first time. We did make the effort before you died, back in April for the teens 18th birthday, but sadly we never got to take a photo with you in it.


  1. #triumphanttales what a hard post this must of been to write. How blessed you were to have such a lovely chap with an eye for a bargain... sending love and I agree- take photos and make memories, always better than stuff.

    1. writing it has been easy, it was reading it back to check on spelling that was hard

  2. When I got married I said I'd get a will sorted but two years down the line I still haven't sorted it! I do have life insurance though so at least I have that!
    Thank you for sharing this with us at #TriumphantTales. I hope to see you back tomorrow

    1. insurance does help, a will makes things easier for the surviving spouse

  3. Such a useful list Suzanne and such a poignant post too. That card made me smile, I'm sure your dad is too. Thanks for sharing with #PoCoLo

    1. I've worked my way through the paperwork side of the list, a lot of sorting to be done when i get back to Dubai in October