Death & Funerals in England

eternal sea

The North Sea, Felixstowe

Clive’s father, Jack, died peacefully at 8pm last night – Friday night in England. Jack was 94 and had been in poor health for many months. He nearly died at home multiple times and was blessed to spend his final months in a wonderful care home. There he improved for a time and was given 24/7 support by caring nurses, to whom we will always be grateful.

Clive and I have been preparing for this event and its aftermath in practical and emotional ways, learning much about the UK ‘death bureaucracy’ from various legal, medical and government advisors along with friends and personal contacts.

The biggest difference from my experience in the US and Australia is the time it takes in England between death and funeral – often 2-3 weeks or more. And because Clive’s father died on a Friday night, it seems nothing much official will happen over the weekend. Waiting days to move ahead with funeral plans, death certificate, and other logistics feels very strange indeed. We’ve been told the delay (or what seems like a delay to me) is due to back-ups at the crematoriums. Whatever the reason(s), in in the years we’ve lived in England we’ve learned not to say, ‘Three weeks? Really?’

More challenging for Clive at the moment is his lovely, kind-hearted but extremely Forgetful Cousin, whom I shall refer to as FC. FC is in her mid-70s, has been a devoted niece to Jack for many years (including the ones when Clive lived in Australia) and, sadly, with increasing age also has become increasingly confused and forgetful.

Last night, before the undertaker arrived at the care home, Jack and FC spent time in Jack’s room. They each read a prayer over the body and talked quietly together. (I performed the English task of putting the kettle on and making the coffee, then joined them.) Later when we left the home, Clive and FC agreed they would each telephone certain individuals in the morning.

My dear hubby has spent much time on the phone today, not making funeral arrangements but 1-learning FC had randomly called different people, including the ones on Clive’s list and 2-‘talking FC down’ calmly but firmly from going in person to another funeral home because the one with which Jack had a pre-paid plan (and the one that now has the body) had not returned one of Clive’s calls.

If there is any blessing to the timing of Jack’s death, in addition to the main one of his now being at peace, it’s that I’m here with Clive for the next few days until I depart for the US. When I booked the flights, we knew I might miss Jack’s funeral. I’m thankful to be here during these days immediately following the death. Given the ‘usual’ timeframes, I may also be back for the funeral.

Clive and Jack had a complicated relationship – Clive often says, ‘We never had a father-son relationship’ – but my hubby has been heroic over the years in his dedication and consistency in supporting his father’s needs. On his final visits with Jack, he helped him swallow liquids and fed him ice cream.

Clive’s mother died on 30 December last year, at the age of 92. He’ll now write a second eulogy in the space of 7-1/2months.

AA Suffolk sunset 24 june 2014

Suffolk sunset, Felixstowe


6 Responses

  1. Hi Clive and Carol,

    Even when death is seen as a release from a long period of ill health and often suffering, its finality can be jarring. No more planning of the day around visits to the nursing home. This is probably why the after death tasks of notifying family and friends and funeral preparation can help people schedule their days as life changes yet again and folks must assimilate that change and figure out what’s next.

    It was surprising to read about the long period between death and a funeral in England. This is certainly different than what happens in the United States when funerals often take place within days of death.

    I know it is a relief, Clive that your father is at peace now, and he is no longer struggling with a failing body. It appears that you will have plenty of time to plan the funeral and perhaps your family will have arrived from Australia by that time.

    Carol, good luck as you continue your preparations to leave for the United States to be with all the folks who need you here.


  2. Carolyn, please express my condolences to Clive. Even though his parents lived a very long life, it must still be very hard, particularly the same year.

  3. Carolyn,
    Please give my condolences to Clive on the death of his father. I’ve learned that no matter how sick or how old, the death of a parent still leaves a hole in the place they held in this world.


  4. Thank you Eleanor, Rosemary and Martha. I think there’s a sense of death being part of the natural order of things when people make it to ‘advanced old age’ and have had the blessing of a long, full life. Appreciate your kind thoughts.

  5. Getting caught up here after too long away. I’m so sorry about the loss of Clive’s father and I do agree Clive’s (and your) care for him these past few years has been heroic. What a blessing that you were literally there to put the kettle on for Clive when his father passed, and although it was tough I know it was a comfort to you both that you were there for the service. I hope that your stepson is recovering well and that he and his family are moving forward. What a lot you’ve been through lately. May the beauty of Scotland be a balm for your soul.

  6. Kim B, thanks so much for your lovely words! Really appreciate all your thoughts and I know you’ve been on the go yourself visiting U.S. family lately — thankful your mum’s surgery went well also.

    Welcome back to Paris 🙂 Look forward to getting together again one of these times!

    Cheers for now and take care.

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