We were met downstairs by a young man.
“I think she's passed away – but I couldn't bring myself to tell her mother. She's old. I thought I better call an ambulance”.
We had been called to a forty year old woman – 'Drunk – ?Passed'.
I was met at the flat door by a woman in her seventies. She didn't seem distressed as she led us into the living room. Everywhere I looked there was evidence of her daughter's alcoholism. The flat was cramped and squalid. Her mother had been visiting her.
Her daughter was obviously dead, her skin was yellow and waxy, and she was in full rigor mortis. It was obvious that she had been dead for some time.
I had to tell the seemingly oblivious mother that her daughter had died.
I sat her down and explained that her daughter had passed away some hours ago and that there was nothing that we could do to help her.
I braced for tears, or a scream, or an “I thought so”.
The mother didn't cry, she didn't scream, she just sat there and whispered a quiet, “oh”.
The daughter had come out of her bedroom the night before and told her mother that she didn't feel too well and had laid on the sofa. Her mother had fallen asleep in the armchair. When the mother woke up she couldn't wake up her daughter.
She'd then sat with her for at least six hours before knocking on the neighbour's door to see if he could wake her up.
Talking to the mother it was obvious that she was suffering from early dementia. I'm not sure if she secretly knew that her daughter was dead, but wasn't letting herself accept it.
It was strange – no tears were shed, but several times we were treated to the mother's life story.
We had to stay around for a few hours with the police because there was a chance that the death may have been suspicious, although it was more likely to be natural causes.*
It was saddening to see the mother wandering around, her dead daughter laying on the sofa covered only with a sheet just a few feet away. Talking to her about the changes that the area has gone through, about her dead twin and about her other daughter.
Had she sat alone with the body for so long because she couldn't face up to the truth, or did she really not realise what had happened? Either was possible, and I'm not sure which one gives most comfort.
It's the sort of job that will stick with you for some time.
*There are legal and confidentiality reasons why I'm not mentioning the full details of this job.
This evening I shall be at the London CC Salon having a chat with Becky Hogge of the Open Rights Group. I'll mainly be talking about the reasons why I chose to release my book under a Creative Commons license. It should be good fun and I'm looking forward to hearing some of the other people there.