Deceased

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.

13 thoughts on “Deceased”

  1. When a previous boyfriend, an alcoholic with a violent streak, had passed out, vomited and was starting to choke, it took me a few seconds to decide to do the necessary first aid and call for an ambulance, the realisation that my life would be better without him in it gave me the impetus to ignore the threats and leave. Maybe, just maybe doddery old mum had the same 'decision' to make. Very sad any which way.

  2. On a lighter note a tale for you from a pub , true or not I don't know.The pub is very old. There used to be 2 doors inside the main doorway, one left, one right. A man walked in through the right and saw a lady sitting up in bed, apologised to her and went through the other do to the bar where he told the landlord that he was very sorry for disturbing the landlady.

    You've guessed it?The landlord replied, “You won't disturb her, she's dead”.

    Yet again , tom's given me something to think about so Ive had a little blog about death, as you do!

  3. Not sure I understand. Are you saying you left your boyfriend to die? Or that you just thought about it before doing the right thing. It's not clear.

  4. Duh, just thought about doing nothing for circa half a second, I may have been daft enough to shack up with him but am not thick enough to admit manslaughter online if I had done nothing and left him to it – can still taste the vomit, ick.

  5. Ick! That was brave of you! I had a similar experience with my first husband. I did call an ambulance. He'd fitted. I went with him to the hospital, and was very disappointed that they sent him home after a couple of hours. And we had to walk home. Miles and miles in the freezing night. I was wishing I'd never called them!

  6. Rather than mental health services, I think this lady needs a help by a psychologist. It won't be so easy to her to grieve.

  7. I do find it amazing how people cope with death in such diverse ways. We had a job where an elderly lady had been sleeping next to her dead husband for 2 days, and when we kindly told her he was dead she said she wondered why he hadn't eaten his meals. You do have to think did she know and just not accept it or did she just honestly not realise. Does stay with you for a while.

  8. At least she didn't die alone, at least her mother was with her. Maybe one day she'll find some comfort in that. Most alcoholics die alone…

  9. I forget how exactly I wound up on this blog and I don't recall ever reading it before and certainly never commenting. But that was a striking story, well told that rings with sadness and yet some relief. The scenario could have been so much more miserable had the mother been more aware. It's still sad…and it's still shocking, just not in as dramatic and gut wrenching. Thanks……………

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