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At about 8pm on the evening of 8 September 1982 my mother and I stood beside my father’s bed as he took his final breath. He had been ill for almost 7 years so his death was not really a surprise but what did come as a surprise was that I had absolutely no idea what to do when a person dies. I just said to myself, “what now?”

I found myself, for the next few weeks rushing around answering queries, making and delivering copies of documents and making arrangements as we bumbled along. The next thing I learnt was that no matter how rich or poor you are, you need plenty of copies of the Death Certificate – at least 6 because everyone wants one.

It was then that I decided that there needed to be a book or manual for the ordinary person to follow so that we could spend more time grieving our loss rather than ‘doing things’. It remained no more than an idea until 2005 when I started asking family and friends what they thought of the idea and it was thought to be brilliant and a very much needed document. Why had no one done it before?

Once I started the research and the more I learnt, the more there was to know. I discovered that most of the information was available but in all sorts of different places. I interviewed a Police Inspector and a Forensic Pathologist; trawled the internet; spoke with a lawyer and read newspaper articles and so gathered information. Friends also told me their ‘horror’ stories and gave me ideas and so the book got written, starting with the moment of death and finishing with the Winding up of the Estate. It was the last Section on Wills and Estates that inspired me to write one more Section on what we can do while still alive to prepare for our own deaths.

Due to all the research and discussion when my Mum died on 1 November 2009 it was a completely different scenario from 27 years earlier. She had told me exactly what she wanted for her service, to where donations were to go and what to do with her ashes. It was so easy to get things done and we surprised the undertaker about how organised we were. Best of all, we had time to grieve and to talk about our Mum!

The book was finally published in December 2010 and I gave out quite a number to family and friends, including my in-laws. About 2 months later my father-in-law showed me an envelope in his cupboard and said, “When I die, take that envelope to the Executor.” He died on 5 September 2011 and we took out the envelope and passed the documents on to the Executor and he was stunned. He said that he could not believe that on a first meeting with a client he was able to say that he had everything he needed. It had never happened before.

Let us not be afraid to talk about death, where we keep documents and what our wishes are for a ‘send-off’. We often hear people say “This is just what she would have wanted.” Well, I can tell you that with a family of a wife and 7 siblings none of us could agree on what my Dad wanted so I hate to think how it would have been with Mum if she had not been so clear and honest about what was to happen when she died.

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