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Elizabeth - Interview 16

Age at interview: 52
Brief Outline: In 2006 Elizabeth's daughter, Marni, was killed when her car veered across the road and crashed into a lorry. The accident may have happened because Marni had a medical condition. Her death was a terrible shock. Elizabeth was devastated.
Background: Elizabeth is a Designer and teacher. She is married and has 3 children.

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In August 2006 Elizabeth’s daughter, Marni, was killed in a car accident. She was 21 years old. Marni was driving her car. She veered across the road and her car smashed into a lorry, which was traveling in the opposite direction. Marni died at the scene. Elizabeth believes that Marni lost consciousness while she was driving, due to a medical condition, and that it was truly an “accident”.
 
Elizabeth heard about the accident a few hours later, when two policemen came to the door and asked to enter the house. At first Elizabeth could not believe what they were saying. The policemen then phoned Marni’s step-father and told him what had happened. He drove to the house, and then the policemen took them both to see Marni in the hospital’s chapel of rest. Marni looked very peaceful. Later on Elizabeth’s other grown up children also went to see Marni.
 
At first Elizabeth felt a sense of disbelief. She found it hard to sleep and she worried about Marni. She felt that Marni was around her in spirit.
 
Marni’s funeral was held on 19th August. Elizabeth and the rest of the family planned everything. They dressed Marni and chose a “bamboo pod” for her. They took her to the crematorium in Elizabeth’s husband’s van. They all went with her in the van because they did not want her to be alone. They had a horse drawn glass carriage for the last part of the journey. The family had a humanist ceremony, which was attended by about 400 people. Then Marni was cremated. After the service everyone went to the village hall to see an exhibition of Marni’s Life and art work. Later, Marni’s ashes were scattered on local heath land.
 
Elizabeth still feels a terrible sadness. During the first year after Marni’s death Elizabeth wrote to Marni every day. She found this helped. Now she talks to Marni every day and still has a relationship with her. Elizabeth has had some counselling from Cruse, and likes to talk about Marni to others too.
 
The inquest was about six months later. It was very harrowing because there were photographs of the scene of the accident. The coroner decided that it was an accident. The local press wrote a shocking inaccurate account of what had happened, which was most distressing. Reporters suggested that Marni might have been sending a “text” when the accident happened, which was untrue.
 
Marni is never forgotten. Every year Elizabeth and her other children organise a party to remember Marni. It is held outside with music. They have also placed a plaque in her memory on a tree on the local health land.
 
After Marni died Elizabeth had a number of physical ailments, such as a frozen shoulder. She says that it is important to “look after yourself” when grieving for someone. She still finds it hard to believe that the world goes on when her daughter is no longer alive.
 

More than two years after her daughter's death Elizabeth still felt weighed down by grief. She...

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How are your feelings changing? Over all those early months you were in just shock and couldn’t feel anything but disbelief.
 
Mmm, well you do believe it but I kept thinking that any minute, and I still think it, that she’ll walk in, you know, that it will be and you just get this terrible sadness.
 
And that doesn’t go away, and in a way you don’t want it to go away because that’s what you have of them now and you don’t want the distance, you don’t want the time, you don’t want to be parted from them in time or space so you want to stay where they were and you feel very heavy and very just, just weighed down by this huge weight of grief I suppose. And I mean I can understand when people say they can’t even get out of bed, I did actually work; I just buried myself in work and the only way I could sleep was literally to work to the point of exhaustion.
 
Your feelings do change but they don’t, it doesn’t get easier and I don’t think that I thought it would you get more used to dealing with it but I just miss her more, I miss her and it just seems so long since I’ve seen her and so long since I’ve talked to her and listened to her, argued with her, I’d give anything for her to come out and give me a snarl, you know, or be grumpy, I’d give anything to hear that.

 

This was a terrible, terrible accident and it was actually nobody’s fault it was an accident in the true sense of the word and, you know, you can’t go around trying to blame somebody, it was an accident. But I often think about people where there is blame, it must be horrible, I haven’t got that, you know, there is nobody to blame it was an accident.

 
Because of her medical condition?
 
Yes, and I think I’m lucky that there’s nobody to blame because I don’t know how I’d feel if there was, I can’t imagine that. 
 

Elizabeth was surprised when the hospital wanted bone tissue for transplantation. She was glad...

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Elizabeth was surprised when the hospital wanted bone tissue for transplantation. She was glad...

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I think it was probably the next day, somebody rang me, because she’d got an organ donation thing.
 
Carrying a card?
 
Yes she was, yes and she’d said that they could have anything but not her eyes and not her heart, but I was quite shocked actually at that, not that she was carrying the card but when they phoned me, they were asking me if they could take like bits of her legs, I always imagined it was internal organs they wanted but they wanted bits of her leg. I thought what, what’s all that about, and anyway in the end she couldn’t because she’d been on antibiotics, and there was a very selfish part of me, I suppose, I was really glad. I thought I don’t want them taking bits of her legs, just because someone wants a bit of a knee replacement or whatever they want, I mean internal organs was one thing but I was very shocked actually at what, it was like there was some vultures picking over her, I know they were very kind and put it in a nice way but it just felt wrong.
 
I can understand that.
 
It just felt wrong, I just thought just get away from her, just get away and leave her alone.
 
So they rang on the phone?
 
Yes
 
A bit hard on the phone.
 
Yes it was, it was actually.
 
Did you tell them no or did you say you wanted to think about it?
 
Well I said I wanted to think about it but meanwhile they were also doing tests. Because they said to me did I know if she’d been on any medication and I said well yes I do because in fact she’d had a water infection so I knew she’d been on antibiotics so, obviously I mentioned that and they came through so they couldn’t do it so I thought, I was really pleased actually. I know it is selfish, and well they could have had one kidney I suppose but she had, one of her kidneys was tiny anyway… but if it had been something to save somebody else’s life I would have felt differently about that but I felt like they wanted spare parts and I didn’t like that at all.
 
I’ve never heard of that being asked for.
 
Yes, yes it wasn’t very nice actually. So I was quite pleased that she’d had those antibiotics. 
 

Elizabeth, whose daughter died in a car crash in 2006, wondered if she would ever feel joy again....

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Elizabeth, whose daughter died in a car crash in 2006, wondered if she would ever feel joy again....

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I do actually think that the pain, the physical pain that you feel, you can, I’m sure you can die of a broken heart and I, I do remember, and I still feel quite often, how can, how can I get up another day and how can the world just be carrying on being normal when this terrible thing’s happened, my girl’s gone.
 
How do you view the future?
 
Well sometimes I just… I wonder if I’ll ever feel joy again and that’s, then I feel really wicked saying that because I’ve got two other children that are fantastic… but you wonder really if you’re ever going to feel, I don’t know if it’s happiness, I think once something like this has happened it’s very difficult to feel carefree again in the true sense of the word and I think did I, did I value what I had enough, and I think I did, but it makes me feel that I must also value everything that I still have, including Marni.
 
It’s very hard not to write her name on a Christmas card… I feel I’m betraying her when I don’t, so sometimes I do. …Those funny little things are very odd, you know, not writing her name on my mum’s birthday card or something, the grandparents are terribly distraught and they don’t talk about it, they’re of a generation of stiff upper lip, you know. 
 

Elizabeth was angry about the delay before she could see her daughter. She wanted to touch Marni...

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Elizabeth was angry about the delay before she could see her daughter. She wanted to touch Marni...

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I just wanted to get to her straight away because I felt that there was something I could do, you know, that’s what every mother feels, isn’t it, you can always do something to make it better.
 
Where was she?
 
In the morgue.
 
In the city morgue?
 
Yes.
 
And was that the right thing for you to do to go and see her?
 
Yes definitely, definitely I, yes I couldn’t wait to get to her, I had such a, and I was so, I was actually quite angry that they hadn’t let me know before, it happened at 2.30 and it was quarter to five before I knew.
 
Yes, it’s a long time isn’t it?
 
I thought it was terrible, it seemed so long, I suppose it was that feeling of, if you’d told me before I could have done something about this, but I know that’s futile really because , you know, obviously I’ve since learnt that she was dead at the scene, there wasn’t even any… any rush to the hospital because she was dead..
 
And you saw how she looked?
 
She looked as though she could wake up, you know, it just looked, and, I just thought any minute she’s going to look up at me and say, “got you”, you know, she just looked as if she could open her eyes.
 
Were you allowed to touch her?
 
Oh yes, nobody could have stopped me touching her, there was nothing like that, nobody would have, I wouldn’t have, I would not have, I felt I… I felt very angry at the thought of people telling me that I couldn’t touch her, I thought this is my daughter you’re not going to tell me that I can’t touch her and in fact nobody did but… I think they got the message. But I don’t think people, I don’t think they do stop you touching people these days do they, or do they?
 
It depends on the circumstances, if they, there’s a suspected  murder or something then I think it would be different.
 
Yes, well obviously in this case it was not that. Yes there was no question about that, they did warn me before I went in that she’d, she’d got some bruising on her face… but it wasn’t much, I mean it was just a little bit of  a scratch on the side of her face where the glass had gone in, you know, it was nothing, nothing really at all, she just looked, her hair looked a mess which she’d have hated but I could see where there had been some blood but… she just looked fine really.
 

The family organised most of the funeral. Elizabeth and her other daughter dressed Marni, family...

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The family organised most of the funeral. Elizabeth and her other daughter dressed Marni, family...

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 I wonder if people realise, I mean, we perhaps, we were terribly lucky that my husband knew the undertakers and he just said to them “Please just, if you could back off and just let them do what they want to do it will help” and it did help because we dressed her because I couldn’t bear the thought of somebody else doing that. She’d have been horrified and also we asked them to take, they’ve got a cross up and we asked them to take that down because that would have spooked her. But they were very, very sympathetic.

 

And we also …. didn’t want her taken in a hearse so we took her in the van, in my husband’s van, that’s my husband, because before she went away she worked with him quite a lot and so they made it look all nice inside, and we all travelled with her in the van, so we were all there, there was me and my son and daughter and her two boyfriends, we all travelled with her because, we just didn’t want her to be on her own. And we didn’t want her to be in some anonymous old hearse, and people gauping at her, you know, so we went in the van and then we got to where…...

 
This is your own personal van?
 
Yes, yes one of my husband’s work vans.
 
I don’t think people realise they can do this.
 
No, I don’t think they do.
 
Presumably it’s also cheaper as well because they charge for those things don’t they?
 
I don’t know, I guess so when we got to the crematorium, or just before, we did have a horse drawn glass carriage then because we thought we can’t turn up in a van, you know, that’s not really the thing is it, and we wanted her then to have a nice, and in fact the policeman that was very nice that came here to tell me, he wasn’t on duty that day but he phoned up one of his colleagues and he got the traffic stopped for her, so that we could just have that last little trip.
 
And who provided the carriage?
 
The undertakers, it was one with two horses and that and I mean that was very dramatic and I think she’d have liked that.

There was one other thing about the funeral that I wanted to say and I think most people realise that they can have their own pall bearers but in our case her sister was one of them and I think there was quite, there was a few raised eyebrows because she’s a girl, you know, and it was her brother and sister, her boyfriends, her step dad and her own dad. And I think people, there were a few raised eyebrows, even like my parents said her sister shouldn’t be doing that, but she wanted to do it, she wasn’t forced, we didn’t sort of strong arm her into doing it, there was no question of her not doing it and I think people again it’s one of those traditions that you don’t have to conform with, it doesn’t have to be all chaps that do it and although it’s a very sad thing to do, her sister felt it was an honour to do it, you know, she wanted to do it for her sister.

Yes, and we had a big photograph of her there, and she was sort of grinning and we deliberately didn’t choose a modelling one it was just a normal holiday one. And then we asked people just to bring a single flower and leave it on her coffin and the doors at the side opened and I thought oh my God there somebody else’s funeral going on but it wasn’t it was Marni’s and there were so many people there we didn’t have nearly enough things printed, there was about four or five hundred people there.
 

Elizabeth couldn't believe it when the policemen told her that her daughter had not survived a...

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Elizabeth couldn't believe it when the policemen told her that her daughter had not survived a...

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On the 7 August 2006 Marni was killed in a car accident. It was during the day, it was about half past two actually and she just veered across the road and smashed straight into a lorry and there doesn’t seem to have been any, well at the time we thought there was no reason for it. Later on they found out that she’d got a medical problem and that was probably the cause of it.
 
She was driving?
 
She was driving yes.
 
How did you first hear about it?
 
The police came to the door, I was here, it was quarter to five on the same day and I’d spoken to her earlier in the day and she was in the local town, because I was at work, and she phoned me and I said “Oh are you going to come up to work and see me?” she said “No, I’m going to get home because I want to look at something on the computer”, so she was, not in a rush or anything, it was something she needed to do. And when I got home, she wasn’t home and I sort of thought “Oh that’s a bit odd” but I thought she’d probably called on a friend and I thought, you know, don’t be silly, don’t worry. But I’d got a funny sort of feeling, but you get that a lot don’t you when you’ve got children and then the police came to the door.
 
Were there two of them?
 
Two yes, two men.
 
Did they come in or what?
 
Well yes, they came to the door and I thought “Well that’s a bit odd” and I knew that she and her friend, well her friend actually, had been in the town a couple of weeks before and her friend had got really silly and Marni had had to sort of pull her away from a fight, and I thought that was what they’d come about and I thought “This is a bit heavy isn’t it”, and I wouldn’t let them in and they said “Can we come in?” and I said “No, no you can’t, what’s all this about?” and they insisted on coming in and I thought “What on earths the matter with these people?” you know, haven’t they got better things to do. Anyway they came in and they sat down and they asked me if I knew Marni and of course I did and they told me that she’d, she’d been in an accident and they said, “And she hasn’t survived.” And I thought “What do you mean” I couldn’t understand what it meant, I couldn’t understand what, ‘she hasn’t survived’ meant and of course I understood but it wouldn’t go into my brain….. I asked them where she was and I just wanted to get to her because I thought….., I thought I could make it better, you know, and I felt sure that there was something I could do.
 
What were your feelings at that stage?
 
Well I think it was disbelief really and it still is actually. It still is, I didn’t really, I just thought it was, I kept thinking I’d wake up, you know, that it was some dreadful nightmare, I kept thinking I’d wake up. But I didn’t go to sleep. I didn’t sleep for a long time actually.
 
Did you get any help from your GP?
 
No I didn’t because my feeling was that it was a very natural thing not to sleep actually and I preferred to let nature take its course. I knew that if I wanted to I could go and get something to make me sleep but I thought, “Why would I want to sleep?”, you know, I wasn’t worried about not sleeping. I was just worried about her and where she was and whether or not she’d been frightened and scared and whether or not now if she’s frightened and scared and lonely but I don’t think she is actually.
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