Pat - Interview 05
Age at interview: 62
Brief Outline: In 2007 Pat's son, Matthew, was killed when his motorbike hit a car that was turning right. The coroner concluded that it had been an accident. Pat was devastated. She has found support from family, friends, and through Cruse Bereavement Care.
Background: Pat was a Health visitor (now retired). She is divorced and has 2 children (1 died). Ethnic background/nationality: White British.
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In 2007 Pat’s son, Matthew, was killed when his motorbike hit a car that was turning right. He was overtaking a line of cars and the driver of the car in front did not see Matthew before she turned across the road.
Pat was alone in her house when two policemen came to the door. They came in and one of them told her that her son had been in an accident and as the result had lost his life. Pat found it hard to believe what he said. She felt utterly shocked and found it hard to speak and was unable to cry.
Pat phoned her ex-husband, Matthew’s father, and told him what had happened. He phoned their daughter. The policemen told Pat that they would have to wait a few hours before they could go to the hospital to see Matthew. After this delay the policemen drove Pat to the hospital, where she met her ex-husband and her daughter. The coroner’s officer was there too. She gave them information and asked them about organ donation. They agreed to donate Matthew’s organs. They knew that is what he would have wanted.
The coroner’s officer then took them to see Matthew. Pat wishes that she could have seen him sooner. She wanted to hold Matthew and kiss him but was terrified that he would feel cold. She longed to be alone with her son and, but the coroner’s officer stayed in the room.
After a post-mortem the funeral director collected Matthew and took him to the place where he had last lived, and where he had lived as a child. Pat wanted him buried in a place where he was well known and where he had made many friends. Pat decided not to see Matthew again because he had had a cornea removed for organ donation and the repair to his eye had not been good, and she wanted to remember her good looking son just as he had been before his death.
Pat planned the funeral with the help of family and friends. Many people came to the funeral and spoke about Matthew. They described his sense of optimism and his kindness and selflessness when teaching other people. Many people recalled that Matthew would “always look on the bright side”. Matthew was buried in the church yard. The family is planning the memorial stone. His girlfriend put a lovely crafted seat by a lake as a memorial to Matthew.
The inquest was about six months later. The coroner gave a verdict of accidental death, but Pat finds it hard to accept that no one is responsible for her son’s death.
Pat says that the last year has been the worst period of her life. Her son’s death has “shifted the foundations” of her life. She says that it has been a “terrifying black period” and that nothing can make things right again. She feels that she was in a shocked state for a year or more. After Matthew died Pat felt that she had to repress her feelings of sadness and anger, but gradually, with the help of a skilled counsellor from Curse Bereavement Care, she has been able to express her grief, and has cried every day. She has found that crying helps. Pat believes that Matthew is in the spiritual realm and that she will see him again.
Pat was interviewed in 2008.
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Pat was devastated when two policemen arrived at her house and told her that her son, Matthew,...
Well my son died on a Sunday in January. He was… he loved riding his motorbike and he died on his motorbike. He was 34 years old. And he was not a, he was by no means a novice motorcycle driver. He was very experienced. And other experienced drivers had told me that they thought he was a good driver.
So although I had always been a little anxious about his motorbike driving because being a driver myself I know that it’s the other car drivers that often put motorbikes in danger. I did comfort myself always with thinking that he was a sensible, a sensible driver. And he, he, he’d always been… had an affinity with driving and road. And on this Sunday night in January, I live on my own, about twenty five or thirty miles away from where my son lives. And I it was late at night. I wasn’t in bed but I would’ve been going to bed. It was about eleven o’clock in the evening and dark of course. And there was a ring on the doorbell. And I went to the door to find two policemen in their fluorescent jackets and their hats, outside. And I let them in.
Oh it must’ve been awful.
And my mind had already I think, started to deny the fact that there was any thing serious wrong.
Now a few hours beforehand my partner who used to spend the weekends with me had left to go home. And so it flitted through my mind that something might have happened to him. But I did push it away. And my mind … I could, I can now say was already starting to push things away immediately.
And I invited the policemen in and invited them to sit down, and invited them to have a cup of tea. And mostly very quickly the younger of the two, said that, asked who I was. And was I the mother of my son. And said that he’d been involved in an accident that evening. And he had during the … as a result he’d lost his life. That was how he put it. He’d lost his life. And I couldn’t, I don’t think I grasped it at all. I don’t think I grasped it. And looking back now, I am astounded at the grip that shock puts, put me into anyway.
And I think I was in the grip of that shock for many months. I would say for a year. I would say that I couldn’t grasp it. And I didn’t cry. I just was … I don’t know how I was. But I was I know I was asked to phone my partner who, who is my ex-husband, and my son’s father. And I was asked where he was and could I contact him. And I did dial the number and he came onto the phone. And I started to tell him and I was unable to; my voice just wasn’t working properly.
So the policeman took the phone and spoke to him. And I think I was quite agitated and I remember even though it was cold I opened the, the door to my kitchen and was walking outside, and just walking up and down. And I remember my, my ex-husband then contacted my daughter and spoke to her partner. And her partner told, told my daughter about it. And after that my daughter rang me on the phone. And I can remember distinctly I said to her, “It’s not true, it’s a mistake, it’ll be all right don’t worry.” And my need was to make it right for her.
And I could not, I couldn’t, I couldn’t conceive of the fact that I was presented with this as a fact and I could not make it right. I couldn’t change it.
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The coroners officer explained why a post-mortem was necessary. She answered Pat's questions,...
There had to be a post mortem.
How did you feel about that?
Well like everything else I accepted it like a lamb. There had to be because there might have been, there might have been actions brought by the police.
So there had to be a post mortem and I think the coroner’s officer explained that too, that was one of the things she talked about that evening that Matthew died. So we did have to wait for a post mortem and the coroner’s officer kept in touch; rang several times and she had given me her telephone numbers and had stressed to me that if I had any questions or was worried about anything then I could contact her at any time. And she was as good as her word. She was very, very good. And I spoke to her several times about various things.
You haven’t said anything about the inquest?
No, I haven’t. The inquest was a long, long time. It felt like an awfully long time although in fact it was probably, it was six months. …It was six months, which was probably not as long as I thought it might be. And that was a dreaded day. And before that there was an occasion when the coroner’s officer came here. My ex-husband and my daughter and daughter’s partner and myself were all here and we had to make a statement about my son and about, particularly about his driving habits and our view of his driving.
And were you prepared for the inquest? Did the coroner’s officer prepare you for what was going to happen at the inquest?
Yes she did, very, yes, very carefully, even down to how the room would look and where, where we might sit and who would be there. And I did have a list of who would be there.
And I was told who there were like, you know, in cars following. There was, there was a, a driver who turned right, that’s what happened. She didn’t see my son, and my son didn’t know she was turning right. And there were a line of cars behind her. And [sighs] so, yes, we went, there was huge trepidation about the, the inquest. Because again it was a, another milestone and one like the funeral which I really didn’t want to come because to me it was something that the rest of the world saw as a stage in life after my son died, after the death of my son. And I didn’t want to get on with those stages.
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Pat regretted that our society has no mourning rituals. She wanted to drape her door in black and...
And I have to say that as we came up to the funeral, some people unwittingly said or gave me the message that they felt there would be closure. How bizarre is that? How bizarre is that?
That a funeral would bring closure, which is mad. And actually saying madness, there is a sense that the world has gone mad, there is a sense that the world has gone mad and people’s reactions and, and just people going about their everyday business looks, looked to me like madness…
…because I couldn’t understand how, how people were functioning and being happy and remarking about the weather and doing their shopping and I could not understand why the world had not come to a halt and why every roadside wasn’t lined with people dressed in black weeping and wailing and I did, I did, I remember feeling very sorry that in this country we don’t have any mourning rituals. I felt very sorry that we have nothing, we don’t have, we don’t dress in black, we don’t, we don’t keep ourselves indoors, we don’t wail, we don’t screech. There is no ritual. We don’t hang, I would have liked to have draped my door in a black cloth, or draped my windows in black or something to, I wanted to shout at the world, “My son is dead.”
And there was no way I could do that. To do that would have been socially unacceptable, completely unacceptable. Any behaviour that deviated from the impression that everything is absolutely fine is not acceptable, is the message that I think is consistently given to us day after day after day. And so we, we have this message reinforced in us all the time' Repress you anger, repress your sadness, shove it down, don’t express it, it’s not allowed, it’s bad. And…
Where do you think that comes from? What made you feel that all the time?
Well I think it comes from many of our childhoods where we, we are not allowed as a small child we’re not allowed to be angry because it’s, it’s, it’s upsetting to our parents or families, it’s unacceptable. Because anger is, is not seen as part of everyday life. Anger is seen as an aberration. It’s not all that many years since people were admitted to mental asylums because there were depressed and behaving differently from the way society wanted them to.
And I think there’s, there’s still some lingering taboos there.
And, and, and I think, I think if, when we can positively express our anger by simply saying we feel very angry and have that accepted would be a good day.
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Pat contacted Cruse because she desperately wanted someone to talk to who wasn't a family member...
Did you seek any professional counselling or…?
I did subsequently, I did, I have received counselling from CRUSE. I referred myself to CRUSE not until a couple of months later and then it was a couple of months after that, or almost three months after that I think that I was given a counsellor, but I have found that enormously helpful. Enormously.
But you had to wait?
I did have to wait, yes I did. And that wasn’t very helpful. The initial contact with CRUSE, with the person who I understand now was assessing me on the phone [laughs] wasn’t very helpful. And I didn’t have high expectations of the CRUSE contact at first, because of my own background, because I’ve worked with families and people a lot so I’ve got a sort of smattering of knowledge of counselling and things, I didn’t have huge expectations but I knew I desperately needed somebody to talk to that I wasn’t going to upset. That was the thing, that, who wasn’t a friend… who wasn’t going to give me advice. Who wasn’t going to make oblique references to ‘moving on’.
And who, you know, who wasn’t my daughter, you know, to upset her. So that was my, my aim in wanting to talk to somebody objective who didn’t have an axe to grind. But I didn’t have high expectations. But I have been enormously, enormously lucky in the counsellor that I was given. And I’ve benefited enormously.
What happens in a typical session with her?
Phew, we just talk. I just start to talk and it just always happens and I’ve gained a lot of important insights I think. And I’ve realised, as I was alluding to earlier, that my inability to find a voice and to defend my rights and my needs when my son died has its, has its foundation in things that happened a lot earlier in my life. And I’ve been enabled to look at those things. Since.
Did she have any professional training do you know?
Yes. The particular person that I was fortunate enough to have has.
Yes. So that’s why I say I was enormously fortunate, enormously lucky. And I’m very, very thankful for that.
So how long has that been going on for?
That went on for over a year. A long time.
Once a week?
A lot longer than normal. I have to say. It was often, it was for a long period of time once a week, and then we brought it, we started to talk about ending and so I elected that we should go to once a fortnight…
…to help me to come away from that less painfully. But that has ended now.
And that’s all free?
It is, yes it is. It’s, I can’t tell you how much benefit I feel that I’ve gained and if I had had to pay for that I would not have been able, on two counts I wouldn’t have been able to afford it, and I wouldn’t have allowed myself to move my finances around so that I did afford it, because I wouldn’t, and I think 99% of the population wouldn’t, have given myself that much importance.
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Pat wanted to be alone with her son when she saw him in the mortuary but the officer came with...
Looking back was it the right thing to go and see him?
Oh yes I couldn’t have borne not to have seen him. I think it was, oh yes, definitely. We needed to see him, we needed to see him. We needed to see him but again I think I, I can only speak for me, I couldn’t grasp, I couldn’t grasp it, I couldn’t grasp that this would be the last time I would see my son. I could not grasp it and I wish my mind had been able to function a little better then, I do, but there… And so we came out, and then we had some more words with the coroner’s officer. And then I asked if I could go back in to see my son on my own. Because I knew then I wanted to touch him.
I knew then I wanted to make a noise. But my throat was completely stopped up. I couldn’t open my, I couldn’t open my throat or use my voice at all. I couldn’t, I didn’t have a voice. I wasn’t able to speak, I didn’t have a voice to express what I wanted to express and I knew dimly that I wanted to and so I asked if I could go back in and see him and of course the coroner’s officer said yes of course I could. And my ex-husband frowned at me and obviously didn’t want me to. And I had to say to him, “Look, I’m not …” he, he looked at me as he might a child saying, “Are you going to behave yourself?” And I said, “Look, I’m not going to do anything silly, I just want to be with… with him again.” And so I went back in. But of course the coroner’s officer, and I guess it’s, I guess it’s a rule of some sort, but she came in to the place with me and was standing on the other side of a glass, a small glass, glass screen where she could see me the whole time. So I wasn’t allowed to be with Matthew, with my son on my own. I wasn’t allowed to be. And I am sorry about that and I don’t understand why it is that a mother cannot be with her child on her own if that’s what she wishes. I don’t understand why I could not have, I could not have washed him, I could not have dressed him, I could not have looked after him in, and, and, and done that for him, looked after him in that way as I did when he came into the world, and when he was helpless. And I, I would have wanted to do that. And I understand that many people wouldn’t and couldn’t but I would have wanted to do that and, and my feelings are, as I said, that everybody was very, very kind. And I’m enormously grateful to them. But I don’t understand why the, it feels like the organisation, the State, the, whatever it is, the police authorities, have, had taken my son and were, had taken him and were doing with him what they felt best to do. And I was suddenly an outsider and not able to do things for my son. And he was somebody else’s property. It felt as if he was somebody else’s property and I had to ask permission to go and see him. And I had to be observed whilst I did.
Did you ask to be left alone?
I didn’t, I didn’t. I couldn’t find my voice.
At all. I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t find my voice.
And I don’t, I don’t want to criticise the coroner’s officer at all because I have the utmost respect for her. And I know that she, she was as flexible and would be as, as compassionate and flexible as she is allowed to be. But I really would ask for more understanding, particularly for mothers who have carried their children inside themselves and have given birth to them and have loved them and cared for them through their lives. And no matter how much of an adult their children are when they die, mothers particularly still want and need to care for their children. And in my particular case, having a background as a nurse I had, I had laid out other people and, and yet I could have nothing to do with my son’s care after he died. And suddenly it was a case, it was an operation. It had a code name. He, his death had a code name and was the subject of interest for other people and I was in a position of having to enquire what had happened and not being able to be close to him. And I would ask for more understanding and flexibility and looking at individuals and their skills and capabilities and, and desires and needs in that situation. Because I, that was devastating to not be able to function in that way.
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Pat was upset by the brusque manner of some of the funeral directors she phoned. She was also...
The other thing I would just say about funeral directors is that I rang several funeral directors and was very much guided by my gut reaction to how they responded on the phone and there were one or two that I just would not have anything to do with. Just because of the way the reception person spoke to me on the phone. And I think that’s as good a reason as any not to choose one and to go for whoever is, is chosen. Because in amongst all this, this, shock and, and horror, comfort is, is grasped, bizarre though it, it is, in choosing things that, that one thinks that one’s loved one would like or would approve of, or would be, would, would find acceptable, or would choose.
So what put you off some other funeral directors? The, the way the receptionist…
…their choice of words? Or…
Their, yes, their, their brusqueness, their coldness, their, yes their choice of words. That although one knows as an adult that, that death is an everyday occurrence, it is not to the individual who is having to, having to arrange the funeral of a loved one and it should never, ever, that message should never, ever be given to a bereaved person, that this is, this is a matter of, um] officialdom, it’s run of the mill, and there’s almost a ‘next please’ mentality about it. And that should never, ever happen.
So I did avoid those people that gave me those messages. And there is some comfort drawn, as I say, from, from choosing things, choosing flowers, choosing arrangements, choosing what should happen on that dreadful day.
That it was the appropriate place for him. And although I would have liked him to have been nearer me, the place I lived didn’t mean anything to him. So I felt it was appropriate he should be in, in this other place.
So when Matthew was brought, and again that was another thing, why couldn’t we bring him?
I mean, I know that practically it’s not easy but we weren’t even invited to go along to collect Matthew, by the funeral director. It just struck me that I was told by the funeral, funeral director, “We will be going to collect your son this afternoon.” And it was as if somebody, well it was just as if somebody else was responsible for my child and it was nothing to do with me. And that jarred, that jarred with me as well.
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A lovely wooden seat was placed by a lake in memory of Pats son Matthew. Pat goes there on the...
So many people say to me, “life has to go on, we have to carry on” But if things have to change they have to change. And I think that, that, that people should take courage from their own, what they, they feel convinced they need to do and to do it. And when it comes to things like anniversaries, and they are hard, they are very hard, so we have all sorts of anniversaries. We have Christmases where the family get, any occasion where the family used to get together, and, and then you have, have the anniversary of the death. My, my son has, has a lovely bench, a seat, a lovely crafted seat, wooden seat by a lake in the place where he spent a lot of time. And that is a memorial to him, in a place that he loved to be. And I go there on some occasions, and I went there on the anniversary of his death and on his birthday and we gathered there on his birthday and had a picnic and it’s a lovely spot. And that is a good thing I think.
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Pat was gripped by shock after Matthew died and couldnt weep, which she learnt was a common...
So I would say to people who can’t understand, as I couldn’t understand, I could not understand why I was dry eyed and, and functioning in a normal way and looking like the normal person I’d always looked like all through the months following my, my son’s death, through the funeral, through all of those things. And I began to wonder, “Was I a person who didn’t have a heart”. And yet I know that that’s, that’s not true, but it is shock. It’s shock that holds us in a, a, a rigid case and holds us together and I guess there’s a reason for that, so that in small doses we can, shock can weaken its grip and we can start to really experience the reality of, of what’s happened. So I guess it’s, it’s a normal reaction but I would reassure people who wonder maybe about themselves that it…
So have you got a message for other people, who are in that situation?
…I would really recommend a skilled counsellor, talking to somebody who’s, who is skilled. An informed witness I think they call counselling. And that is so important.
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Pat points out that people need to cry and that crying can release emotions. Although she couldn...
And I would, I would say to people, I’d want to say to people, because I think a lot of people are in this similar situation, we’ve, we’ve been taught as children, the first thing your parents and other people, well meaning friends, say is “Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Oh, don’t cry.”
“Oh, please don’t cry.” And we take this message on board and yet we need to cry. It is a natural need. We need to cry. It’s an expression of our grief and our sorrow and our sadness. And I have never been able to cry as much as I’ve needed to but this year I have cried an enormous amount. I’ve cried every day.
And I’ve learnt what release there can be in crying. And I’ve learned a lot about trying to honour myself and my feelings which I’d never done before. So I’ve learned a lot through the experience of my son dying. And I just have to try and be thankful for those things there are to be thankful about. And maybe that is one thing to be thankful about.