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Rachel - Interview 40

Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: Rachel's son, Dave, served in the Paras before he joined a security company. In 2006 he was working in Iraq when he was killed by a bomb. Rachel was devastated. She has had counselling which has helped, but at times finds it hard to get on with her life.
Background: Rachel is a senior social worker. She is married and has 2 children (1 died). Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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Rachel’s son, Dave, served eight years in the Paras before he joined a security company. In 2006 he was working in Iraq, protecting convoys, when he was killed. He was in a truck on a road when a bomb went off. The bomb threw the truck into the air. The blast also threw another huge lorry up into the air, and the lorry landed on top of Dave’s truck, killing him instantly.

 
Rachel was at work when she heard the terrible news of what had happened. At first she was in shock and could not believe it. She and her husband then had the awful task of telling other people, such as their daughter, and Dave’s girl friend, that Dave was dead.
 
The security company kept Rachel and her husband informed and arranged for Dave’s body to be flown home as quickly as possible. Government red tape meant that there was a week’s delay. Rachel did not receive a death certificate because Dave was killed in Iraq. The security company dealt with the practical matters and paid for everything.
 
The coroner’s officer explained that there would have to be post-mortem, even though it seemed obvious what had happened. Rachel was determined to see her son before the post-mortem, so as soon as Dave’s body arrived in the local funeral parlour she went to see him. The coroner’s officer asked her to identify his body. Rachel went to see Dave’s body every day, including the day of his funeral.
 
Rachel knew exactly what Dave wanted for his funeral because when he was in the Paras he told her what he wanted in the event of his death. Rachel wanted the funeral to go perfectly and it did. The funeral took place in a local church, and was attended by over 400 people. After the service Dave was buried in a local cemetery. This was followed by the wake, which was held in a local hall. Rachel visits Dave’s grave every day, sometimes twice each day.
 
The inquest took place in January 2008. Rachel was called as a witness and the coroner read the report she had written about Dave. The coroner decided that Dave had been murdered by the Iraqis.
 
Rachel still feels devastated by what has happened and is determined that Dave will never be forgotten. At times she feels that life is hardly worth living and she finds it hard to get on with her life. She says she can’t “move on”. Anniversaries and birthdays are very difficult days. However Rachel wants to stay positive for the sake of other members of the family. She has had counselling through her employer, which she still has on a regular basis, and which she finds helpful.
 
Rachel was interviewed in 2009.
 
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Rachel's son died overseas in a bomb explosion. She could identify him from tattoos and his...

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He was flown home the following week, the following Monday, and by this time I’d met, who had I met?
 
The Coroner’s officer?
 
I had yes, who was very pleasant and she explained to me what would happen. And that’s when we realised that there obviously would be a post mortem, and that was not greeted very well to be fair because obviously we were told that he was, there was a lot of injuries, and we’d been told by the company that he worked with that obviously there was a lot of head injuries and etc, because obviously it’d been crushed, and we just felt that in taking him off, you know, to then cut him up even more was just, “Why?” Because we know we know how he, you know we know what killed him, it just seemed a very pointless exercise. But unfortunately it’s the law and we had no choice in the matter whatsoever. But again they were very good because they flew him back on the Monday, and they said they would take him for the post-mortem on the Tuesday, and I insisted I had to, I wanted to see him before they took him for his post-mortem. And he flew into Heathrow at midday, and he eventually got to where we live, to the funeral parlour, and they rang me at quarter to midnight that evening to say, that he was here.
 
So did you go round to see him the next day?
 
The following morning, yeah. First thing the following morning, we went up there, because I had to identify the body, and obviously he had a couple of tattoos, so he was, he was quite easy to identify and I had to, she asked me what the tattoos were, and I told her. And she obviously had his passport with them, and she showed me the picture in the passport and asked me was that.
 
Was this the coroner’s officer?
 
Yes it was. “Was that my son?” I said, “Yes it was.” And I asked her, she had obviously been involved in cleaning him up, because she said she had been involved in that, and I did ask her, “Would I recognise him?” And she said, “No, I don’t think you will.” And that was a bit of a shock because it was, and she said, “I don’t think, he doesn’t look like he does on that passport,” is what her words were. And then I went in to identify the body.
 
Were you on your own?
 
Yes. Yeah my husband and my daughter didn’t want to go in. And they never did go in. So, they didn’t want to.
 
Was it the right thing for you to go and see him?
 
Most definitely. Yeah. I had to make that that was my son, because you know, they might have made a mistake, but yes it was.
 
Were you, could you stay there for a while with him?
 
Yeah, as long as I wanted to stay there, yeah.
 
And could you stay on your own?
 
They, she stayed at the back, but she wasn’t intrusive, she was right at the back of the room, so she was in there, but she, although on that particular day the first day, she, she stayed in there, but on the other occasions when I went, I was on, there was no-one, I could go in on my own there was no-one else there.
 
So you went back to see him on other occasions?
 
I went back every day to, every day till we buried him, yeah.
 
And his, his friends, I allowed his friends to see him. I allowed anyone who wanted to see him could see him.
 
Did you find it comforting to be there with him?
 
Comforting?
 
Or was it just that you still wanted to persuade yourself that he’d really died?
 
Yeah, I think it was probably in my, you know sort of, it was him, and even though he had lots of injuries and you know, he had a massive like head injury and had snapped his leg, and all down his left side was completely injured, sort of squashed was a better word for it, but it was still him. And even after a week being in Iraq it was, it was still, it was still Dave.
 
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Two years after Dave's death Rachel still feels raw at times, and day-to-day activities seem...

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I think it, oh gosh. Well I think if it wasn’t you know, if I hadn’t got my daughter, and then maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation today, because you do feel pretty bad, but some people say “In time,” you know, “In time you learn to, you know to deal with it.” Yes, you probably will learn to maybe cope a little bit better, but you’re never going to forget.
 
No of course not.
 
So I just think it’s changed my life losing him, big time.
 
How has it affected sort of the family dynamics?
 
Oh, well, I used to be a very keen golfer, probably obsessive, I would think, and now, all that sort of motivation I did have has gone. There is no motivation anymore, and I can pick up something or leave it. Well we don’t really go out very much anymore.
 
Did you say golf?
 
Yes, I played golf, but I take it or leave it, and day to day things really aren’t that important anymore. You know it’s there’s far bigger things out there to, what, once you maybe thought, you know, was really important, isn’t important anymore. Things are just not important anymore.
 
Are some things very important then? I mean have you changed your priorities about what’s important?
 
I don’t think much is important anymore. I don’t think much is important, it’s just things.
 
So it’s really changed your view of life.
 
Yeah big time. Yeah. Yeah. It really has.
 
How do you view the future?
 
Well just, obviously you know you’ve got to keep positive, I’ve got a daughter so, what you know you’ve got to keep positive and hopefully, you know, she’ll get married and have children, and grandchildren will come along, that’ll be great. But its, I don’t know, it’s probably, you know it’s probably changed slightly, you know, if you have, if anyone’s ever a bit scared of dying or something like that, and I don’t know I’m not scared of going, it wouldn’t, it doesn’t really worry me about dying or stuff like that, but it’s all a bit strange now.
 
So has it, has all this changed your view of death?
 
Yes. Yes. Everything. Yeah, it’s all changed.
 
Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit?
 
Just, well, just the feeling you know if God forbid someone said to me, you, you know, you’ve got 24 hours to live.
 
That’s great, you know, yes, I can’t see Dave, you know what I mean? It’s but I know it’s all too, it’s all still raw, it’s very, it’s its still very new, so these thoughts are quite normal I think.
 
You know, how, it’s just not very easy to, to get on with your life and move on as people would say. You know, you need to move on sort of thing, not as though anyone’s ever said that to me, as yet, but I know that some people might, would think well it’s you know, it’s been two years, about time you got over it, move on. But you, it’s not, you can’t move on, it’s very, very difficult.
 
How long were you off work for?
 
I was off work probably only about 6 or 7 weeks, but still to this day I don’t go downstairs or in the front door, where I was told [about his death], I’m, I haven’t been down there since.
 
 
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Before Rachel's son died he had told Rachel what he wanted people to wear at his funeral and who...

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So then you were allowed to plan the funeral then.
 
Then we were allowed to plan the funeral, yes.
 
But you say he’d already made his wishes known?
 
He had made his wishes known very clearly what everyone had to wear, he wanted to be buried, everyone had to wear a football shirt, he named his pallbearers, and some of them was his mates that were like 6’ 5” and the other one could be like 4’ something, and he thought it would be funny, because he could picture them, you know trying to carry this coffin, and it would be wonky. But obviously it doesn’t work like that, because they put you on sizes and stuff. So he named the pallbearers and then obviously then I had the task of going round to these people that I knew they were, and ask them would they, would they mind doing it because this is what Dave wanted. And obviously they all, all agreed.
 
Had he written this down, or had he just told you?
 
No, verbally he’d told me, on, on, on like lots of occasions, so I was very aware of what he wanted.
 
Was it helpful to you to know what he wanted?
 
Yes. Yes. It was yes. Yes, because it felt like we were doing something that he wanted. The whole thing was a bit bizarre because even before he went away this time I was having re-occurring dreams of one of his best friends standing in the church, with his football shirt on, talking about him.
 
Ah.
 
Absolutely bizarre.
 
You knew about it.
 
Yes, before it even happened. Yes, it was all a bit strange really.
 
Was the funeral in a church?
 
Yes at the time the church where we live was being modified, so that church holds about 500, and we knew there would be a lot of people, and there isn’t another church in the area that we, that was big enough. There’s a church in [another village] which holds again between 400, 500 people and through the vicar that, that came, he said we could have it in this church, and we went over and had a look at it and stuff, so we, we went for that church.
 
 
And what, how did you arrange the service in the end?
 
At all times like I kept my own daughter involved in the whole thing, and to be fair, also Dave’s girlfriend, because I didn’t want them being pushed out in any way whatsoever. So we went through all of the music, and we went through hymns and we went through the whole thing before we, and we all agreed on the music that we were going to have. And my daughter chose the Robbie Williams, “Angels”, because she likes that, Dave liked Robbie Williams, so we had that when he came through.
 
And then it sort of went from there really. And some of his friends had asked if they could talk, and this couple we did ask would they like to say a few words, and they were quite happy to.
 
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Rachel had a terrible day when she learnt that her son David had been killed in Iraq. He had been...

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Well the date was the 30th October 2006, and my son, David, he used to be in the Para’s, he was in 1 PARA, and he left 1 PARA after serving 8 years in 1 PARA, and joined a company, a security company based up in London, an American based company. And he decided to do a year’s contract with this company to basically earn a lot more money than he was earning in the army. And he used to get a buzz from obviously jumping out of planes, and he’d been in Iraq and Sierra Leone, and Kosovo, so he had a lot of experience, anyway he went along and joined this company. And enjoyed it, he would spend 8 weeks out, 8 weeks home, 8 weeks out, 8 weeks home, and the last time he went out was September 2006, and to be fair he was umming and ahhing about going out back out here because obviously the situation out there was becoming a lot, lot more dangerous. But in the end he, he, he went and we spoke to him several times when we could and he was actually enjoying it quite nicely out there.
 
Was this a security company?
 
It was a security company, on this, and each time he went it was different sort of tour they had to do, and on this one they were basically, he was escorting, well to rebuild their country so he was looking after the convoys, that were going from a to b, to rebuild their country out in Iraq, to rebuild it all. And that’s what he was doing.
 
And on this particular time when he went, we went on holiday and when, when we were on holiday, it was in Portugal, this particular week, I felt very uncomfortable to be fair, before I went, and very uncomfortable when I was out there. And I managed to get hold of Dave on the Friday, and he was having a whale of a time and said that he had decided he was going to come back out in January, and that he’d booked a holiday for his girlfriend for New Year to take her to Las Vegas, and did I mind etc. And obviously I didn’t. And he was really happy. He was having a barbecue and he was looking forward to coming home in November.
 
And that was on the Friday I spoke to him, and then we flew back on the Sunday, and then on the Monday which was October the 30th, I went to work as usual, our first day back at term, and when I went back to work in the afternoon my husband’s car was at school, and for some unknown reason, and I thought, “That’s a bit strange, his car being here,” and then the headmaster at that time came out and said, “Oh I need to talk to you Rachel, in the office,” and I felt something strange, but I couldn’t quite my finger on it.
 
And I went into the office, the Headmaster’s and there was my husband and he didn’t really have to say anything because I knew what was going to be said. And then, looking, well then I think I just lost the plot to be fair, there was a lot of screaming and shouting, and pushing the Headmaster, and hiding under the desk like a little schoolgirl really, but I didn’t really know what to do. Anyway I was brought home, and then the sheer panic come in because obviously then I knew I needed to see my daughter, and obviously his girlfriend. 
 
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Rachel found the funeral director helpful. He asked her if she would like to have a lock of Dave...

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And did they dress him in any particular way [for his funeral], or did you have a chance to dress him as you wanted him?
 
Yes, yes. I don’t, I don’t know what day it was, I was obviously given the clothes that he was obviously brought home in, and I was asked, did I want them? Obviously I was told that they were, there was a lot of blood, and they obviously had to be cut off, they could get rid of them, there wouldn’t be a problem, they would get rid of them for me, or did I want them? And I chose I wanted them. And so they were all wrapped up, neatly, and put in a bag for me, and the clothes I took in were the clothes that, his Arsenal shirt because he was a keen Arsenal supporter, and I put the clothes in that I know he wanted to be, to be dressed in.
 
And so did the people at the funeral parlour dress him for you?
 
Yes, they dressed him.
 
Were they, were they helpful?
 
Very helpful. Very very helpful. They, and they took some cuttings of his hair for me, they were very, very helpful, for all his friends that went up there, because there was lots of items that went in the coffin, including cider and keys to the local pub that he always drank in. They went in there, and there was lots of things went in there. Yeah, lots of gifts went in with him.
 
So the role of the funeral director, or the people who worked there is quite important isn’t it?
 
Yes.
 
How would you sum up what makes a good funeral director or, the person that runs the funeral parlour?
 
…well obviously we could, very caring people and very genuine people with a job that I would wish not to do.
 
But you, you felt that they would always, even you might be thinking things, I think they sometimes knew what you’d be thinking, would answer your question before you asked the question. You know they, like the hair for instance. I would probably wouldn’t have thought about even that, but they asked me, “Would you like,”  you know, and that’s something I wouldn’t have probably, you know I wouldn’t have even have dreamt of, wouldn’t have gone through my head at the time. I might have thought of it afterwards.
 
They said, “Would you like a lock of his hair?”
 
Yes. Yes.
 
That’s a nice idea.
 
Yes, and how many did I like, how many did I want. You know because I got, I got several. And they were just really, really helpful. 
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