Sally - Interview 14
Age at interview: 39
Brief Outline: Sally's mother died in 2007. Her flat caught fire, probably due to a cigarette which had not been put out. Her mother may have been a bit drowsy due to an overdose of pain killers, which may have led to the accident. Sally and her family were devastated.
Background: Sally is a Chef. She has a partner and has 3 children. Ethnic background/nationality' White British.
More about me...
One day in September 2007 Sally heard the terrible news that her mother had died. Sally’s brother broke the news early in the morning. They both went to the hospital, where they met the coroner’s officer, who explained that there had been a fire at Sally’s mother’s home. Sally suspected that her mother had left a cigarette smouldering and that this had caused the fire.
Sally had to identify her mother, which was an awful experience, because her mother was covered in black soot. At that stage her mother was lying in a hospital ward. Sally had to tell everyone else what had happened. She felt that she was carrying all the burden of sorting everything out. She felt that she had to be strong for everyone else.
Sally went to see her mother’s flat, which was distressing too. Sally knew that her mother had been taking strong pain killers for her brittle bone disease, and she suspected that her mother had taken too many tablets, which had made her drowsy and which may have led to the accident. All the things in the flat were ruined except for the photographs, which were saved.
The coroner’s officer put Sally in touch with an excellent funeral director, who helped Sally with the funeral arrangements. There was a post-mortem and then Sally received an interim death certificate, so that the funeral could go ahead. Before the funeral Sally went to see her mother again. This time she was in the funeral parlour. Sally regrets that decision because she did not like the way her mother looked or felt. Sally prefers to remember her mother as she was when she was alive.
After a lovely funeral Sally’s mother was cremated. Almost a year later her ashes were put in the remembrance garden at the church. The site is marked by a beautiful plaque.
Sally has been supported by friends and family. In a way she feels relieved that her mother is now at peace and no longer in pain.
The inquest took place in November 2008. The coroner decided that Sally’s mother had died due to an accident.
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Sally wished that she had not identified her mother's body because she had been burnt in a fire...
So then they asked us to identify her, and I said I can’t, because they said she’d had black soot all going in her mouth and she didn’t look particularly, and I said, “I can’t do it,” so he went in but he, he couldn’t recognise her.
Is this your brother?
Yes. He said, “I can’t, I don’t, it doesn’t look like Mum, that’s not Mum.”
So they, I had to go in to formally ID her, because he couldn’t ID her.
Because he said it looked nothing like her.
That must’ve been awful.
So, yes, so I had to, I saw her and I knew it was her and I just literally, one second and then, because I just thought I can’t have that, look, that thought, in my head all the time of her, and I think that was probably the worst part I think of the whole scenario actually, was actually seeing her. I wish I hadn’t done that, that was the worst experience of it was actually, and I don’t, I, personally I’d never do that,, I’d avoid seeing any dead body because I think that was awful.
Were you two were the only ones that could’ve identified her?
Yes. Yeah. And he didn’t recognise her, I was saying, I don’t know, that was the worst experience I think, and that was the worst part out of the whole thing was that.
Does that image still bother you now?
[Sigh] no, I can still see it.
I still could see it strongly and know exactly how she was, and but it will lower, I literally just looked and just said, “Yes that’s her.” And left.
Was there a glass screen between you?
No she was laying in a hospital, on the ward.
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Although she has four siblings Sally felt it was her responsibility to phone everyone about her...
I felt as it, I needed to be strong for everyone else, and I’m worrying about everyone else rather than what I was thinking.
I was thinking I’ve got to tell the girls and they’re going to be devastated when I get back. And I’ve got to start this process of phoning everyone, and going through the story which I think’s quite hard, telling everyone, and I felt as if there was a lot of pressure on me and I felt it was all on me. I mean we’ve got, there’s five, five of us in the family and yet it felt as if it was on me, I had to sort it, try and sort everything out, and which was quite…
You wanted support yourself?
Yeah. So that was quite hard.
And how did you tell everybody else? Did you have to make lots of phone calls?
Phone calls yes. The phone calls yes. And that gets, I don’t know, just gets you down I think. I just had, by the end of the day my head was just about to explode, it just felt I was going to explode, I just thought I just can’t do this anymore really, just ringing and ringing and ringing, and then starting again, and explaining to every single one, because obviously people want to know, I can’t just say, “Oh she died and it was in a fire,” they were, “How?” You know, “What’s happened?” You know? So I had to keep going over and over and over and over it really. So it was a very stressful, and then the phone didn’t stop ringing obviously, and then it was all really down to me to sort everything out.
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Sally's mother had died in a fire, and she wishes she had said more to her mother about cigarette...
I’m trying to think what it was; I think it was a Saturday.
200715th September, I was in bed actually asleep and my brother had been trying to phone me, and my mobile was on silent so I hadn’t, I had not seen, heard it, and he just came walking into my bedroom, which straightaway I knew that something was wrong because it was about 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning, and he said, “Mum’s died”, so I jumped out of bed and said, “Oh my God,” you know, “What’s happened, how?” And he said, “A fire.” And I knew it was a cigarette, I knew.
Did she smoke a lot?
She smoked, and she always, I kept saying to her, “Mum, be careful of cigarette butts on the rug, and bits and pieces,” and I kept saying, “Can you please be careful of your fags all the time,” I said it to her. And as soon as he said it, I said, “It’s a cigarette, it was a cigarette, I knew it, I know it is a cigarette without doubt.” I definitely knew it was so. I don’t know what I felt really, just, I think it was guilt to start with, because I just knew it was this cigarette, and I just thought to myself, I wish I’d bloody, I don’t know drummed it in a bit more. But I think it was her only pleasure she had really, was her fags, and so it weren’t, it weren’t a case of her giving up. And so anyway I jumped out of bed and I don’t know what you feel really, do you? I don’t know what we, you just, I was more concerned, the kids as well, because they’re very close to Grandma, very close to Grandma, and I think you start worrying about everyone else really. Start putting that motherly instinct in and trying to protect them, make them be strong as well, so I was trying to be strong for everyone else.
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The funeral director was very good. He helped Sally to choose a coffin. On the day of the funeral...
What does the funeral director have to do exactly? In case somebody’s thinking, you know, what is a good funeral director? How did you? Why did you say he’s so good?
Well I think he’s good because I think, he was just, he said, “You have to understand because every, everyone’s different on a, on a death of someone that dies, and so you have to get, try and get to know the person they leave, pretty quick, to work out what’s the right things,” but again he was on the phone, just saying, “Don’t worry about anything. Don’t worry, just get on with your life I’ll ring you whenever I need anything,” He just rung me at every step of the way really, saying obviously things that I didn’t think about then is, your coffin. And then, “What colour do you want the inside of the coffin?” “Oh, I don’t know what colour,” …so, I went along there and he’s got all his silks out, and he’s just, he was just fine, he was not pushy with anything, he just said, “You know, just take your time, and don’t worry about anything, I’ll sort this out, I’ll sort that out.” And he done all that he could really, that was capable for his doing, but he just said, “You know your Mum’s safe, she’s here, we’re looking after her.” I don’t know, he was just, I just think that they were all really good people. The funeral directors.
And then what else did the funeral director have to do? Did he come here on the day of the funeral? Or did you meet there, did you go down there?
Yes we went up there, yes the day of the funeral, and again there’s a lot of respect there, when they pulled out, they walked for half a mile in front of the funeral car, which, which I thought was really nice, you know everything stopped, and just half a mile, that was all, and then we all got in our cars and which I thought was really nice, but we met him up there, and then he came and had a drink with us afterwards as well, at the wake, it was just all the way through, they just seemed, the support really.
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Sally's children were 9, 13 and 18 when their grandmother died. They were devastated. Sally...
What about the children? You said they would be devastated?
Yeah absolutely devastated yes. They were very close to Grandma, very close to Grandma and I think when they’re young, they just, I don’t think they think anyone’s going to die anyway, do they really?
And I mean she used to look after them, and then that was all taken away really, because it’s their only grandma as well.
So did you support them or did you have to find some outside help?
You sort of looked after them?
Yes, because, yes like I say I think I took that motherly instinct on my side and looked after them and saw them through it, and we’ve, we talk about her still and they have chuckles I’ll say, “Oh Grandma would’ve liked that.”
Do they like that, bringing her name up?
Yes, a lot, lots yes, yes lots, yeah we bring her up a lot anyway, you know, Christmas she used to always do the stockings, Christmas stockings. So last year they said, “We’re not going to have any stockings now are we?” Because she used to buy them [the children] loads and loads of little bits and pieces, and I said, “Yes you will, but you won’t get as much as Grandma used to put in them.”
But yes, they’re alright now. Again they, you know, go through it don’t they, I think they found it very hard, the cause of it again.
And the thought of a fire to a child.
Yes, and obviously I didn’t let them see the flat or anything either, but you know they thought, “Well did she burn?”
And she didn’t, and I said, “No she definitely, there was no, she didn’t burn in it whatsoever, it was, she was choked with the smoke, there was no burning on her.” But I think they think of this roaring fire and you know, what you see on the telly, people are trying to, I said, “It wasn’t like that.” And they don’t know all the details, I just said that she was in her bed.
And she, you know, fell asleep obviously the smoke, she just didn’t wake up again. So I think you have to do that too, I think you shouldn’t have to tell them all the truth.
If you’re trying to protect them on that, they don’t need to know that really.