Saturday, 21 September 2013

The complicated “money side” of coping with bereavement

When people die their bank accounts automatically get frozen – this means that you cannot get any of their money out of the bank. As far as I know there are no exceptions to this rule. So when Mum and Dad were both killed I had no way of getting at their money to pay for things like their funeral. The only money I had for what seemed like ages was the small amount that I had in my own bank account.

There was supposed to be some “emergency cash” hidden in the house but when I went round a few days after the accident somebody had already taken it. I asked Granddad about it and he pretended that he had given it to the solicitor/lawyer who was looking after all of Mum and Dad’s money but later on I discovered that he had just kept it for himself! I ended up having to borrow lots of money from family members until things got sorted out.

Once the Will had been read out there were more money troubles. Mum and Dad had left almost everything to each other and then it went to me - with just a couple of small gifts to my Mum’s sister and my Dad’s brother. This made my Nan and Granddad (Mum’s parents) very cross because they felt, for some unknown reason, that they were entitled to lots of the money. Mum’s sister and Dad’s brother were the two trustees of the estate and it was their job to pay me an allowance out of the money I had inherited. I was to be given control of 50% of the money when I was 21 and control of the other 50% when I was 25.

All this made Nan and Granddad even crosser than before. They felt that they should have been put in charge and they hated it when the solicitor told them, firmly but politely, that there was nothing they could do about it. They sulked so much that when I needed to go all the way to Birmingham to sort out paying the tax bill (inheritance tax) at the very last minute they wouldn’t go with me. The rule was that I couldn’t inherit any money until I had paid the tax due but I couldn’t pay the tax until I had got the money. I was too young for a bank loan (I was still only 17) so this was a big problem. I can remember sitting there with tears pouring down my face until in the end some of the rules were “bent” when somebody very senior from London gave his permission for this to be done over the phone. Perhaps this kind man took pity on me?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

2011 Exam success – off to university!

What would I have done if my grades hadn’t been good enough to go off to higher education? I honestly don’t know as I didn’t recall having a plan B to cover that eventuality. I suppose I would have had to trot off to the local Further Education College to do my resits?

However on Thursday August 18th 2011 I got my exam results. I was a mixture of pleased and relieved when I found out that I had got the grades I needed and knew for certain that I was going to be off to university as I had always hoped to do. I had needed 280 points, which was a BBC, and I managed to get ABB.

Exactly as had happened twelve months previously the Head of the Sixth form was lurking and clearly looking out for me when I arrived at school. I could tell by her broad smile that I didn’t have anything to worry about. She was very kind and made a special fuss of me knowing that I didn’t have parents outside in the car park or on the other end of the phone waiting for news. In the past I have moaned about how some school staff seemed rather casual or cruel in the things they did but they certainly all got 10/10 for the way they handled my results day.

All of my friends got the grades they needed and six of us went out for a celebration drink.  While I was at the school I saw two girls and 1 lad in tears so something must have gone wrong for them and I saw one parent having a real shout at a teacher, "Why didn't you warn us!!!"

It was disappointing that when I finally got home that I didn’t have anybody to share my exciting news. Nan and Granddad were away on a coach tour until Sunday and instead of taking the mobile phone and leaving the list of contact details they did it the other way round. The aunt and uncle who helped look after my finances both returned my excited phone calls between 5 and 6 which was better than nothing I suppose. The whole "telling the family" part of the day was rather an anti-climax.

Once I knew I was going to university there seemed to be lots to do in the month before the Induction Week! I had decided to rent out my family home (as inherited from Mum and Dad) because I needed the money to live on and it would have been silly to just leave the house standing empty. This meant I would be living with my Nan and Granddad during the holidays which, bearing in mind all that had happened before, was not ideal for them or me.

The Estate Agent came round a couple of times and it was agreed that the renting family were going to move in the week before my term started. This wasn’t ideal either. The man in the family that rented my house was a mature student at the same university as me who was doing a PhD. They signed up for a six months lease to start with and it was agreed that one bedroom in the house would have a lock put on it and some of my stuff plus some of Mum and Dad's that I didn't want to part with was going to be stored in there.

After a rather worrying few days in early September when it looked like they were wanting to postpone moving in until after Christmas I finally moved out of the house on September 4th so that they could move in on September 8th.
I said goodbye to the neighbours and explained about the house being rented out. One said "Do you need planning permission for that?”. I have never "fallen out" with the neighbours but they have never been particularly supportive either.

It wasn’t nice moving back in with Nan and Granddad. I knew that there wasn’t reliable internet access at their house and that I would have to go to the local library to do any urgent jobs. I tried really hard to stay positive because I knew that there were lots to things to look forward to - it was just that I never thought I would have to go to university parentless!


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Leaving school and back to an empty house!

I remember the evening of June 26th 2011 so well. It was the night before my final exam and I decided that I had done as much physics revision as I could cope with and that if I don't know the material then I would never know it! I also recall thinking that if I didn’t get the grades I needed it was because I just wasn't good enough. I had given my final year at school all that I had to give.

I expect that almost everybody has vivid memories of finishing their final exam and so counting as having officially left school. As I walked out from the exam room I was intercepted by the Head of the Sixth Form who took me to see the Head Teacher. They said all sorts of nice things about me and told me that I was going to be awarded the Overcoming Adversity prize at the Celebration of Achievement event held in September.

Before I left I made a final visit to the Sixth Form Block. None of my closer friends were around to chat to and I already had a curious feeling of detachment, even remoteness, from my school days.  I had been focused on those pesky exams for as long as I could remember and I didn’t know what I was going do with all the free time. I left the school via Reception meaning to say goodbye to some of the people there who had helped me. But the long queue of people waiting to be processed meant I didn’t bother. I just gave the long-suffering staff a wave. It felt so strange walking out of the front door and towards the car park for the last time; especially as I could see that there were still lessons going on for most year groups.

I sat in the car for a couple of minutes just to postpone my final departure. I know that as I drove off I said something like, “Mum and Dad if you are looking down at me: Remember what Juba says in Gladiator "I will see you again... but not yet... Not yet!"

One of the hardest jobs I had to do in the time between school and university was sorting out all of Mum and Dad’s possessions. Going through their clothes wasn't nearly as bad I had thought it was going to be but I'm glad I had a former school friend with me to help. Some stuff I threw away but I took all the nicer items to a local charity shop. It did feel strange walking out of the shop leaving behind so much of what had made Mum and Dad look the way they did.

I also sorted through the books and magazines that they had collected over the years. I kept a few, including the ones they were in the middle of when they got killed, but most went to a different charity shop.

Finally all their more personal possessions were listed so the family could have anything that I didn’t want for myself. I kept Mum's engagement and wedding rings - perhaps for me to use myself when I get older. I also kept all the photos and a few recordings that had Mum and Dad's voices on.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Trying to survive on my own.

After a few months of living on my own in the house I realised that I wasn’t coping very well. I was feeling so angry and ashamed about all that had gone wrong while I had been living with Nan and Granddad and I was missing my Mum and Dad so much that every day felt like a battle just to carry on. I wasn’t feeling suicidal or anything like that but running a house and handling all the school work - plus all the sadness and stress in my life - was just too much for a youngster like me to manage.

In the end I realised that I needed some extra support so I phoned a group that specialised in dealing with young victims of bereavement. It was really hard picking up the phone, mainly because it felt like an admission of defeat, but in the end that is what I did and I said to the lady at the other end, "I'm 18, my Mum and Dad died 11 months ago. I’m not coping very well and I really need some help."

Perhaps the most useful advice they gave me was that I should think about finding somebody to share the house with me. They knew about a girl, she was 19, who lived a few miles away and who was in a similar situation to me. The lady assigned to help me wondered about the two of us sharing the house and "supporting each other a bit." The school helped me a lot while I was looking into doing this and the Deputy Head took me down to the CAB for a chat about what it would mean, emotionally, financially and practically to do this.

In the middle of January I did meet up with this girl. The main trouble was that I really didn’t like her very much, something just felt wrong and I worried that if she had started living with me it would have added to the stress in my life. I know it sounds mean but I don’t think 2-way support was part of her master plan. She was nearly 20 and lived in a tiny flat about 4 miles away. She relied on public transport (she had a car but hadn’t passed her driving test) to get to work and I thought (knew) she was going to expect me to ferry her around. Nan who was there with me thought the same. So I ended up saying “Sorry, but no” to her. Then I took her back to the bus station in my car and waited with her until her bus arrived.

A couple of weeks later I was put in touch with a young widow. The two of us met at my school and she seemed sensible and nice. She was 23 and had lost her husband in a motor bike accident in December 2009. At first having her living in my house worked really well. She seemed able to cope with her grief better than me, mainly because she seemed able to focus on the good memories she had of him. But after three weeks she told me that she would be working away during the week for a few months to cover a maternity leave. This removed most of the reason for having her share the house with me. The problem was that she was paying me rent for the full 7 days a week but was only able to stay in my house for 2 nights. The money side of this didn’t bother her because her firm was paying all the bills for her 5 days a week in a hotel while she is working for them away from home. I didn’t feel able to just chuck her out and look for somebody "better" but of course the whole point of having a house sharer was to avoid exactly what was still happening, which was me coming home to an empty house.

In the end she did start sharing the house with me again full-time and I was more cheerful. But then she suddenly announced that she was moving to Belfast. She paid all the money she owed me so that wasn’t the problem but it was only a few days between her telling me the sad news and her leaving me for good. She sent me a three line note when she started her new job and that was the last time I ever heard from her. I did feel that I had been rather exploited by her and that perhaps she wasn’t always totally candid about her plans.
Generally I think I was rather unlucky with my house-sharing. The money side worked well and the extra income was very useful but the disappointment of having this young widow – who I came to like and respect – being alternately in and out of my life so frequently for months made things quite stressful. What I needed was stability but what I got was almost constant coming and going.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

2010 Exam Results Day

That summer, when I was gradually getting used to living on my own was a strange time for me. Life felt almost unreal. All around me were memories of Mum and Dad and sometimes I felt that I hardly dared touch things because changing things was like accepting that they would not be coming back.

For most of my friends there was the anticipation of the dreaded Thursday in August when the external exam results were released, via the school, to anxious pupils – and even more anxious parents in some cases! Truthfully I can confess that I hardly gave a thought to this potentially life-changing event. By brain was so full with other, more immediate, problems that any hypothetical concerns along the lines of “What will I do if ….” never rose to the surface.

I can remember driving into the school car park and feeling mildly aggrieved that my usual space had been occupied by a yellow Mini. Then, quite suddenly, the full disgusting horror of my situation leapt out of my subconscious and grabbed me by the throat. It was all the parents sitting in cars, or standing in little worried groups, while their children went into the Sports Hall to collect the infamous “brown envelope”, that had done the damage.  

It was several minutes before I felt able to get out of the car and walk towards the main building. The year 12 and year 13 results came out on the same day so half of the pupils were relative strangers to me. Despite this the many signs of success and the few signs of tears were obvious at a glance. I particularly remember two lads from my physics group having a “frank exchange of views” with their angry parents.

There was a massive queue to get the brown envelopes. I had only been waiting for about 30 seconds when the Head of the Sixth Form dashed over to me with a beaming smile and my envelope in her hand. This is just so typical of the kindness she showed me over two years. She knew I would be coming in on my own and that I would have nobody to share my modest triumph with so she kept looking round and waiting patiently for me to arrive – and then she pounced! My results were excellent, better than the most optimistic of my predictions made immediately after the exams.

Going back home, via the shops as I needed to buy some food, was rather an anti-climax. As was phoning my aunt and uncle with my good news. All I really wanted to do was to be able to tell Mum and Dad what had happened but of course that was impossible. I was relieved of course that this educational hurdle was behind me but I didn’t experience the real jumping up and down with excitement feeling that I noticed some friends displaying.

That night I had my first invitation to a social gathering in ages. I also had my first proper kiss from a boy. I don’t suppose for a minute that he even remembers it, but I do!