What’s next?

Part two of part two. 

When someone dies, clearly the first question many people ask is “what do I do now?” For some that is an existential question and for others it is a deeply practical one. I know this because when my dad passed away the nurse gave me a pack of paper that was basically a load of “here’s what you do now” information. One of those things was the need to register the death at the registry office. There’s lots to do after death, I found it weirdly very helpful – I need to do all this stuff with legal that and bank account this. It allowed me to distract myself while still being involved sort of thing. I’m sure some people find it brutally difficult, but I enjoyed it. Enjoyed is the wrong word there, but I’m not sure there is a word to adequately convey both enjoying and not enjoying something all at the same time. Maybe the Germans have a word for it?

To book an appointment to register a death you need to contact the registry office. In Leeds this requires that you fill in a webform, a webform that looks like it was designed in 2004. Sadly, it was down when I tried to log on so I was forced to call, after a while on hold being told that the registry office in Leeds does not tolerate rude or aggressive behaviour, a very helpful person answered and asked me what the issue was – I told her and she said not to worry that she could book an appointment for me. Evidently, she was opening the same webform I was attempting to use because she went quiet and told me the form was down and she could only ask me to wait until later. In my head I said “well, he’s dead so I have plenty of time” but of course I didn’t say that because that would be rude, aggressive even.  It was 9am and my gut instinct is that the systems manager didn’t get in until 9:30 because when I tried again 30 minutes later the error was gone. Someone had reset the AWS instance. 

The form came back to life (IRONIC WINKING AT THE READER) and I got an appointment and more warnings about being respectful toward the staff – rude and aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated! Make sure you are on time as missed appointments hurt all our feelings and so on.  I have always found both these statements very questionable metrics – where is rude and aggressive behaviour tolerated anyway? Also, maybe it’s not us maybe it’s your appointment system that demands people are free between 9-3 Monday to Friday in handy half hour slots – especially where they’ve just had a baby arrive or loved one depart. 

Here I am, then, sat in the registry office wating my turn – it’s open plan, which is, if you ask me, an odd choice given the task at hand. I sit in the “looked nice in the corporate furniture brochure” seat and it is as uncomfortable as it is ugly, but no doubt very hard wearing. A family come in looking very sad and using words that I am now becoming all too familiar with; “probate”, for example. Then a young couple arrive with a toddler and I play peek-a-boo with him for a short while. What a feeling it is to bring a smile to the face of a toddler – like, the best feeling on Earth. The poor bastard has no idea how his life is about to be flipped upside down by the very quiet new-born brother strapped to his mother’s chest. 

My appointment in late in the day, and the office is thinning out. The toddler and baby leave, the family in grief leave, everyone else leaves – my appointment time flies by, just the 45 minutes, but enough to make someone rude and possibly even aggressive I think to myself. Eventually and with a fulsome apology my person arrives to take me to a semi-open desk in the semi-open plan office – again the stickers on the desk remind me of how vitally important it is to make my appointment on time and how being aggressive is not nice. The process of getting a death certificate is swift in the grand scheme of things. The lady processing the form for me explains that there are some odd questions, but they are all legitimate and needed. I didn’t think there were any odd ones to be honest. The last bit is pretty important, it’s about proofing the document and you can tell that the staff are used to being told that everything is correct before then, when the document is printed, being told “oh, actually that’s not their real name” because she verifies everything with me four or five times and asks me if I’ve ever proofread anything before. I smile because I have proofread millions of words and all I can think of now is how many howlers I’ve missed, but no mind, the data here is correct and she clicks “Done” on the screen. The certificates pop out and she has to sign them in ink, because WHO THE FUCK KNOWS? She shuffles the newly signed certificates into a folder. The folder I learn later has lots more “what to do now” information in it. It’s been very perfunctory and professional really, the questions were easy to answer her demeanour was personable but not too personal. There was small talk about what he’d done for a living and how he’d been a Bookmaker and I had made books, “funny” I say, “yes, funny” she says. She added some more information sheets and printed a receipt and went to get some more leaflets about what to do now and came back to put them in my new ‘your person is dead folder’ a keepsake. Sort of. 

She squares it all off and I realise I’m locked in just watching her hands on the folder, she puts her glasses on the pack of papers. I look up. She looks me in the eye and says “finally, I just want to say how very sorry I am for your loss” Up to this point it’s all been very matter of fact, but this was so personal, so warm that it really brought me into the moment. The death was official, one for the books and she knew the exact time to switch modes. It only lasted a few moments, but I’m learning that it is in the small moments, when you’re off-guard, when a total stranger does something small and thoughtful that the grief will ambush you and squeeze those emotions you’ve been holding on to so hard you can’t swallow or speak.