Tag Archives: In Memoriam

A Death In The Family

No matter how much you prepare, a death in the family is rough. My mum died in December – that’s the reason for the long gap between posts – and one of the ways I’ve coped is thinking about all the preparedness issues that have come up.

With an ageing population, and health services stretched tighter and tighter, more of us will be facing these issues. And personally, I think that life expectancy will fall, because the NHS resources that my family had just won’t be there – medicines, nurses, doctors, carers, porters, equipment, all sorts of things. That’s not “the end of the world” – that’s just about our tightening economic situation.

Go Bag
I live hundreds of miles away from where my mum lived, so I needed a Go Bag, not only for that final goodbye, but for nursing duties shared with my brother and sister over the previous weeks. Yes, it was ready, I could have walked out of the house five minutes after I got a phone call. But I had a library book to return that couldn’t be extended, I had three online bills to pay, I had to water the houseplants … ridiculous things. So I did the everyday things instead of starting what turned out to be the final six hour journey at 3pm. Wrong decision – I didn’t get to see her to say goodbye, though I know she was unconscious by then in any case. Go Bags are only part of the story.

Medicines
Some medicines weren’t supplied to us in sufficient quantities, and some were oversupplied. A bottle of Over The Counter medicine that lasted 36 hours, and a bottle of morphine that lasted 10 days? Mad. To get more of the medicines that were needed, it helped to have a written record:

  • what was prescribed?
  • what quantity?
  • who wrote the prescription?

The latter was unexpectedly important: it might have been from the last visit to a consultant, or a regular GP visit, or a regular visit from a nurse, or an emergency visit from the district nursing clinic. If you don’t know, everything can be delayed, and while the individuals were fantastic, the systems they were struggling with were … Dickensian, let’s say.

Afterwards, they can be returned to a pharmacist for safe disposal – or ordinary things like paracetemol can be kept, of course. If in doubt, though, take it to a pharmacist. Or give it to a charity that sends these things where they’re desperately needed.

Keep A Diary

Leads on from the above, really. You need to know who it was that came to the house two days ago, and how to get in touch with them again, and exactly what they said. And you won’t remember, when so much is going on. Who offered the use of a walker? Do those two medicines counteract one another? Who do we talk to about getting night sitters? Social Services need to get involved?

Ask Questions

Every medical and personal care practitioner we spoke to understood that this unique time is unique in different ways for everyone, and every family, and every terminally-ill person, has different needs and will make different choices. My brother had two great catch-all questions at the end of each meeting: “Is there anything else you think we need to do? Is there anything else you think we should know?”. It helped a lot.

What really matters?

Life becomes very focussed at the end of terminal illness. The things that mattered to our family were pain relief and cleanliness. Both these things were easily sorted in this case, thank heavens, and “personal care” is a vastly underrated service. Yes, families could do it. But very few patients want their own adult children to perform these services, and that’s where personal carers step in, full of practicality and kindness.

Timing

You can’t arrange the timing of a death, of course, but we were “lucky” for a December death in that we were able to have the funeral before Christmas. Some families who suffered a bereavement only a few days after us had to wait until after the New Year, because of a backlog at the crematoria, of all things. If you think you might ever be in this situation, remember that you can only book a funeral once you’ve registered the death: thats absolutely the first thing to do, once signed off by a medical practitioner.

Other things still carry on happening

Agonising and surreal, but true. Between my mother’s death and her funeral, the members of the immediate family had a house sale, a house purchase, and an offer for another house accepted. It was weird. But those things still had to be paid attention to. It helps to have people with whom you can share the responsibility – community is crucial, especially at times like this! None of the sales and purchases were mine, so I was the one who dealt with the Order of Service, and also with getting together groups of photos to be used at the celebration after the commital. The others could focus, for a short time, on all the legal business that was necessary.


Tell Us Once
This is a government scheme, and gives you a few shortcuts so that you don’t have to phone quite as many government departments as you otherwise would. It’s not complete though, so make sure that you cover the exceptions. The Registrar should give you details.  Details are included in the government link above.

Executors’ ID papers
My mum’s will was lodged with a solicitor, and named all three of us as Executors, so that any of us could do whatever needed to be done. The solicitor she chose should spend a considerable amount of time in purgatory. That’s as polite as I can be about that firm. They wanted photo ID and two proofs of residence from each executor, nine pieces of paper in all. Between recent house moves, changes in status, changes in utility companies and geographical distance in the case of me and my sister, it was a nightmare that delayed us for over a week.

The solicitors were initially very fuzzy about what they wanted, and refused to speak to us directly. At first, they didn’t even give us an exact list of what they wanted. They made assumptions about what services we wanted and didn’t want, and in general made many more demands on us than had been the case a few years ago when my brother in law died and we needed to obtain his will, in the same situation. I won’t easily forgive them the strain they caused us. It was horrendous.

As I was writing this, I found a solicitor who does exactly what I thought should be done, what’s common sense to me: they explain the process online, and have a series of forms to be downloaded, printed off and used as circumstances demand. I really wish we’d had a solicitor like this.  The Law Society and Citizens Advice can also be helpful.

Texting And Letter Writing
Texting was incredibly valuable – it saved our throats from having to repeat the same information over and over again, and we had no web connection at my mother’s house, for various reasons. We wrote quite a few letters, too, by hand, which seemed very odd. During the previous month, we’d written to everybody we could think of that would want to know, so we had a ready made set of addresses and phone numbers to use.  And perhaps you’ll still be able to talk to the terminally-ill person you’re caring for about what they would like to happen, and who they would like to attend.

Gifts on the day of the funeral
There were a few people we wanted to gift things to, and the celebration after the funeral seemed the best time: we’d been able to talk it through, and all the people we wanted were there. It worked really well, and created some lovely memories for the end of that day. We’d ordered extra copies of the Order of Service so that people who couldn’t manage to come could at least have that.

Finance papers
I’ve been my mum’s finance person for years, including doing her filing, so it wasn’t too bad. But it had been her decision to amalgamate various savings accounts, and that saved us a huge amount of hassle. The pensioner bond and the premium bonds needed separate notifications (thank you for nothing, gov.uk!) but there were only four other notifications that were needed.

Probate

We’re working on Probate at the moment; sometimes it’s not needed, but my mum’s estate is not one of those. Most companies were helpful, but some very big names, even with good staff in a Bereavement Unit, seemed appalling. The Halifax Bank, for instance, thought a helpful method of confirming the identity of Executors would be to set up a quiz with information about their credit file. I disagree! The unlucky executor was me, and I’d just changed energy supplier, and I had to guess two out of the three questions they asked me, for that reason. Utter nightmare. They also wouldn’t use my mother’s address in correspondence, they used my address instead, unlike every other organisation we’ve been in contact with.

So, this has been my life for the last few months. Part Two of my post about animals is still sitting in the wings, but that will have to wait until the next round of the probate work is completed. Life goes on. So does prepping.

After a terrorist attack

This is the last in my “terrorist” series … I did think it needed a post to itself,  as there are several time frames to think about.

By Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons
Mstyslav Chernov, Wikimedia Commons

Immediately afterwards

Don’t gather in large groups, whether or not you’re close to the scene of the attack(s) – groups are more likely to be targets than individuals.

Just because you’ve got away from the immediate area of the attack, don’t consider yourself safe: attackers are mobile too. In the Bataclan in Paris, some people who were shot were already outside. And the Sousse attacker roamed the area for many minutes.

Shelter somewhere safe as soon as you can. Don’t necessarily try to travel – terrorists may still be around, and there may be other devices planted, or other attacks planned, e.g. at travel hubs. Plus the security services may well shut down all travel in any case, and even if you have your own transport, there may be delays, or even, horrifyingly, you could get caught up not just in further attacks, but in the flight of any surviving terrorists – for example, you could be the unlucky person whose car is hijacked. You should wait for a while – you will need to judge at the time what this means – maybe public transport is running again, maybe all terrorists have been captured or killed.
Even if you don’t need medical attention, getting somewhere safe will let you recover from the shock and get first aid for any minor wounds. You’ll also be able to find out the latest news on the security situation.

Is everyone in your own circle of friends and/or relatives safe? Are any of them wounded? Do they need support in hospital?  Is there information about what to do if one of your party has been killed?

The phone lines and frequencies will be crazy busy. Send texts where you can – keep your voice calls to a minimum.

Helping the authorities

Make sure you contact the police or anti-terrorist services, so that you are on record as having been at the event. You may have pictures or film on your phone or camera that could help identify the terrorists, or at the very least help with the timeline of events. The authorities know that not everything they get will be useful to them – they’re used to having to sift through for those little details that help take things further.

Even if you don’t have concrete evidence like that, you have your memories and impressions, and anything you can remember about the attackers will be useful: height, sex, weight, colour, build, accent, language, what they said, what they gave as their “reasons”.

If you’re not interviewed straight away, maybe because events are ongoing, write down your memories and impressions. That becomes more important when you’re watching the news, as the film of events can start to infiltrate your own memories.

Online

Twitter: Twitter was used on the same night as the Paris attacks, not just to hear news and express emotion, but to offer help. The hashtag #PorteOuverte, or “open door”, was quickly up and running, with residents in the affected areas offering shelter to anyone who had been cleared from the streets and had nowhere to wait.

Some just posted their addresses, while others asked Twitter users to contact them; another tried to bring in the basic security of not sharing addresses publicly, which makes sense. And most powerfully of all, “tweet safe places, not your thoughts on the matter. A shelter will help, prayers later.”

If you’re in a big city that’s mostly unknown to you, you might be miles away from your temporary base, and a grassroots campaign like this could feel like a lifesaver.

Facebook: Facebook was soon doing what it could by marking everyone in Parisian locations “safe” as they checked into their pages.

Later On

If you or your loved ones were caught up in terrorist events, you’re bound to want to talk about what happened and what might have happened – debriefing, in a way, and it’s a normal, healthy human reaction. You’re also bound to have feelings of one sort or another that you didn’t experience at the time – that’s often what shock is, numbing us out so that we can feel the feelings bit by bit. Respect that process, give yourself time to go through it all. If you need help to talk things through, then you do, and that needs to be respected as well.  Counselling and PTSD work can be a big help.

Precautions will be very high locally, and probably nationally, maybe internationally, for a few weeks, or a few months. In relation to the IRA bomb campaigns, precautions in the UK were very high for years, and some of those precautions are back again in relation to new terrorist threats. Accept it with good grace, and take it into account when you judge journey time.

What do we do now?

I’d caution everyone against knee-jerk reactions demanding sanctions against one group or another. I’m a little wary of saying that, as I do think our Western ethos of tolerance is being used against us. However, knee-jerk reactions (usually the result of “this sabre tooth tiger is going to kill me”) rarely give the right answer to 21st century life.

Conclusion

Life really does go on after even the worst of this type of event. But it doesn’t go on for the people killed, and it’s forever changed for their families and friends. This post, like all the others in this series, is meant to help you ensure that your life, and the lives of your loved ones, are preserved from the toxic chaos and hatred of the terrorists.

The trip to Ypres, a sense of humour and my Every Day Carry

There was actually quite a lot of fun involved in my recent trip to Ypres, as well as some solemn moments In Memoriam. That’s the atmosphere even at the Menin Gate ceremony itself – the local people who work so tirelessly don’t put on a faux long face, even as they line up with their wreaths, they’re chatting quietly and chuckling quietly with one another. There is a point made before the ceremony begins that there’s to be no applause, during or after, and that seems appropriate. We applaud more readily than we used to – but applause would feel misplaced, it’s true.

Ypres has found something else in its history, to help people have a bit of fun. It started off pretty gloomy – throwing live cats from a tall tower, which happened all over Europe in the Middle Ages, I’m afraid – but its become a carnival devoted to cats instead. This is the brochure of the latest carnival:

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It has made me think about attitudes to prepping, and to being a prepper. It’s a serious business, after all – we’re trying to ensure the safety of our loved ones – but people can lose their way in prepping, and become far, far too intense about it all. Most preppers know this, and that’s why they talk about zombies; they know perfectly well that there aren’t any zombies, or anything else, waiting around the corner, and that the fears can be overstated, and talking about the zombies is just a way to have a bit of fun with it all, sort of keeping a sense of proportion.

People with dependent children are likely to be the ones who feel this ambiguity most deeply: they want to protect their children and help them be self sufficient, but they also want to give them a carefree childhood too. So preppers with children will nearly always pay great attention to fun and entertainment, and they’ll stock up on things that can provide that – cartoons, books, packs of cards, board games, colouring books and all sorts of toys that you can only see nowadays in an artisan toy shop made of sustainably produced wood.

Adults need to remember about the sense of fun. And although I don’t have kids, I do have a sense of humour. Really, I do.

Below, for instance, is my Every Day Carry torch … yes it is, that penguin. It’s a child’s torch, obviously, but for an EDC torch, it’s perfectly adequate. Its got LED lights, and the little sticky out thing on the side, that looks like the penguin’s wing, is actually a hand crank! I smile every time I see it, and that makes it worthwhile to me. And yes, I took it to Ypres.

My lovely penguin torch
My lovely penguin torch

So, what’s the rest of my Every Day Carry? Having just published my kindle book last month, Getting Home In An Emergency (shameless plug), what did I do on this journey to Belgium? What if there’d been an emergency of some sort? Well, we were in a car, so we brought more than if we were travelling by train or plane:

  • food! Carbohydrates, and protein that wouldn’t go off – dried fruit, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, energy bars, rice cakes, oat cakes, a few tins of potatoes and sweetcorn, cheese sandwiches, that sort of thing. Between the two of us, we had a week’s worth!
  • several bottles of water, and shelf stable fruit purees.
  • satnav. In everyday terms, it makes travel to unfamiliar places so easy. And it takes you on some surprisingly small roads – at one stage, we were on a single track road, and we had to use the passing places because of the farm vehicles, that was good to see.
  • two atlases, in case the satnav went down, and we could see our route roughly at any time.
  • lots of layers of clothes, as the forecast was hot, plus wet weather gear in case the forecast was wrong.
  • we both had first aid kits with us.
  • a few extras of my own as well – chlorine tablets, a couple of torches, a roll of toilet paper.
  • my travel partner isn’t a prepper as such, though they also like to be prepared, but I also had my own regular every day keyring carry, shown in the photo below (I’ve taken the items off the keyring, so they can be seen more clearly).

Did we use any of this? We used most of it to some degree, actually, which pleased me.

It was natural enough in most cases – if you’re taking Eurotunnel, its sensible to use the time in the car to have a car-based picnic, especially if you’re just on a short trip, so that once you’re at Calais you can speed off to wherever you’re going, and thats what we did. We did check the satnav by looking at the atlas, as we had a sequence of destinations in mind.

We also locked the doors while we were still on the train on the outward journey. We saw at least a dozen would-be immigrants running across the motorway almost directly in front of us; there had been a real struggle a few days previously, and we were very watchful for carjackers, though luckily we didn’t get caught in any traffic queues, so we never had to slow down.

But the funniest use of preps had to be on our return journey: we bought the makings of our fresh sandwiches at a little supermarket, and one ingredient was ready-sliced cheese. Not something I’d use normally, but on a trip, why not? Opening the pack, though – that was a different story, my scissors were safely packed away in my trolley case.

Answer: my seatbelt cutter! It was smooth, it was safe, it was quick. Sorted! And my non-prepper travel partner found out about a cheap, lightweight safety device that could save lives in an accident. I think I made a convert.

So what’s in that picture?

It’s very sparse, my everyday keyring carry, because I work from home – for me, most of the time, being “away from home” means being 12 minutes walk away at maximum, in the centre of the little town where I live nowadays. That’s near enough to pop back and forth without needing supplies, so I don’t carry supplies. The only reason I carry these things every day is that they’re on my keyring, and I’m not taking them on and off all the time, there’s no harm in carrying them all the time, so I do.

My Seat Belt Cutter (centre left at the bottom)

I used to have a pink one, but it was plastic, and it broke. This one is all business, and has several other little holes and edges that do all sorts of other things. It’s made of stainless steel, and it looks absolutely wicked, but there’s no malicious intent behind it – it’s a seatbelt cutter! And it’s lasted longer than my pink plastic one, and that’s what matters. It also contains an “oxygen tank opener, 1/4″ wrench, bottle opener, flathead screwdriver, lanyard hole and keyring”. I use the keyring hole, obviously, and I’ve now used the seatbelt cutting blade to open a pack of cheese slices, but that’s it.

My whistle (bottom right)

This is the other genuine prepping attachment – if you’re caught up in a terrorist attack, or you’re in a car accident and the car you’re in is now invisible from the road, you can draw the attention of the rescuers, as long as you’ve got breath to blow the whistle. I genuinely think this is important.

My little knife, UK legal (top left)

This “knife” has a blade about half an inch long. It too would have opened my pack of ready-sliced cheese. You’d be able to sharpen a pencil with it, as my dad used to do. You could cut a shoelace if you need to tie on an improvised bandage. That’s about it.

A handcuff key (top right)

Now, this isn’t really a prep for me. Although I have seen it discussed on forums, I actually dug this out from existing supplies, namely a set of thumbcuffs bought at an alternative-type gift shop on the south coast. It’s very lightweight, and I think it’s quite funny to have it on my keyring. There. I’ve said it. There’s that sense of humour thing again …

Here’s my penguin torch too …

My lovely penguin torch
My lovely penguin torch

I have two other torches. One on a headband, as that’s recommended if you’re doing something in the dark that requires two hands, like rummaging for a piece of equipment during a power cut, or even changing a car wheel. My second is a hefty thing that commands respect, as well as a bright light.

The thing is, we’re human beings, we need humour to stay sane and to keep a sense of proportion. If there were a huge disaster, and I gave my penguin torch to someone to help them get home, for instance, maybe it would raise a smile for them. Why not? In the meantime, it raises a smile for me. That’s good.

Ypres and its lessons for prepping

I’ve just come back from a trip to Belgium, honouring the family dead of the First World War. It’s now one hundred years since the Second Battle of Ypres, where gas was used for the first time, and it was both sobering and enlightening to be there for that memorial.

The Military Graves

They make you think, these graves. Sometimes there are thousands of them together, and sometimes there are just a dozen or so, in a little area that was once farmland.

Some of the gravestones really tell you what it was like, what horrors those soldiers faced: look at the two photos immediately below, for instance. There are three graves in a row of soldiers “believed to be buried in this cemetery”. And two soldiers in one grave (there were many such graves); we thought these were soldiers whose bodies could not be disentangled enough to be sure.

Please click on the pictures to read the inscriptions.

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Sometimes there’s a solitary grave within a small cemetery: a single Chinese labourer is here, for instance. Others must have died too, but he alone is buried in this particular little military cemetery. Was it the Spanish flu, since he died in 1919? It doesn’t say, but somebody had taken the trouble to find an appropriate Chinese saying and hopefully inscribe his name in Chinese script, inscribe it and translate it. And he’s looked after still: there are fresh poppies on that grave.

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Calamity had come upon all these people, fresh-faced 16 year olds, and older men in their forties alike. For me, as a prepper of a few years’ standing, how does that connect to prepping? Does it connect at all?

I think it does. There are plenty of things to prepare against: unemployment, a death in the family, an illness, floods, pandemic, many things. But some things, you have no protection against: if your country is invaded, whatever happens, life is changed forever: you enlist, you’re called up, you’re a refugee, your home is destroyed, your livelihood gone, family members killed, your community dispersed, maybe your currency collapses. And sadly, in much of Africa and Asia, these things are present day realities, but one hundred years ago, seventy years ago and indeed twenty five years ago, these things were happenings in Europe, right on our doorstep.

Some things can’t be prepared for, or at least, can’t be prepared for enough so that they don’t affect us: today, we’d add economic collapse, large terrorist incidents, space weather, or climate change. There’s only so much we can do, and that makes it doubly important to make sure that, just like everyone else, we live our lives to the full for the time we have on this earth. We take care of the planet and its people, especially as it’s still the only home we have, and we pass it on to those who follow, in the best shape we can.

So, completely ignoring the politics and complex reasons behind the First World War, and thinking solely of what the individual men experienced, here’s another photo to finish on. This is the sculpture and the inscription at the apex of the Menin Gate.

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