Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A death...

I don’t know if I should write about this, but I know that if I don’t write about this that it will rattle around in my head and eventually take me somewhere that I may not want to go.

My Sunday in Wales started out well enough. A nuthatch visited the feeders and the weather was fine. I had a haircut, my wife Gaynor cutting my hair, and was listening to The Archers watching the dozens of birds that had congregated on our growing array of feeders.

Gaynor had washed her hair and was drying it upstairs when a knock came on the door. It was Carol, our neighbour from a few cottages down. She’d been to check on her dada, our next door neighbour Will, and couldn’t wake him and asked me to help.

I kicked into automatic as soon as I saw her distress, following her next door and up the stairs to his ‘in the roof bedroom’. I was aware of him in his bed, noticed how neat the room was, his clothes hanging from hangers on the wardrobe, everything in its place, and how still Will was.

‘He’s cold.’ Carol said.

He was cold, the coldest thing I’ve ever touched. I checked his pulse, listened for breath, and remember thinking ‘Will’s not here, where are you Will?’ For all the world he looked like he might wake up at any moment to find me standing over him in his bedroom, only this wasn’t Will. This was some waxwork that had replaced the man and, although it looked just like him, Will had gone.

I’d never touched a dead person before, nor been so close to one. Had I even seen a dead person before, a corpse? I didn’t think that I had. I was surprised how calm I was and hoped that when I told Carol her Dad was dead that I didn’t seem matter of fact. It was such a strange feeling being so calm, so in control, with a dead person in the room.

We went downstairs and I called the ambulance, but before they arrived I went back upstairs again to check Will again. I was hoping to find that he’d shifted positions, but of course he hadn’t.

One last check. Picking up his hand I noticed how hard his flesh was, hard and hard to move, and of course that awful cold again. I’d heard him pottering in his greenhouse just the evening before. How could death creep in so unannounced? He wasn’t ill, he wasn’t on any medication and, for an eighty-four year old, was the most sprightly man I’ve ever met.

Not here now though. Just this (and I know it’s a cliché) shell lying in Will’s bed. An inanimate object that once had grown tomatoes, talked to my cat, and loved to tell me that I’d put on far too much weight.

 'You're not here are you Will? Where are you?'

I looked at his ‘eyes closed’ face and knew he’d just died in his sleep; a good way to go, if there ever is a good way, and knew I’d never forget his face as it was then. I didn’t know him well, but I knew enough to care.

Anyway, that’s it really. I think that I feel a better now that I’ve written it down.


  1. Linda Kemp
    thanks for writing this Andi xx

    Clare Pritchard
    Sorry to hear this mate, it is a strange sensation, at least the gentleman went peacefully xxx

    Nicola Moore
    I remember a similar thing happening to me with an elderly neighbour... I was 18 at the time, and have never forgiven myself for not giving him 'the kiss of life'... but as my mum said at the time..." he's gone, there's nothing you can do for him now"

    Sharon Taylor
    I am so pleased that Will went quietly in his sleep, just the way we all hope to. I am also think it would have been a small comfort that his daughter had someone there with her to help with the practical things. Maybe the birds came to say goodbye?

    Kevin Parrott
    A life experience you'll never forget Andy..... handled with great dignity.

    Vicky Sutcliffe
    tough x

    Glyn Bailey
    Dignified, eloquent and always find the right words Andy, I remember

    Sandra Bouguerch
    Best way to go...I hope I die in my sleep. My mum was still warm when I got to her. Thanks for sharing x

    Carmel Payne
    Lovely words

    Tim Preston
    So reminds me of when I saw my dad at the undertakers with his eyes sewn together dressed in a suit. The life has gone - the person isn't there. For me that made it OK. It didn't matter. In fact, when he died in the hospital I felt elation. The fact that he'd left that decrepit body behind. Why should I mourn? Why feel sad?

    Andrew Height
    I'm still processing the experience, ordeal? I don't know what to call it. It's what I do, maybe I over think things. I realise two things though: death is real and I don't much like it.

    Mike King
    It is a very strange thing. I went to see both Mum and Dad at the undertakers and it was exactly as you described - They were made of wax, they weren't there.

  2. As you'll know from things I wrote at the time, twice now I've experienced that "switch" from "something" to "nothing" happen right in front of me, first with my grandmother and then last year with my mother, and it's never less than bewildering and strange. I find that you always expect that there should me more to it than that, more "fanfares" I suppose.

    Always sad… and always confusing, I find...

  3. Sarah Keeler on FB
    That's beautiful Andrew, and I don't think you are overthinking things at all.

  4. Sarah Farmer on FB
    You were awesome in time of need Andrew. Don't berate yourself for finding Will dead. His soul will have flown. His shell remains. The body he used whilst here. Yes death can be unexpected. At least God Bless Will died in his sleep :)

  5. John Hatton on FB
    I hope I go that way with a nice neighbour to look after my daughter...

  6. Gloria Brown on FB
    Oh dear, how sad but a good way to go, your are not over thinking.