Most people when they hear the word “Christmas” would make an immediate association with eating, drinking and making merry. Words like “peace” “joy” and “goodwill” are brought to mind. A time for giving. A time for families to get together. Few people would think of the associations APTs and Bereavement Services up and down the country are reminded of yearly. As Christmas approaches our thoughts turn to fridge capacity issues, the additional pressure to get work processed promptly and “going the extra mile” to help those bereaved at this time of the year.
There is never a good time to lose a loved one but around Christmas the loss can so often feel amplified. Whilst around you all are partaking in the festivities and celebrating the closing stages of another year, whilst you are in the depths of despair and mourning. A few years ago my Grandmother died on 23rd December. My grandfather had spent the previous two years looking after my grandmother, refusing to allow her to go into care. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for many years and was diagnosed with stomach cancer eighteen months before she died.
Although my grandmother’s death was not unexpected, the timing seemed so cruel. However, losing someone that close to Christmas turned out to be a blessing, more on this in a moment. I would first just like to use this example to demonstrate the dedication of the role of APT and bereavement Officer’s at this time of year. My grandmother died at 2.07pm on 23rd December. Thanks to the prompt actions of the Bereavement Office my uncle was able to collect the MCCD that same afternoon. He managed to get an appointment to register her death the following day at Ipswich Registrars Office.
The Mortuary and bereavement Suite staff were able to have cremation papers completed and my grandmother was collected from the hospital on Christmas Eve and taken to the funeral directors. This meant my mother was able to view my grandmother there over the weekend. I know from talking with the funeral directors that they had only been able to collect my grandmother because the APT had stayed late to accommodate collection. The dedication and compassion demonstrated in this one small act made such a profound difference to us as a family. I had deliberately not contacted the mortuary myself as I did not want to put any pressure on getting things moving any quicker just because I work in the same field. I believe that all families should be treated equally and no preferential treatment should be sought or expected just because I work in the same field. I therefore know that this small act of kindness in staying late on Christmas Eve was not because of who I am, it was because of who the APT is. It would have been so easy for the APT to have knocked off early because they wanted to get down the pub or back home to be with their family.
This level of commitment is reflected every year by APTs up and down the land who put the needs of the bereaved first over the festive period. I know from personal experience that staff at our mortuary go back to work a day early to get ahead of the game for the start back. Telephoning bereaved people and getting as much in place as possible helps them enormously, particularly on years where the Christmas break spans a four-day shutdown. It also helps us of course, as it spreads the workload a bit easing the pressure a little. We don’t have to do it, but we feel for people and we want to help.
A surprising thing came to light for me a year after my grandmother’s death. Each year, my grandparents would spend Christmas with my Aunt and Uncle. On this first anniversary of my grandmother’s death, my grandfather spent his Christmas with my Aunt and Uncle. And every Christmas thereafter, he was never alone on the anniversary of her death. It is something that we were always thankful for, he was never without family around him at that time and it made a huge difference. By contrast, my grandfather died in May last year. I think it was 23rd May, but I cannot be sure and I had to be reminded to call my mother on the anniversary of his death. No family get togethers on the anniversary of his death and no family around to support my mother.
APTs do an amazing job day in day out all year round. The dedication and commitment to our work is appreciated by families and the smallest of gestures can have such a profound impact on people. Continuing this level over the Christmas period is testament to those who put aside their own needs to help those who are going through bereavement at this time of year. It could happen to any of us and I would hope any APT would consider this when carrying out their duties over the festive period.
Guy Singleton FAAPT
Bereavement & Mortuary Services Manager