Intimations of Mortality

Life is full of such strange surprises, not all of them pleasant. This morning I received a letter from a well-known insurance company which had arrived at my Brighton address having apparently followed an extremely circuitous route.

The letter begins

We have been advised that Mr Alan Coles has sadly passed away. I am very sorry to hear about the death of Mr Coles. Please accept my sympathy at what must be a difficult time.

I was quite surprised by this, as Mr Alan Coles (my father) actually passed away in October 2007, i.e. almost 6 years ago. Although this was a long time ago, the letter brought back painful memories of that time and cast a dark shadow over the day.

I haven’t written much about this on here, as it happened before I started blogging, but perhaps its time to write something. Here is an excerpt from an earlier post about Benwell that refers to my father’s relocation to Dorset from his (and my) home town of Newcastle upon Tyne in the 1980s:

As time went on and the recession bit harder, the social and material fabric of Benwell gradually deteriorated. There were increasingly frequent burglaries and car thefts. It became a no-go zone at night. His business started to fail and debts began to mount. The stress of watching the neighbourhood falling apart and coping with the constant threat of break-ins at the shop and his flat eventually got too much for him. He packed everything he could into his van and fled to the South coast to live with his sister in Weymouth, leaving the dilapidated shop and all his debts behind. I’m sure there’s a similar story behind all the other empty shops in Benwell.

It was in Weymouth that he died. I had just moved to Cardiff at the time, and I had to go to Dorset by train to try to sort out his affairs and dispose of his meagre possessions, most of which were bundled off to charity shops. I remember the desolation that engulfed me as I sat in his bedroom amongst all that was left of the life of a father who was, in truth, always a stranger to me. Stacks of useless stuff, hoarded for no apparent reason like memories he couldn’t obliterate, now at last were going where they belonged: in the bin.

My parents separated when I was at School, at which point I went to live with my mother. My relationship with my father had never been close, but thereafter we kept only sporadic contact. I felt guilt. I had no right to that sense of loss.

As you do in such situations, I busied myself trying to tidy things up. I went through his papers, contacted banks and building societies to close a few accounts, arranged for his pension to be stopped, and informed various others about his death. He hadn’t written a will, but the net residue of his “estate” was rather small. Probate not being required, permission was quickly received to divide what remained, after paying for the funeral, between his next of kin, i.e. me and my brother.

Now, six years on, it seems there might be a bit more to divide between us. Though I doubt it will amount to very much, I’ve replied to the letter as best I could, and will wait and see what develops. Maybe this time the closure will be permanent.

4 Responses to “Intimations of Mortality”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    I’m sorry to learn about these sad events and want to express my sympathies to Peter and his family.

  2. glmackie Says:

    Thank you for sharing Peter. A painful memory indeed to lose a parent. My deepest sympathy.

  3. A very personal story – I hope telling it will help in the closure. Wounds heal. But they can leave scars.

  4. […] I’d do a quick post to update what looks like turning into quite a saga. Not long ago I blogged about a surprise letter of condolence I received about my father’s death. It was a surprise because my Dad died nearly six years […]

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