These chronicled several life-threatening conditions, including pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lung tissue, which is a progressive disease), COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, another chronic lung condition), and heart problems.
Instead, he explained that despite the thick file of medical notes, her age, and the fact that she had been seen several times a day by NHS professionals, he was required to refer the death to the coroner, who would then determine the cause of death. The undertaker, we learnt, is only temporary; you can later switch if you like – and we did, a couple of days later – to one of your choice, who will also look after the body in their own chapel of rest.
As for the coroner, what really bothered us was the prospect of a post mortem.
To supplement the care her own family could provide, she had up to four visits a day from nurses and care assistants from the Airedale Collaborative Care Team (ACCT), an NHS agency whose staff recorded daily observations on her health. Grandma was a pretty extraordinary woman: idiosyncratic, plain-spoken, down to earth and pithy. She wanted to ask questions about how Grandma had died, which we dealt with easily enough.
She wasn’t frightened of dying – “Not one jot” – but she was afraid of the pain and panic of struggling for air and not being able to get it. We wanted now some quiet time in the house, hanging out with Grandma, to collect ourselves. Then she explained that she must now call the duty undertakers (not, note, the undertakers of our choice), who would come immediately to cart my grandma off to the morgue at the local hospital awaiting the coroner’s decision – at which point all hell broke loose.
I know it will sound silly – what does it matter once someone is dead?