Here's some stuff I've picked up after a year of being an orphan.
Joel and his mother.
Yo, both my parents are hella dead. When I was 15 my dad died and I got six weeks off school. Last year my mum died and I got two weeks off work. Two weeks! Paid leave! On top of my annual holiday allotment! If my last remaining parent hadn't just died in semi-tragic circumstances, I would've been like: "Damn! This is like winning the lottery!"
Instead I spent a fortnight shaking hands with funeral directors and going to council buildings and filling out forms. Because here's the thing people tell you about both your parents dying: nothing. They tell you nothing. And there is loads of stuff to deal with. For example: What monetary value do you put on the gift you send to the neighbour who has a really faraway look in their eyes because they found your mother's corpse dead in a pile? Answer: I don't know. I sent a £50 ASDA beer basket. Is that appropriate? Is that too much? I don't know and neither does anyone else.
So, here's some stuff I've picked up after a year of being an orphan.
LOOKING AT THE CORPSES OF THE PEOPLE WHO MADE YOU IS QUITE WEIRD
Funeral directors have a lot of things to deal with: liquids. Cavities. Flicking through an eight-page pamphlet of sombre flower arrangements and pretending any of it matters. But what I've noticed they most have trouble with is making the corpses of your parents look like your actual parents.
Obviously, dead people look way different to alive people. That is science. But what is the point of having a long conversation about how your dad wore his hair ("He combed it with a wet comb maybe once a decade?") or giving them a freezer bag full of your mum's actual makeup if they're just going to rouge and preen them up so they look like they were two casualties in an especially competitive drag queen dance battle?
Illustrations by James Burgess
YOU HAVE A LOAD OF CRAP YOU DON'T NEED
You never really think about how much crap you have in your mum's house until you are forced to sit cross-legged on the floor sorting through it in those boring days between death and a funeral. Here are just some of the things I found: a box of 95/96 Panini stickers, mainly of Paul McGrath; some shells from a holiday I don't remember; a Dreamcast, a console that has not been played by a human being since about 1999; some binoculars with a swastika on them; and about a million pages torn out of the Times' Saturday supplement with recipes printed on them. You are never going to make Mizeria. Throw all the non-Nazi stuff in the bin and start over.
YOU GET WAY FEWER DRINKS BOUGHT FOR YOU THAN YOU'D THINK JUST FOR TELLING PEOPLE YOU ARE AN ORPHAN
I've had like, two drinks by virtue of my parents dying. I get more than that just for going to Pret for people at work.
BIRTHDAYS ARE DIFFERENT
You get way less stuff.
EASTER IS DIFFERENT
Had to buy my own six-pack of Creme Eggs this year.
CHRISTMAS IS DIFFERENT
I HAD TO COOK MY OWN TURKEY.
YOUR PARENTS HAD SOME DARK SECRETS
I quite liked my dad until the other day when, 12 years after his final demise, I learned that he killed our dog. For clarity: he didn't just lunge for her one day and strangle her with his hands, but he did have to quietly put a cushion over her face and push down because he couldn't really afford the vet and she was on the way out anyway. I had quite fond memories of my father before this. Now all I can think of is him, sobbing into the air, knees on a cushion, while Suzie convulsed beneath him. Which sofa cushion did he use to kill our dog? Why did they tell me she went peacefully? Who else has he killed?
So many questions. So many haunting questions.
ASHES ARE INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO DISPOSE OF
We forgot dad was still about until we found a Tupperware tub full of his dusty remains at the back of my sister's wardrobe one year, so what was left of the family went to go and scatter them somewhere vaguely important. If you're planning to do this: ask your parents now, while they are vital and healthy, where they want to be scattered. (Everyone has an opinion about where ashes should be strewn and all of them are wrong. We basically had to do a Doodle to decide the venue.). Similarly, when you're tiptoeing onto a golf course near Wolverhampton because a family vote decided that it was the most vaguely appropriate place we could think of to get rid, don't do it on a grey, overcast, windy Sunday afternoon, because you'll get dad on your trousers.
PICKING FUNERAL MUSIC WILL TAKE A WEEK OF YOUR LIFE
When my mum died, she had circa ten CDs in her possession: Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5" (CD single), Tom Jones' Reload, a load of crap by U2 and the self-titled Jiggerypipery by Jiggerypipery. If you are wondering who Jiggerypipery are: they are a fun new modern twist on the bagpipes, and, when played at volume while preparing your dinner, they are so bad at music they will put you off your mac and cheese. Meanwhile, I can only assume my dad heard Rumours in 1977 and clearly thought, 'Well, that's me done. No more music for me. I'm full,' because that and Eric Clapton: Greatest Hits were the only two tapes he ever had in the car when I was a kid and had in the house when he was found, collapsed by the toilet, dead as you like.
"I guess he liked... Miles... Davis?" We played Miles Davis.
"I guess... she... really liked 'Ass in the Graveyard' by Jiggerypipery?" We did not play "Ass in the Graveyard" by Jiggerypipery. Can you imagine what a roomful of mourners would say if you played an exceptionally real bagpipe solo while your mum was slowly being wheeled into a fiery inferno? Can you imagine being at a funeral, sobbing behind sunglasses, while someone played Jiggery-fucking-pipery? They would say mean things. They would say things like, "You know what? Probably best she's gone." They would say things like, "Actually, can't really make it to the wake. No, I know you've just spent £300 on vol-au-vents. No. Yes. No, I can't come because you just played a bagpipe solo at me." And you would have to understand. Instead we played – and I'm not even joking here – music from the South African apartheid musical Sarafina! The funeral:wake ratio was a good 60:40, and we were lucky to have that.
YOU WILL PUT ON WEIGHT
If the last person alive who would tell you "mince is not a meal" succumbed to liver cancer in July 2013 then you best know that a lack of gentle chiding will lead to you chunking up a good half stone in a year.
LIVER TWINGES ARE MORTALLY TERRIFYING
My mother died of liver cancer and, after years of cider-shaped abuse, the same organ disintegrated inside my dad like a roll of toilet paper dropped in a bath. So, yeah: safe to say livers are not exactly my friend. Exercise to enjoy at home: try having an indigestion-type of pain in the middle of your torso after both your parents got George Best'd to death without thinking you are dying too.
HOUSES, LIKE, DETERIORATE?
We have not been able to make the hot water in my mum's house work for six actual months and nobody can figure out why. Also, where does dust come from? Because it is everywhere. And there is a looming scent coming from the basement that nobody wants to talk about. Is that scent "death"?
THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL YOU CAN USE WHEN DECORATING IS MASKING TAPE
When you're painting your dead mum's house – you're going to want to paint your dead mum's house because you cannot sell a house with a pink kitchen and a looming shade of maroon front room and the dining room is literally orange – here's a tip: take the time to put masking tape over every skirting board, plug outlet and light switch. Because magnolia paint is really hard to get off these things, and masking tape stops you slopping B&Q Basics where it needn't be.
THERE'S A LOAD OF THINGS YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU'D MISS
Every summer when I was a kid we would fill the boot of the car with holiday stuff and go somewhere bleakly seaside-y for a week – Filey, Cleethorpes, Whitby, Tenby. And every single time, without fail, my dad would desperately get the shits in the early morning hours before a long drive. I'll never watch my mum shouting through a bathroom door before my dad emerges – sweating and spraying Glade – ever again. I'll never have to make a pot of tea for my mother while she smokes and furiously does a crossword while my dad searches the big drawer for some Imodium. And I'll never have to walk into an eye-stingingly savoury-smelling bathroom full of nervous holiday diarrhoea smells. It's weird what you miss.
YOU ARE AN ADULT NOW
Despite having the face of a child and the mind of a child and the body of a giant, flabby-round-the-edges child, I am, technically, an adult. I own a house. I am the one true heir to the entire Golby bloodline. I went for two (two.) entire meetings at the bank.
"So, hold on, let me get this straight," the bank manager is saying. "Both your parents are dead?"
"Did they both go at once, or –?"
"It's just – and I hope you don't mind me saying – you're really young for that."
Mate, I know. Give me an ISA and shut up.
"Because, like: you're 27."
"And you are younger than me."
"And I still live with my parents."
THERE'S SOMETHING QUITE STRANGE ABOUT SLEEPING IN YOUR FAMILY HOME WHEN YOU ARE COMPLETELY ALONE
No family, no pets, and because of the aforementioned boiler problem even that isn't clanking away soothingly. And when I say "quite strange" I mean "fucking terrifying". Save one of your dad's golf clubs from the council tip. You'll want to keep it under your bed.
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