In April, Diane Geraghty lost her husband of 25 years, watching helplessly as he succumbed to a lung condition. In early May, the Department for Work and Pensions in her English hometown made a potentially fatal administrative error, accidentally marking her as dead too, which ended her retirement and disability benefits.
Without that £166.42 ($215.30) weekly check, the 76-year-old didn’t have enough money to buy groceries—and she was too proud and too embarrassed to ask for help. Instead, she spent five long weeks eating nothing but the cheese that was leftover from her husband’s funeral.
“It’s the way I was brought up, to be independent and look after myself,” she told the Lowestoft Journal. “I didn’t want to go banging on people’s doors [because] it would have felt like begging. I just had a couple of slices each day. I know it seems mad but I wasn’t thinking straight at the time.”
And as awful as that sounds in theory, the reality was even worse. Geraghty told the Journal that she lost two stone (28 pounds) and was almost too exhausted and hungry to move. “I was frightened to use the phone because I didn’t have any money to pay the phone bill,” she said. “I was so weak I thought I was going to die. I had to use my husband’s chairlift because I didn’t have the strength to get up the stairs.”
Fortunately, one of her neighbors saw her in her front garden and noticed how upset she looked. She told him the whole story: about losing her husband, about losing her benefits, and about that two slice-a-day cheese ration. He took her to a local food bank, where she was able to get some emergency food—and the first real, more-than-cheese meal she’d had in over a month. (“That first slice of bread and butter was heaven,” she said.)
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said that the agency would “apologize unreservedly” to Geraghty for, you know, almost starving her to death. “We issued an arrears payment on July 2, as soon as we became aware of the problem and the correct payment schedule has now been restored,” he told the Journal. “We are carrying out an urgent case review to learn any lessons from this and ensure it does not happen again.”
Let’s sincerely hope it doesn’t happen again. After all, an all-funeral-cheese diet is no way to live.