OverwhelmBy Emma Pearson
December 6, 2023
20th April 2017
“Adminalation” – that’s a cross between Admin and Annihilation.
Megan went back to the UK last night. Julia’s been gone on an exotic holiday for a few days. So it’s just Ben and me now for a bit. Having had some pretty unstructured days recently, I thought I’d put a bit of structure on today. Not a lot. Just a label over the day in my calendar. “Admin”. The Admin resulting from a death.
I have always had an aversion to admin – even “good admin” like preparing invoices so I get paid. Or sorting out my expenses for my accountant, which I manage to leave until the last minute every year. I don’t like admin language, and when it’s in French it’s doubly bad. The words are too long and some I haven’t seen before. And then there’s death admin, in French, which makes it exponentially worse. So I was annihilated by the admin. Or Adminilated. Where I got to was putting stuff in piles and moving the piles around so it looked more neat and tidy. Unopened letters by the tens are also in piles. Ones to me that look like condolence cards. Ones to Mike that look official and boring and not too scary. And ones to me that look official and hard work and very scary. I once read a story about a therapist’s client who simply could not open three letters he had received for fear that they confirmed the bad story he’d been making up in his head about his professional reputation. I can see how much power unopened letters hold. I will get to them all eventually. But not today.
I have decided that a good resource for a recently bereaved person is a hand-holding guide much as I imagine senior expats and their trailing spouses get when they land in a new country. Someone to take you to the rental agencies, banks, schools, etc. I’d like one of these please to take me to the notaire, the bank, the accountant, the death certificate place, and for ashes collection at the crematorium. Perhaps there’s a new business opportunity there. Instead of Expat guide I suppose it could be an Exlife guide.
The number of phone calls and emails I am making where I have to say the words “my husband who died recently” is impossible to count. Sometimes I try to avoid saying it but then I stumble over my words even more. Cancelling Mike’s mobile phone provider was particularly tough. The chap I spoke to didn’t miss a beat and just said “well – we need some proof that he’s died and that you were married”. (I think he did say “were” not “are”).
I can see that much of this admin will create its own admin. I don’t have a death certificate yet because to get one I need to prove we were married (no-one in a Latin part of the world can understand the concept of women keeping maiden names so your bog standard phone bill isn’t enough). But our wedding certificate (in English of course), plus the French official translated one are currently in a stiff stapled envelope containing all the documents that will be gone through when I go (alone now) for my French citizenship interview on the 7th December. There’s a piece of paper in large forbidding font saying “Envelope must remain unopened until the interview”. So how will I get the death certificate? Perhaps I wait till Sunday and see if France does a Frexit making my desire to become a French citizen somewhat redundant. Or perhaps the lovely people at the death certificate office will have ways and means. I shall let them open the staples anyway and video them doing so.
When I opened up Mike’s phone before calling to get it cancelled, I found a heart-breakingly beautiful text to him from Ben, sent late on the day Mike died, soon after I had told Ben the news (he’d been playing in a concert). It said simply, “Goodbye – I love you”. So sweet, poignant, sad. I didn’t want to lose the text so took a photo of the phone screen.
I can’t do a Pause for Thought on this post. So here’s an alternative.
I am thinking of compiling a “Top Tips” list for people who – somewhat foolishly – choose to hang out with someone who’s recently bereaved. They seem to be “Don’t’s” rather than “Dos”. Current “don’ts” include:
- Don’t do cold calls to a house where someone has recently died. Find a way to get phone systems updated. I have a policy of always being super patient with cold callers – I could not stand their job. But yesterday I said, “Does this have anything to do with my dead husband? If not I am hanging up”. The chappy was flabbergasted. He carried on trying to let me know what great opportunity was coming up, so I repeated it again. Three times in all before he said “Non Madame”.
- Do not complain that you have worse admin or more admin than the person who’s dealing with death admin. Even if it really is more or worse. Just don’t say it.
- Do not complain or moan about or otherwise criticise your spouse or partner to someone who’s recently bereaved. That’s just plain crass, not to mention disloyal. Not that I would rather be in a bad relationship than bereaved – it’s just thoughtless.
- Don’t expect conversation. If you want to chat away that’s fine, but don’t ask questions about what I have done today or yesterday (nothing nice or interesting, let’s face it); what I am planning on doing in the summer (bank accounts are empty or frozen); or when I might want to see a film or go out to dinner. I know I am being a grump, and being a grump takes up far more energy than I have so don’t expect a conversing grump.
- Don’t ask how my work is going, or have I heard from xyz client. I am barely tracking where the kids are, let alone where work is.
The Dos are few and far between. But they are there.
- Do keep the house clean and the fridge stocked up. My au pair is a discrete Mrs Doubtfire at the moment.
- Do send messages that show that you’re remembering that this is going on for me – a photo of a lighted candle, a stone you’ve prepared for Mike, or the Order of Service somewhere in your house.
- Do acknowledge that this is impossibly hard and be curious but not nosy about how I am doing. It’s not a skill I think I have – curious but not nosy – but the friends who have it make me feel I am wrapped in cotton wool and will somehow fall asleep and get through the night.
- Do make the sun shine. I can’t imagine doing all this in lousy weather.