My Journey

From mind to paper and back again.

The Nature of Death

on April 16, 2010

Is it in our Nature?

The body slumped in the bath. Held up by the shower hose around his neck the pressure showed and the shower was beginning to come away from the wall. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and his entire body had gone blue. He was still naked and still uncovered. Water dripped down his legs whilst the top half of him seemed completely dry. He looked at his dad in horror and struggled to get his thoughts together, or even to look away.

‘Dad?’

The body swung around and he screamed at the unexpected movement before bolting out of the door.

‘But he left the engine running. I don’t understand why he started the car officer.’

‘What time was he due to start work Mrs Wilkinson?’

‘His first appointment was at nine thirty today so he would have got there just before nine to open up and get the shop ready. His assistant gets there about quarter past.’

‘And what time did you start work today?’

‘Seven, I start at the same time every day.’

She accepted a cup of tea, known in Britain to make everything look a little better. She took a cursory sip to try and calm her nerves but her shaking hands wouldn’t easily let her lift the cup to her mouth.

‘Thanks Darren.’

Her son sat down on the worn leather sofa in ‘his spot’. His face was ashen grey and he was exhausted. Most children expect to outlive their parents but they don’t expect to find them in the state his dad was in.

‘What caused you to come to the house then Mr Wilkinson?’

‘Dad wasn’t there to let Jenny in.’

‘Jenny?’

‘His assistant. When he didn’t answer his mobile I phoned the house to see if he was running late. There was no answer so I decided to drive across and see if he was okay.’

‘Do you have a key?’

‘Yes, and one to the shop. I opened up for Jenny so she could start the day’s appointments. Then I drove over here in case something was wrong. I didn’t need to use my key though, he’d left the door unlocked and the car engine was still running. I found this on the table.’

Darren thrust a note into the police officers hand. It was crumpled with being held for so long.

‘He was going to pick up a cooked chicken for tea?’

‘That’s what it says. Why would he write that?’

‘The door was open?’

‘Not open, just not locked.’

‘Okay, I’ve taken up enough of your time today, Mrs Wilkinson, Mr Wilkinson. You need to rest. We will need you both to come down to the station to give us a full statement tomorrow if that’s okay?’

They both nodded numbly.

‘Do you have anyone you want us to call?’

‘No we’ll be fine. Can I come and stay at the flat Darren?’

‘Sarah, Sarah. Can you hear me? Go and get the doctor Robert.’

He sat nervously at the side of his wife who lay on the floor, her face grey, her lips were blue. He stroked her hair absently while he waited. He rested one hand on the nape of her neck and could feel a weak pulse. She wasn’t dead, not yet. If only Sam would hurry up with the doctor. He could save her, if he hurried.

At that thought the door burst open with Robert in front of the doctor, both had tousled hair and pink cheeks from running.

‘Sarah, can you hear me?’

There was no answer.

‘Has she spoken to you John?’ The doctor demanded as he searched for a pulse and checked her pupils for any reaction.

‘No Doctor.’

He rooted through his bag and pulled out a vial, tipped some of the contents on to her tongue and sat back.

‘What is it Doctor?’

‘There’s nothing more I can do for her, she has to fight this herself.’

‘Is she sick?’

‘She’s sick of the mind. She’s taken too much laudanum.’

‘Maybe she felt ill?’

‘Not this ill, she’s taken more than a bottle of it.’

‘How, how can you tell?’

‘There are two bottles on the floor over there John. She did this to herself.’

The doctor stood up.

‘We need to get her into a bed to see if she can sleep this off. Can you help me?’

‘Yeah, thanks Doctor.’

There was a thud as the body hit the car windscreen and then another as it rolled off and down onto the road. The man behind the wheel slammed on his brakes and the car screeched to a halt. In the darkness he couldn’t see who he’d hit. He jumped out of the front seat and ran around the car as fast as he could. As the body lay limp in the road a young woman came out of the public house he was opposite.

‘Can you help me? I didn’t see him come out in front of me. He just appeared out of nowhere.’

They pulled him to the pavement between them and looked at each other.

‘Thanks, my name’s Samuel. Is there a doctor that lives nearby? I think he’s going to need to see one.’

‘There’s one on the next street I think. I’ll get him.’

With that she stood up and ran off. He lifted his hand away from the mans’ head and felt the stickiness of blood. That wasn’t good.

The doctor was there within minutes with his bag.

‘What happened?’

He explained what had happened to the doctor who sighed every now and again.

‘He was intoxicated.’ It was a statement.

‘I don’t want flowers. They only die anyway.’ She paused. ‘What about something like a donation for a charity instead?’

‘Which one?’

‘Arthritis.’

‘Okay, I’ll let people know. We need to put an announcement in the paper.’

‘I can’t do this. Can’t the funeral directors do this for us? I can’t do anything at the moment.’

‘I’ll ask them.’

The coffin was carried into the crematorium by the bearers as if Joe didn’t weigh anything. As Darren spoke about his father he became emotional and broke down in front of the entire congregation.

‘I don’t understand why Dad would do this; he would have at least left a note. We know he suffered for years with his joints and arthritis but he never complained, never said he wanted to end his life. He was getting ready to go to work, he left the car running and a note on the table telling my mum what they were having for tea, that’s not someone that’s going to commit suicide.’ He sobbed and a kind arm pulled him from the podium to his seat. Mary couldn’t speak, she hadn’t wanted to cremate her husband, they were staunch Catholics. She wanted to bury him in the cemetery at the church where he was baptised. The priest said no, suicide was the biggest affront to God that a man could make. Despite all her protests he maintained his answer.

‘The death certificate records suicide Mrs Wilkinson. We can’t bury him here. I’m sorry.’

The coffin was carried into the church by four friends and two of his brothers. Samuel sat in the back row. The death certificate had recorded accidental death in a car accident, he wasn’t to blame in the eyes of the law but he still felt guilty. The funeral was a peaceful affair in God’s house. The church burial was as it should be and Samuel felt that it was right in the eyes of God that he should be buried properly. The family were very solemn as he was laid to rest. The young mine worker had plenty of life left in him, and had been out with some friends the night of the accident to celebrate one of their birthdays as was custom.

They had been in the pub celebrating, the one that Samuel had pulled up outside after his body had rolled off the car. He hadn’t even gotten ten metres from the door before the car had hit him. Witnesses had said he’d just stepped out without thinking. Two weeks later the death certificate was changed to match the outcome of the police investigation. It was suicide, he had stepped out in front of Samuels car intentionally, temporarily intoxicated as he was. Drunk to everyone else, something had snapped in his mind and he decided to take on the motorcar.

‘I sentence you, Sarah Ann Buckley to twenty pounds in recompense and to come up and receive your judgement when called upon.’

‘All stand.’ The entire courtroom stood up as the judge left the bench. ‘You may sit.’

Sarah was guided out of the dock by a police man and her family were waiting in the corridor outside.

‘Are you okay dear?’ She nodded and took her husband’s hand lightly.

‘Mr and Mrs Buckley. There is still some paperwork that we need to fill out, if you would like to follow me to the office we can complete it before you leave?’

The officer turned on his heal and walked towards a set of doors, they looked tiny compared to the backdrop of the courtroom she had just been in. He held it open while they followed him into the office and waited behind the desk.

‘Take a seat.’ He sat down himself and opened up a large book. ‘As the judge said there is a fine as part of your wife’s sentence. A sum of twenty pounds.’

‘Yes Officer.’

‘We know that it is a large amount and are willing to set up a payment for you so you can pay it in instalments. Now with your current job, what is it you do?’

‘I work in the mills Officer. My children work in the mines. My wife, well, she was working at the cotton factory with me before. Before the event.’

The officer nodded.

‘Then your family earnings must be around two pounds a week?’

‘One pound and fifteen shillings Officer.’

He nodded again.

‘Then you’ll need to pay the court ten shillings a week for forty weeks to pay off your fine Mr Buckley.’

‘Yes Officer.’

She sat going through the box of papers left to her by her grandparents and her parents. She had never had the inclination to throw them away, nor to sort them out before. Her own children were all in school and she was off work for the day. She had pulled the box out of the closet and started searching through the photographs all labelled with names and dates in her mothers and grandmothers hand. There were files and files about the family that they had kept. She remembered that her mum had been a family historian, well, closet historian. She was always trying to find out the story of someone from way back when that she had never even met, or ever would. The majority of them had died so long ago that it meant searching through parish registers and newspapers from the times, the internet had been such a blessing because it meant she could do it from home without having to leave them alone.

She pulled out a photograph album labelled in a different hand, it was from before her mum was born, it was in a war time. That much she could see. She read the names of the ships in the pictures and flicked through the pages casually, a piece of paper fell out at the end of the album, tucked inside at the last page. It was an account of her great-grandfather and his time in the Navy during the Second World War. She read on with an avid interest until she reached the end and then folded the piece of paper back into the album.

The next folder she pulled out had a roll of paper inside, when she took the time to unroll it she found a family tree, in some lines it stretched back as far as the fifteen hundreds, she knew from school was the Tudor period. How had she got this far back? There were a number of notebooks in amongst all of the files, Sarah pulled one out and opened it up randomly.

Today was a sad day for our family. Not just in the view of family history but the present family as well. Nana’s brother Joseph Wilkinson was found in the shower, dead. He’d hung himself, committed suicide. The vicar says he can’t be buried in the church yard because it was a suicide and he was an affront to god.

There was a cut out from a newspaper as well. It showed the date of death and the date of the funeral. He was to be cremated.

She put the journal down and pulled out another one, it showed her research techniques for the following year. There were a number of certificates that she had ordered from the general registry office. Birth, marriages and even death certificates were listed, the names of the people they belonged to and the dates. In a column on the side of the page there were notes next to each one. She read down the line. Mother, Sarah Ann Buckley; it was a birth certificate. Cause of death, old age, cancer, pneumonia. The list went on. All these different people, died at home or in hospital with family around them. Most were unable to afford a proper burial. Two caught her eyes. Sarah Ann Cain, married Buckley. Cause of death was old age, the notes column showed that fourteen years before she had tried to commit suicide. Two in the same family must just be a coincidence right? All those people, it was bound to happen. The court details showed Sarah was fined twenty pounds and told she was to face her judgement. The second had cause of death scribbled out, it said accidental, then was changed to suicide. The police said he had suffered a temporary insanity. Drunk more like, he had come out of the pub and walked straight into the path of a car.

‘Stupid Man.’ She muttered under her breath.

She put the folder down and went to make herself a cup of tea.

‘Three’s a crowd, I wonder how much our genes have to do with things like this?’

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