Saturday 25 December 2010

A lonely Christmas

With every unexpected death there's someone who'll feel the pain most. A December night, minus five on the scale and a blizzard on the way, and a light has gone out in someone's life. For me this is a stressful situation as I gather my thoughts, try to follow protocol, hoe I'm not forgetting things, concentrating on doing a good job, and keeping new colleagues under my wing. We are not the only people present. There is a newly bereaved brother. He is keeping up appearances, answering stupid questions, trying to be helpful. The realisation has not yet kicked in. The loneliness of someone alone in the country will not manifest itself for a few hours.

Hours pass as officious feet trudge muddy footprints through the hallway, radios bleep, hard male voices converse mixed with hushed tones at appropriate moments, occasional, accidental, stifled bursts of laughter break out. Hustle and bustle is everywhere, paperwork flows. Finally it is all over.

There is a week until Christmas. What would have been family affair has suddenly turned into a void. With any luck there may be a friend or colleague who will take pity. I hope so for his sake. I pass on final information about the coroner, mortuary, an apology that due to health and safety we cannot clean up the mess in the now silent living room. I mutter a limp euphemism about this not being pleasant. With an effort I look him in the eye, attempt a smile, which I hope conveys something approaching empathy, and, ridiculously, my final words are almost as if I'm saying goodbye to a mate after a pint. "Take care."

Suddenly the stony, glum resignation falters. I see shoulders slump. I know what this means. I shoo everyone out the front door and make sure not to look behind me as I pull the door shut. Some privacies are inviolable.

Hours later, nearing the end of a continuous 27-hour working day, hysterical exhaustion invading, I stare out from the window of a deserted, stifling twelfth floor over central London. Outside, nothing but a whiteout - the snowpocalypse descends. On an always-on radio somewhere on the other side of the bleak office, Chris Rea's "Driving Home for Christmas" comes on, and I have a little moment to myself which I am glad there is nobody with me to share.

A week later, it's Christmas night, and although I'm not really the praying type, that poor woman's lonely brother, who I'd never met and probably never will again, is in my thoughts. Christmas is no time to be alone.

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