Some of you may find the section "Homecoming" upsetting
7 years ago today, Steve was told he had mesothelioma and that his life expectancy was in the region of 12-18 months. In fact, he outlived that estimate by many years...it's only four months and a day since he died.
Since then, I have been taking baby steps forward on many fronts - the red tape you have to deal with when anyone dies; the emotional impact of loosing a loved one (even if you knew it was coming); learning how to live on your own, in my case for the first time in my life....until recently, I have always lived with others - parents, shared student houses, with Steve and our family. But I'm getting there, slowly but surely.
Probate and related matters
I had thought twice about dealing with probate on my own. It all sounds a bit scary at first! However, our wills were straight forward, with no legal complications, special bequests or trusts - we each just left everything to the surviving spouse. And gifts between spouses are Inheritance Tax free in the UK, which makes the process relatively easy, if time consuming, as you still have to jump through many of the same hoops.
It became clear quite early on that the biggest job in obtaining grant of probate would be to value Steve's "estate" i.e. everything he owned solely or jointly. It was also clear that I would have to gather that information myself to pass on to a solicitor, if I wanted someone else to make the probate application on my behalf. But I'm an intelligent woman, used to dealing with bureaucracy, paperwork and filling in forms. So I decided on a DIY probate application, knowing that it could be passed on to a solicitor if it all got too much.
Estate agents will value property for free for probate purposes. You can get a vehicle valued online if you know the year, make, model and mileage. I employed a specialist firm to value "goods, chattels and personal belongings". It cost a bit, but had I done it myself, I probably would have valued everything higher than I could realistically sell it for, due to my lack of experience....The accountant valued the business. Onsey Lock Hydro confirmed the value of Steve's shares in this community-based green energy scheme which we both subscribed to. The bank, insurance company and NS&I provided detailed written breakdowns of Steve's current and savings accounts and investments.
When all this information has been collected, its a relatively easy matter to find and complete complete the forms online, via the gov.uk website (search on IHT forms and guidance). I used the telephone Helpline once to clarify something I was unsure about. It didn't take long to get through, and the chap I spoke to was very helpful.
Once completed, I dropped off the forms at the local Probate Office. About a week later I received an email saying that the papers had been examined, and the next step was to swear (or affirm) an affidavit that all the information I'd provided was correct to the best of my knowledge. You can do this for free at the Probate Registry, during public opening hours, or pay to "swear" at a solicitors office. It only takes a few minutes, reading words from a card. Grant of Probate came through less than 10 working days later.
Tomorrow, I will take the Grant of Probate to the bank and open up an Executor's account which will allow me to pay Steve's "debts" - a DWP overpayment of Attendance Allowance after his death; the accountant's fees for completing his tax return, my own expenses involved in dealing with probate. The balance of his assets can then be transferred to me, as his sole beneficiary.
I can also send copies of the Grant of Probate to bodies which hold his other assets, to get those transferred to me. The house which had been in our joint names is now in my name only. This is easy to do via a form which you can download from the Land Registry website. Transferring ownership of the car was also a doddle and DVLA promptly refunded the unused proportion of the road fund license, which was a nice surprise.
So...lots of paperwork, but actually not that difficult. And having saved around £5,000 on solicitors fees (the amount I'd been quoted when visiting to get certified copies of his Will), I've treated myself to a trip to Cuba later this year, at the end of the hurricane season. I'm sure Steve would have approved. So sad that he won't be there with me to enjoy it...
The Coroner's Inquest
One of the more difficult tasks, emotionally anyway, was collecting information to send to the Coroner's Office ready for the Inquest to establish whether his exposure to asbestos should be recorded as an industrial injury. Luckily, we had done some investigative work on this few years back, when considering a claim for compensation through the Courts. In the event, that claim was not pursued, but I still had electronic access to Steve's statements and comments, so was able to send those documents to the Coroner's Officer.
The Inquest will now go ahead on 6 July. It's not to "apportion blame" or get compensation for negligence, just to establish whether his death should be classed as an industrial injury. All mesothelioma deaths go through the same process. I will attend, but will not be required to speak. It will be difficult, I imagine...but it's important that the cause of his death is properly recorded, as it shows the impact of negligence on innocent people's lives.
Dealing with Steve's clothes and other personal belongings
This has been very difficult for me....every item I pick up has memories. But there's no point in hanging on to something that will never be worn or used again by me or a member of the family. Some small things have gone into the "memory box" and more will follow I'm sure...But I have started donating other things, like clothes and shoes, to charity.
In the end, for every item of Steve's put into the charity bag, I added something of my own, which didn't make it feel so bad. Knowing this stuff is supporting good causes also helps. And it's the start of a good declutter which is much needed. Still a long way to go on this front, but I've begun....
Dealing with the emotional side of things
To put it simply, this takes time. I don't consciously think about Steve everyday, but there is usually something that triggers thoughts of him and memories, both happy and sad....often when people are nice to me, or see me for the first time since his death. Arms go out in a big hug and I find myself dissolving in tears as we share our sadness. But that is happening less and less, as time passes. Nevertheless, the triggers are still there...
...On Saturday, I went out for a walk and found myself at an art fair, particularly attracted to one artist's work which I recognised as images inspired by the Languedoc in France, Seville in Spain and Marrakech in Morocco - all places Steve and I have visited since his diagnosis. The artwork brought back many happy memories but also stirred up the emotions. In the end, I had to walk away as I could feel myself welling up. However, I returned later that day and bought three prints, much to the artist's delight! Once framed and hung, they will bring some Mediterranean sunshine and vibrant colour into the house.
Next week, I will be meeting up with Andrew, visiting the UK from the States. Steve and I met Andrew and his wife Nancy a couple of years ago through a mutual meso friend, Lou in Australia. We had tea on the roof terrace of the Ashmolean Museum and found we had much in common. Sadly Nancy died of mesothelioma not long before Steve, so no doubt the next reunion now as widow and widower will be a little bit emotional, but I'm sure we'll have some laughs too :)
As always, I get by with a little help from my friends (and family)!
Steve's funeral was in March, the day after his birthday. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to collect his ashes from the Funeral Directors office. In the end, I set out on foot on a lovely sunny day, without giving much thought to the practicalities of what I was about to do....just relieved that I had finally made the move.
The reality is that the ashes of a person's mortal remains are quite heavy. It wasn't till I started walking home that I realised how just heavy over a long distance, especially if you have back problems like me. In the end, I caught a bus, and sat with the "In Memoriam" carrier bag with its precious load of ashes in a Scatter Tube on my lap, wondering if people had noticed and guessed what it was....But no one said anything, so I didn't have face awkward questions or looks of sympathy from complete strangers.
So..he's home now. Or at least his mortal remains are. Moving from room to room, depending on whose staying in the house and where they are sleeping. I know this sounds silly and irrational, but I can understand why people might feel just a bit uneasy sleeping in the same room as the ashes of a family member or close friend. In some ways, it also feels a little bit disrespectful, moving his physical remains around the house in a carrier bag, albeit a very tasteful one. Not that Steve would mind, I'm sure....he would probably just laugh and tell us to make a decision about where to scatter what's left of him and fix a date. So that's what we must do.
Of course, there will be a permanent memorial to his memory - probably a public artwork somewhere nearby that lots of people can enjoy. He'd like that. The germ of the idea has already been sown and I will make sure it's nurtured and flourishes to fruition in the fullness of time.
Cycling and walking
Son Jack is now training hard for the Etape bike ride in the Alps - a mountain stage of the Tour de France that's open to amateur cyclists. His doing it in Steve's memory and in the process raising a lot of money for the charity Mesothelioma UK, which is great!
The event takes place on 10 July, only a few days after the Coroner's Inquest into Steve's death. I will probably do a blog post about both in due course.
Meanwhile, I am walking myself back to happiness aiming to do at least 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) each day and succeeding most days (although not yesterday, when I took it easy after a dental implant....)
It seems to be helping my back, helping me loose weight and helping me get fitter. And its lovely being out and about when the weather is good....
A big thank you to family and friends for your social invitations - meals together, cinema trips, theatre visits, days out, weeks and weekends away - it's really helping me get my life back on track.... Travel plans for the next few months are coming together nicely also - the worldwide travel insurance I took out in May will be earning its keep!
And thinking of the Meso Warriors
As always, the Meso Warriors and their families and friends are in my thoughts, those who are celebrating good news like Mavis and Ray, Claire and Paul, and those who are waiting for or still going through treatment, like Ray and Amanda, Lou and Keith....Not forgetting those who have lost their loved ones to this preventable disease. Sending you all a big group hug :)