Ten years ago, my Stepmother was very ill with cancer and did not have much time left. But rather than allowing us as a family to sit and wallow about the 'whys' and 'what ifs', she encouraged us all to be open with our feelings and remember the holidays we'd had as children. I actually built up more of a relationship with her in the last two years than I had as a child/teenager.
In the last year of her life, my Stepmother had meticulously planned and sorted everything-insurance, pension fund, mortgage etc. Being a senior nurse, she was incredibly skilled when it came to organisation. She was also a bit of a clean freak- the house was always spotless.
She had a grey address book that was kept in the hallway by the phone, which held the numbers of just about everybody who would need to be informed after she died.
The eight weeks before her death, my Dad moved the bed downstairs and their dining room became the family focal point. One of my Stepsisters had just had a baby and although there was sadness, there was also joy in knowing that at least my Stepmother got to meet her grandchild. The house had a cordless phone, so my Dad put it in the room with my Stepmother (along with the grey address book) so she could continue to call family and friends. The last week, the phone and address book were placed back in the hallway as my Stepmother was now unconscious for most of the time. She finally lost her fight four days after my Dad's birthday. We think she held on for him.
With her passing, my Dad had to inform several people. The doctor and undertaker were easy enough as the documentation was to hand, but there were several friends and family who were not on the internet and didn't have mobile phones, so this required my Dad to ring them. There were some numbers he knew, obviously- my Mum and me (I still lived at home), and other family members who weren't there with him at the time. But when you are distraught at losing somebody close, your mind tends to go blank on things like phone numbers, so Dad went to get the grey address book from the hallway. And it wasn't there. He and my Stepsisters hunted everywhere for it. In the end, he had to get friends and family to pass on the sad news to the others, who would then ring Dad.
About one week later, Dad had to go up to the attic because he had documents he needed to look at so the house insurance could be put into his name (the one thing my Stepmother had not accounted for was the stupidity of bureaucracy in call centres). Nobody had been in that attic for weeks. There had been no need to (they hadn't felt like putting the Christmas decorations up, which would have been the only reason for being up there in the last 8 weeks). On top of a box file was the grey address book. To this day, nobody has ever come up with a plausible reason as to how it got up there.
My Dad spent nearly all of that last week of my Stepmother's life by her side. The Stepsister with the baby had a particularly bad time giving birth, and was in no way inclined to climb ladders! The other Stepsister had been helping to nurse her Mother and had no interest in the attic.
It was about two weeks later, after my Stepsisters had returned to their own homes and Dad was alone in the house that he noticed all the pictures in the house were crooked-something that used to drive my Stepmother nuts when we were kids as it was usually because we would climb on the furniture and knock the pictures! Every time he would straighten them (for several weeks after), they would always end up crooked again. And then one day it stopped. My Stepmother knew Dad would be alright and was beginning to live his life again.