I attended my sister’s funeral last week. It was a lovely service, with the music played chosen to help us remember her fun nature. The first song was ‘I will always love you’ by Whitney Houston, a tribute from her husband. Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin played as the coffin was lowered for cremation – a song she loved and learned to play on the guitar. As we left, the crazy sounds of Tiger Feet by Mud rang out, reminding us of mad parties many years ago when we all danced the angel rock. It was a fitting send off, and it gave a chance for the families to catch up. We live well scattered across the UK.
Travel is not a simple thing when you have a disability.
I live in Birmingham. The funeral was to take place in Cornwall. This presented a bit of a problem in the actually getting there. The best way would have been by car, taking roughly four hours, a bit longer for stops on the way. It’s a journey I have done before – when I could drive. The stroke I had a few years ago left me sight impaired, and so I lost my licence.
This meant I was looking at the train, or coach travel. The train would take four hours and forty-two minutes. I would have to get to the train station which with luggage would mean a taxi, and the train station at the other end would mean another taxi to the hotel, as the station was not central to the town we were heading for. Although if you booked in advance you could get cheaper fares, at short notice the cost was £147.20 for a return ticket.
A return coach ticket was just under £37. The journey would take a lot longer, but given that I am now unable to work and in receipt of disability benefits, the price difference made the coach a more viable option. Yet the length of the journey was worrying – 7 hours and 15 minutes. However, this included two stops on the way, one for 15 minutes and one for 55. Aside from the cost, the added bonus of the coach was that it stopped just four minutes’ walk away from the hotel. I could manage that even with luggage.
I filled a bag with bottled water (I know it’s not eco friendly but I couldn’t go that long without a drink.), sandwiches for on the way and painkillers. I knew without a doubt I would be very stiff when I got to the other end, despite having a couple of breaks to loosen the aching joints. The journey down went well. Once settled in the hotel, I rested for a while, spent time with family on the evening, had a good night’s sleep to prepare for the sad event of the next day.
The taxi booked for the journey from the hotel to the crematorium went to the wrong hotel, though once the error was realised, it was quickly rectified and I arrived in plenty of time for the service.
The journey home was a night-mare. The coach wasn’t going direct to Birmingham; we had to change to a different coach service in Plymouth. The coach broke down. The problem sorted we were on our way, but it made us late for the connection. We were due to stop for a break in Plymouth which we were unable to have as the connecting coach was waiting for us. So straight off the one coach and on to the next.
The driver on the second coach was new to the route. He took the wrong turn. When he realised his mistake, he turned the coach round to go back to where we should have been to pick up the right road. We were now running even later, despite not having had a break in Plymouth. When we got to Bristol where we should have had a 15 minute break, we were unable to stop.
I have to say the staff were wonderful. They were apologetic and did their best to keep the mood light. However, I sat on that coach without leaving my seat for 7 hours and 15 minutes. I could scarcely stand when it was time to get off. The next day found me dosing on painkillers and taking it extremely easy. The discomfort in my legs and joints remained with me for several days.
This experience brought it home to me all too clearly how disability limits our options, both financially and physically. It also made me keenly aware how reliant I now am on other people, other services, to replace the independence I once had. A relatively simple activity can escalate into a task of a magnitude that I would not have understood had I not undergone it myself. I have no answers.
On a much lighter note, let me update you on my foray into eco-friendly living. The day after I returned from Cornwall, I decided a long, hot shower would be in order. I stepped gingerly into my bath. (A walk-in shower is on my list of things to do.) I took up my bar of soap to lather my skin when oops! I must have gripped it too hard, it was slippy, and kerplunk, it whooshed out of my hand and landed the other side of the bathroom.
Clambering out of the bath to retrieve my soap did not feel such fun. I picked up my shampoo bar and continued soaping. The bits of eucalyptus that give the shampoo its lovely scent were a little bit scratchy on my obviously too delicate skin. Reminder to self – keep back-up bar of soap close to shower.
Rant over. I hope you had a better week than mine.
Written by Portland Jones, Disability Liaison for Pagan Federation Midlands