In one of my early efforts in thanking the universe (see Thank You 3 – Barb and Brian), I mentioned seeing a film. I mentioned how much I liked it but I didn’t mention its title or its story.
That film was Still Life, a beautiful, poignant tale about a beautiful, poignant man called John May – magnificently played by Eddie Marsan. www.imdb.com/title/tt2395417/
I recommend it today as much as I did the day I mentioned it. See it if you can. Pay good money to see it. It is how films should be made.
The story revolves around John May who works for an unnamed local authority, somewhere in or around London, and is about to be made redundant. He has a tough job but even the tough jobs are replaceable. His involves sorting out the detritus of lives unnoticed. When someone dies in his council area – someone without friend or family to claim them, acknowledge them, bury them – John May takes on the task of trying to trace someone, anyone who can say they once knew that person.
As I say, it’s a beautiful piece of work but, even as I was watching, I wondered how true to life it was. How many local authorities would even have such a person? Is such a task not usually left to over-worked police or over-burdened social workers? What local authority would take the time or spend the money to try to give someone the dignity in death they had not been afforded in life?
Turns out there is at least one.
In July of this year, a man lived and died in a nursing home in Kent. His name was Sean Parker. He had neither friend nor family. In all the time he had lived in that home, he never had one single visitor. Not one. Imagine that.
He talked with the staff sometimes. Told them he’d been born in Ireland, had spent time in a school with monks, had lived on the streets. The bare bones of a life without a story. And he died with nothing to leave behind and nobody to mourn him. And Sean Parker – who appears not to have had much luck in life – eventually had some luck in death. For there was a process.
The process was followed and a file for Sean Parker deceased came across the desk of Paul Edwards. Mr Edwards is the Bereavement and Registration Services Manager at Medway Council.
Paul Edwards tried to find someone, anyone who might have known Sean Parker. As Sean’s body lay in a morgue, Paul Edwards kept on trying. To no avail. But Paul Edwards didn’t give up.
A notice was put in newspapers. In Irish newspapers. In the slim hope that someone, anyone in the place where Sean was born, might remember him.
The story got picked up on national radio. Paul Edwards spoke to us live one sunny September afternoon. I heard him, sitting in my father’s living room. Down a phone line from Kent to the kitchens and living rooms of Ireland, six weeks after Sean Parker had died, Paul Edwards was still looking for someone, anyone to remember.
Over the course of a couple of days, the story grew traction. On the radio show. People remembered Sean Parker. It wasn’t always the right Sean Parker. The dates didn’t match or the bare bones didn’t match.
And then it was. A call came in from Glinsk. A tiny spot near the Galway Roscommon border where a boy called Sean Parker had lived. A long time ago. But his name appeared in a school roll for a few, short years. And stopped the year he turned 10. In 1945.
And people remembered the Parkers. How the father was missing a bit of a finger, how the mother died the year young Sean turned 10, how they buried her in the local graveyard, how the family left Glinsk for Dublin shortly after, how young Sean had left his dog with a friend and cried as he walked away.
It wasn’t much of a story but it was more than bare bones.
And yesterday, Sean Parker was buried in the local graveyard in Glinsk. And the village turned out to welcome him home. There was no family present, efforts on both sides of the Irish Sea failed to unearth any family. But those efforts found a community. One that remembered, one that cared.
Sean Parker’s story is worth sharing. It turned out to be a great one in the end.
Thanks, Paul Edwards, Medway Council and the people of Glinsk