Behind Closed Doors

Liverpool City Council’s Public Protection Unit is a small team that makes a big difference. Described as ‘the death detectives’ by a TV producer, they spend their time dedicated to giving a dignified departure to those who pass away, seemingly leaving no one behind.

But what they witness in a day stays with them for much longer after they clock off. Searching properties of people who have died, to trying to find details of their next of kin, or even the ultimate treasure — a last will and testament — can really take a toll.

In a heartfelt blog, Team Manager Joanne O’Brien, encourages everyone to think of others, and remember that even the smallest act of kindness can make the biggest difference.

“There is plenty in the media today about good news stories — people looking out for their neighbours, providing an ear to listen to and being a willing shopper, carer and friend.

But what about those amongst us who don’t have the luxury of knowing a kind Samaritan?

My colleague Pam Flanagan, Property Protection Officer and I have heard countless sad stories of people who have had no-one in their hour of need. No families, no friends, and having to spend their last living hours totally alone.

We recently attended a property search of one such gentleman, who died in the house he had lived in all his life.

It was like stepping into the past. During our search we uncovered vast amounts of receipts for carpets fitted back in 1956, for cabinets made in the 1960s, there was even a genuine 1950s Belling cooker in the kitchen.

He appeared to have kept every letter and card he had ever received, lovingly wrapped in plastic bags and stored all over the house. As you can imagine our search took a bit longer than normal.

The most poignant sight however awaited us upstairs. The gentleman’s mum had sadly passed away a number of years earlier, however her room remained untouched, the bed was neatly made and encased in a plastic covering to keep the dust off, her makeup and jewellery laid out on the dressing table and her clothes hung up in rows in the wardrobe — it really hit home how much she was missed.

In his own room there was an armchair and table in front of the window where it appears he spent many hours watching the world go by. His neighbours said he rarely ventured out and kept himself to himself, and it’s sad to think he died as he lived — alone.

There have been 39 public health funerals during the pandemic. Our role for Liverpool City Council is always to try and bury someone with as much dignity and respect as possible, no matter what the circumstances.

We have dealt with estranged families, families with no means to pay for funerals and people who literally have no-one left in the world.

Although we strive to be professional we are only human and it’s not surprising we leave work feeling emotional and saddened that there are still vulnerable people out there who are left alone at the most crucial time of their lives.

We live and work in a vibrant, cosmopolitan and extremely caring city, yet the rise of public health funerals is evident on a daily basis.

Myself and Pam urge you — if you know of anyone in your home or work life that needs help coping during this pandemic then make contact — offer your services. At this time of year it will have more impact than ever. Sometimes it just takes one small act of kindness to prevent another referral being sent to us.

Together we really can make a difference.”

You can watch Jo and Pam in action below (filmed before the Covid-19 pandemic)

Liverpool Waterfront