On Friday, I attended an appointment with a lawyer. For the last two years, the firm have been gently reminding me that I need to provide info about Al. And I’ve been procrastinating because it just seems plain wrong to talk of my son in terms of a monetary loss.
The Government has a set figure for situations like mine. It seems that my son was worth £11,800. Apparently, some think it should be much higher. But just how do you set a price on someone’s life? Conversely, others feel that it should be scrapped altogether as whatever price is set is an insult. In my detached moments, I see both arguments – well, they both amount to the same thing really. I understand, unfortunately all too well, just why it’s a difficult area. Anyway, I’m running out of time because the wheels have to be set in motion within three years of Al’s anniversary and that date is fast approaching. The thing is that given the choice, I’d rather it was scrapped altogether. The amount, whilst not entirely insignificant to me as a single mum, won’t make much of a difference to our lives and it is an insult to suggest that it in any way compensates for Al’s loss of life. I notice that it is never referred to as ‘compensation’ thank goodness – I think I’d explode if it were.
My friend offered to accompany me to the appointment and suggested we go for lunch afterwards. Until she offered, I hadn’t realised just how tense I was about it. I’d deliberately packed the morning full so that I didn’t have time to dwell too much on things so I dashed to get my youngest to school, flew over to get the car MOTd and went to collect my friend so that we could get into town on time.
We arrived and I met the legal executive I’ve already met once before. The lawyer arrived and while we waited for some paperwork, he floored me by saying, “So – tell me about Alexander. What was he like?” In an instant, I knew that this was clearly a technique to get me to talk about him so that I’d be more easily able to cope with the nitty-gritty discussions later on. But although I grasped that straight away, I froze. I’d been prepared for cold, clinical, detached descriptions of driver/victim liability but I simply hadn’t been prepared for a question about my boy. I didn’t want to discuss his likes and dislikes, his foibles, his personality. I wanted to keep my son out of that room. With hindsight, it seems mad that I could even think this possible but I’d wanted to keep him out of it and refer to everything almost in an academic sense. If I didn’t take him into that room, it was just a business discussion about something abstract.
Damn me for being the compliant, polite type - It simply isn’t courteous to ignore or refuse to answer a question. I replied with, “What do you want to know about him?” But the first half of the sentence was merely a croak as the words were stuck in my throat. He said he wanted to get a feel for the kind of lad he was.
‘A feel’? Damn! Damn! Damn! That was the last thing I wanted. I didn’t want to feel at all and anything that brought him to life (the irony of that phrase hit me like a sledgehammer as it popped into my head) was something I needed to avoid right then.
Anyway, as I said, I was raised to be polite so I complied and began to describe him and the kind of lad he was. As I talked, it got a little easier and I became increasingly animated and was able to smile at some of the things I recounted. I guess the lawyer knew his job well.
Anyway, the paperwork arrived and we got down to the business of the day. It seems that the driver’s insurance company had originally said that as there was some suggestion of him playing chicken, they should reduce the amount they paid out by 30%. The amount was irrelevant. It was the fact that they used the driver’s ‘excuse’ that he thought my son was playing chicken. He was the only person to say it. None of the other witnesses supported this. Not one! But the insurance company tried it on anyway. I know it’s a business. I know it’s their job to save money. I know that they view it in that cold, clinical way I’d wanted to use in order to preserve myself. They saw the amount of money they had to pay out as collateral damage. But this was my boy. He was my son – a human being. And yet he was reduced to a few figures on a bit of paper.
I wanted to scream, “You didn’t know him. You never delighted in the way he sang along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and couldn’t pronounce the ‘th’ in ‘thing’ so, until he was six, it always sounded like ‘sing’. You never sat up at nights worried about whom he was with. You didn’t stand with your heart bursting with pride when he was all dressed up for his school prom night. So how can you decide how much he was worth? And how dare you try to suggest he deliberately taunted a driver by playing chicken!”
I knew it was a balance-sheet decision but it ripped into me. It was the percentages that did it. They were saying that my son was 30% to blame. They actually quantified it. Before entering that building, I knew that logically it was going to be that way, but to face the cold, stark reality of it was another matter entirely. My friend, who had sat quietly until now, interrupted with, “Beverley understands that these decisions need to be made but what she finds difficult is the percentage.” The lawyer asked if the 30% was at issue or the very fact that any percentage was used. We both chorused, “The fact that any percentage is used.” He then said that they could just get the company to make a total offer and thereby remove the percentage because this is a common issue. It felt easier that way so I agreed.
As I said earlier, I’d have found it easier to not have had to go through this but, in the very early days after Al died, his dad contacted the police to enquire about compensation. The very fact that he did this, and just how quickly he did it, still never fails to sicken me. I suppose I could have left him to deal with it but Al was my son and it feels important to me that I stick up for him in whatever way I can. I’m his mum (not, ‘I was his mum’). I will always be his mum and so it’s my job. His dad (and I use the term loosely) preferred to be more of a mate – and a fair-weather one at that. This effectively meant that Al only had the one parent. And in the same way that I wouldn’t have entrusted my son’s reputation to one of his mates, particularly one who seemed to be far too focussed on how much money was available, I wasn’t about to entrust it to that man. I don’t know why it matters so much to me that some faceless person in some insurance company clinically attaches a specific proportion of blame to my son but it does. It matters!
In the end, we left with a small list of info I need to supply and a deadline. Knowing my tendency to procrastinate around this issue, I’d specifically requested it and the Legal Executive had been a bit woolly in her reply. She clearly thought she was being kind. The lawyer interjected with, “By Easter at the very latest.” He’d understood that was what I needed.
We left and went for a quick coffee as my friend was on a diet and had her grandson to look after. Just as well really – I was in need of comfort and would have devoured all the cakes in the café given half a chance.
According to the lawyer, this could drag on for another year.