Picture the scene…
I’ve gone for a routine well woman checkup at my doctor’s surgery. They’re walking through the various screens their computer system says they need to check with the patient. All is going relatively well until they get to the bit where they go
Nurse: and is X still your next of kin?
Me: no, we broke up 4 years ago. I don’t have a next of kin.
Nurse: we have to put someone down. What about your dad?
Me: ?!? (I’ve already told them he died in October)
Nurse: your mother?
Note – at this point there are a whole host of painful feelings welling to the surface as I’ve already had to contend with the whole next of kin thing with my solicitor. I know what being a next of kin means in the sense that the nurse wants me to have one.
Me: only child, there really isn’t anyone who I can call my next of kin.
At this point I’m trying not to cry and hoping that she will just stop asking.
Me: they’re all dead.
At this point I’ve now started crying.
Me: no, really, there isn’t anyone. I don’t have anyone at all.
I wanted her to drop it and I’m well and truly crying at this point.
*In hindsight, and with a few less tears a typical response from me might have been ‘should I just pick a random name from a bag to play Russian Roulette with my life when it comes down to it, because if I don’t place that much value in my own life to pick someone carefully then it doesn’t matter who I put there is what you’re saying.’ Fortunately… I’m only thinking this today.
Legally speaking, next of kin duties fall into the following:
- Familial – mother / father / brother / sister / grandparent
- Relationship – spouse / partner
- Extended familial – aunt / uncle / cousin
- Legally appointed representative (lasting power of attorney)
The role that person needs to provide is one where you’re incapable of making decisions for yourself. In a legal sense that could be because you’ve been involved in an accident or surgery hasn’t gone well, and someone has to act on your behalf.
This means the person who the Next of Kin falls to has to have intimate details of what you want done if something happens. Should a limb be removed? Should you go on life support? Should you have life saving surgery? Should all heroic measures be stopped? Do you have a do not resuscitate order? Do you want your organs donated? What organs do you want donated?
If you’re a parent you get to have ultimate say over what happens (for obvious reasons) – although I’d never have wanted my mother to have that ability over me. Other familial relatives, sort of the same.
A spouse or partner, you would hope you’ve had that kind of conversation with them. Just to tick it off the box and know what to do in that situation. It’s a very intimate conversation to have with someone. It’s also a shed load of responsibility to place in another person’s hands. It’s your life, you have to trust that person implicitly to do the right thing in a specific situation.
Extended family, you have to hope you’re close enough to them to be able to trust them if it comes down to it.
So when you find yourself, very much alone following the death of someone you considered to be your family. Situations like this have the ability to bring you to your knees and make you feel very, very alone.
I know people have said that they would be my next of kin for me. The problem is, I’ve had to think a great deal about what it means. I have to trust that person. I don’t feel that I can either trust that person or place the expectation that I would want someone to do this for me.
The question becomes ‘who do I trust sufficiently with my life?’ and the answer becomes, nobody.