29 March 2023
Steve N Allen: Alzheimers, COVID-19 and laughing at his mum’s funeral
Steve N Allen tells us about his experiences of loss and grief
Have you ever thought about your fantasy funeral, pondered your dream epitaph or wondered what you do if knew you had a week left on Earth?
A selection of six writers, comedians and actors shared their innermost feelings about death, dying and loss with us with a carefully crafted combination of candour and comedy in our podcast series Dead Good.
We’ve picked out some of the best bits in a new series of articles and if you like what you read you can then click on the link at the end of each one to hear the whole of that interview. They really are rather good – Dead Good in fact.
From his first encounter with death – his pet rabbit – through to the triple family loss he suffered during the pandemic, Steve N Allen, is completely candid about his experiences of loss and grief. Now in his mid-forties and with his own young son, the comedian is more convinced than ever of the necessity to enjoy life while you have it.
Growing up with no religious influences at home was in its own way reassuring, Steve says. While he didn’t believe in the afterlife he also wasn’t troubled by the prospect of hell. He adds: “So I, I have a very pragmatic relationship with death. Growing up, I thought I was, if anything, a little bit emotionally removed from the concept, which felt like it was good preparation.” Later in the interview he tells Dead Good host, Sajeela Kershi: “I cherish the idea of being alive more than people who think there’s some better thing to go to.”
Being the youngest in his family Steve only ever knew two of his grandparents and was only just heading into his teens when one of them died. It was at his grandfather’s funeral that Steve says he had his first realisation of the finality of death. “But still to this day, none of the other coffins since then have had that same impact of realising the body of someone you loved is in there…The game has changed now. Everything is different and that person’s gone.”
Steve remembers clearly that because they had dementia he ‘grieved in small slices’. This did at least prepare him for what was to happen to his mother years later as he explains: “I learnt later in life when mum was the first one of my parents to get dementia, Alzheimer’s. And that is just a constant grieving for the bit that you no longer have, the bit that gets removed by the Alzheimer’s until eventually the big grief.”
When one of Steve’s sisters died during the pandemic it left a lasting effect on him for more than the obvious reasons. “We shared a birthday. Just by random chance we were born on the same day. But I never thought I’d have a birthday where she wasn’t around. So, roughly speaking, every birthday of my life should have been a shared one.”
This was the first of three bereavements for Steve, as both his parents died soon after. He jokes about using the same crematorium and funeral directors for all three. “We ended up having all three funerals in there in a short space of time. And so with the same funeral providers as well, I joked with them about how I should have a loyalty card because I’m almost there for a free one.”
Although Steve’s father also had dementia it was important to Steve he attended his mother’s funeral. This decision ended up lifting the mood for Steve and his family as on entering the funeral his father surprised them all with humorous but timely intervention.
“Behind me was Dad and one of the carers and then Dad leant down the queue and shouted Let’s all do the conga, which is just brilliant and it’s exactly what we needed because it was a tricky time.”
The last of those three funerals though, of his father, certainly brought with it a challenging realisation for Steve. “By then, I suppose I’d formed my opinion that funerals are meant to hurt. So then you can get down to the business of dealing with the hurt. And that’s what that one was.”
Once COVID-19 restrictions lifted Steve sought help and has been benefiting from bereavement counselling.
A new arrival, a son, Rory, has helped Steve further come to terms with the inevitability of the circle of life. “He’s made me realise the roles have swapped… the young child or the young son having to deal with the older person no longer being there. And now the odds are it’s the other way around. I’m the old guy.”
Steve’s Departure Lounge
We asked the questions you want to know but might be afraid to ask!
How would you spend your last week on Earth? Eating all the foods you have to avoid – specifically doughnuts
Fantasy funeral: Italian style – Black veils and lots of wailing
Song played at funeral: Something long – like Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
One object in your coffin: A mobile phone – ‘in case I’m not dead’
One piece of wisdom: Enjoy life while you’ve got it
Epitaph: I was right
Listen to the full interview with Steve N Allen in episode one of podcast Dead Good here.
You may also be interested in
Join us at our Multi-Professional Academy to see how you and your organisation can provide personalised end of life care for a steadily increasing number of older people.
Sudha shares her experiences with death and funeral planning
William, aged six: “I like to do the walk with my family and friends to raise money for St Christopher’s because my mummy died there and the money will help to look after other people and buy equipment to help them”