‘I thought I was going to die’ - Woman, 76, survives on cheese after pension department thought she was already dead
- Credit: Nick Butcher
A widow was forced to survive for weeks on cheese leftover from her husband's funeral after the pension department wrongly thought she had died.
Diane Geraghty, from Lowestoft, was left starving when the money she depended on to buy food and pay bills suddenly stopped in May.
The 76-year-old is meant to receive £166.42 each week from her pension and injury disablement benefit.
However from early May until July she received nothing after an 'administrative error' at the Department for Work and Pensions stated she had died.
Mrs Geraghty made initial enquiries with her bank to find out what had happened but decided to keep it secret from family and friends – her two sons who live in America are still unaware of the ordeal.
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She said: 'It's the way I was bought up; to be independent and look after myself.
'I didn't want to go banging on people's doors; it would have felt like begging.
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'I lived off leftover cheese from my husband's funeral – I just had a couple of slices each day.
'I know it seems mad but I wasn't thinking straight at the time.'
On April 20 Mrs Geraghty lost her 'kind' and 'gentle' husband of 25 years, Joseph Michael Geraghty, who died from pulmonary complications.
She said: 'It was horrible - it was like watching a man drown without the water.'
The lack of food soon began to take its toll on the mourning widow.
She said: 'I was confused and upset, I didn't want to go outside because I was all over the place and people would have thought I was drunk.
'I was frightened to use the phone because I didn't have any money to pay the phone bill.
'I was so weak I thought I was going to die.
'I had to use my husband's chairlift because I didn't have the strength to get up the stairs.'
Mrs Geraghty added: 'I had terrible nerves and lost two stone in weight. I didn't know which way to turn.'
In the end it was an act of kindness from a complete stranger which saved Mrs Geraghty.
In mid-June David Kinsella, 67, was walking by the pensioner's house when he noticed her looking distressed in the front garden.
He said: 'She looked like she was about to burst into tears so I started chatting to her and she told me this awful story.
'The poor lady was in a right state; no money for food or anything at all.
'She seemed all alone in the world.'
Mr Kinsella explained she could get emergency food from foodbanks – something Mrs Geraghty was completely unaware of – and offered to help contact the pension department from his phone to sort the issue.
He took the starving woman to Lowestoft Foodbank's Whitton Life Café where she received her first meal in more than a month.
Mrs Geraghty said: 'David was my saviour.
'The people at the foodbank were so nice – that first slice of bread and butter was heaven.
'They brought me a cheese and tomato sandwich and a big mug of tea.
'They gave me two big bags of food and a bag of food for the doggies – they had food in from before so didn't suffer at all thank god.'
With the support of Mr Kinsella the widow was finally able to contact the pension department and rectify the devastating error.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: 'We apologise unreservedly for the disruption to Mrs Geraghty's State Pension and Disability Living Allowance payment, which resulted from an administrate error.
'We issued an arrears payment on July 2, as soon as we became aware of the problem and the correct payment schedule has now been restored.
'We are carrying out an urgent case review to learn any lessons from this and ensure it does not happen again.'
However Mrs Geraghty is still in disbelief at how the mistake occurred at all.
She said: 'I think it's dreadful this happened in the first place. If other elderly people are going through this they could starve to death.
'It's an awful thing I wouldn't want anyone to go through.'
The months of unnecessary suffering which Diane Geraghty endured has highlighted the essential role of foodbanks within local communities.
Lowestoft Foodbank provides emergency food from various locations around the town six days a week to alleviate food poverty and support people most in need.
Ben Parish, who helps run the foodbank, said: 'You wish it wasn't vital but the reality is due to low income or delays in benefits people are struggling to feed themselves and their household.
'When someone is identified as being in need they receive a voucher which they then take to one of our distribution centres.'
Each visitor receives an emergency food provision which lasts three days.
The charity also provides social support for its users, taking the time to sit and chat with the vulnerable and elderly and turn them onto other services which be of benefit.
For more information on the foodbank and the services it offers visit: www.lowestoft.foodbank.org.uk or call 01502 537 527.