When Diane Geraghty suffered the loss of her husband at the age of 76, she didn't know the local Department for Work and Pensions had mistakenly marked her as deceased as well. As a result, she stopped receiving benefits to buy food and supplies. Too proud to ask for help, Geraghty spent five weeks eating only leftover cheese from her husband's funeral.
Geraghty had used her weekly £166.42 ($215.30) check to pay for food and other bills, but when the money stopped arriving, she put herself on a ration of two cheese slices per day. She told the Lowestoft Journal that's how she was raised:
It's the way I was brought up, to be independent and look after myself didn't want to go banging on people's doors [because] it would have felt like begging. I just had a couple of slices each day. I know it seems mad but I wasn't thinking straight at the time.
Over the course of the five weeks, Geraghty lost 28 pounds and was almost too weak to move. She told the Journal:
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.
Fortunately, a neighbor saw Geraghty in her front garden and noticed how distraught she looked. Upon asking her if everything was alright, Geraghty told her entire story to the concerned acquaintance. The neighbor was stunned:
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.
He immediately took her to a local food bank, where she had her first non-cheese meal in five weeks:
That first slice of bread and butter was heaven.
Geraghty is immensely grateful for her neighbor's help:
David was my saviour. The people at the foodbank were so nice...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.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions "apologized unreservedly" to Geraghty for her oversight. He told the Lowestoft Journal that the agency was trying to make amends for its mistake:
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.
At the end of the day, Geraghty only hopes this doesn't happen to any one else:
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.