The short graveside service came to an end with the words ‘Dust to dust, ashes to ashes’. Then a little lady, dressed in black, was wheeled in her chair to say one final goodbye to her husband of 71 years. The undertaker handed her a red rose from the bouquet that had rested on the coffin for the short journey to the cemetery. She kissed it, held it for a moment and then threw it into the open grave. It was one of the most beautiful things I will ever see, and it broke my heart.
There were only seven members of his family at the graveside. Having been limited to ten by government regulations, it would have been impossible to choose who else could take the three remaining spaces after wife, sons and daughters-in-law.
This was the first time we had seen our mother in the flesh for over 2 months. She has become quite adept at using her tablet for FaceTime, and her children and grandchildren have tried their best to keep in touch. It’s great, but it’s not the same. All we wanted to do was hold her. All we could do was put on the rubber gloves supplied and shake her hand like she was an acquaintance with whom we had a passing friendship.
As she was placed on the lift at the back of the minibus, I saw her put her head in her hands. She turned to us gathered around her and said, “I kept my vow”. Then we cried.
With all the gentleness of a son, Tim from the care home buckled her chair to the floor of the bus and checked she was ok. She looked so small and lost and we felt so helpless. As she drove away, I was broken. I was broken and I was angry, very angry…and I still am.
This is one small family tragedy, similar to many thousands of small tragedies that have taken place in this country over the past few months. I’m sure it will be the cumulative effect of all of these individual stories that will shape us going forward.
As the news started emerging from China and then Italy it seemed to be something that we were disconnected from. In ‘Lord of the Rings’ terms, we were safe living in the Shire. All that nasty stuff happening in Mordor would never affect us. How wrong we were. In our interconnected, globalised world, it was always only a matter of time.
My daughter and her young family went into lockdown early and to be honest we thought she was possibly overreacting. At the time we were all singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and washing our hands to ward off the invisible enemy.
To justify her unilateral decision to stay indoors, on 13th March she sent the family WhatsApp group a message from an old university friend who is now the Director of a major metropolitan Emergency Department.
He suggested his friends should share his advice in an attempt to…
‘Save your neighbour’s / mate’s / dad’s / grandmother’s life in the following ways:
1) Start taking this seriously now
2) Socially distance. Stop going to meetings, parties or shaking hands. Work from home if you can
3) Wash your hands
4) Don’t let your children with coughs and colds play with other children or adults
That’s it, thank you for keeping someone off a life support machine.
…Everything you plan for before a pandemic seems unnecessary and overly dramatic but after the pandemic it will not seem like enough’.
This was from a young man worried about friends and trying to get the message out as best he could. Ten days after he sent this message, the country went into lockdown. There might be reasons why we weren’t all told that message, but when the change in government policy finally came and the daily death tolls rose, I was angry, very angry…I still am.
Like so many people, we have family in different parts of the country. One works for the NHS, so needs to be close to his hospital in London. On the other hand, my other daughter and her husband had already been working at home for a week or so before the rumours of lockdown started circulating. My instincts as a father and parent meant that I wanted to drive to London to collect them and bring them home. I offered to jump into the car, there and then. They were 200 miles away, but I could be with them in a couple of hours.
We chatted for a while on FaceTime, weighing up the pros and cons. It meant they wouldn’t be cooped up in a small London flat, we could support them as a family and they would be far away from the UK’s epicentre of the pandemic.
Then we checked the Government instructions and sadly all decided that it was not the right thing to do. I felt powerless to help. I was angry, very angry…I still am.
The ringing phone woke me at 12.45am. At that time of the morning you know it’s not going to be good news. It was my brother. He had received a call from my parents’ care home. My 96 year old dad wasn’t very well, and they were trying to get him into hospital. The whole call was a bit of a blur as I struggled to get my brain to work.
The first instinct of a son is to rush to his father’s bedside. Then I stopped. What if I had the virus but wasn’t showing signs? I could be taking it to my very sick father and to others in the home. What if he had the virus and I caught it? How many people might I infect? In the end I decided not to go.
Four days later and it seemed my dad was going downhill fast. We asked the care home if we could sit with him for 5 minutes. We even had homemade masks for protection. Understandably, they said that was not possible. What they did do was take my mother’s iPad to his room.
That was the last time I saw my father. He passed away two days later. When my elder brother called to tell me the news, I screamed and then I cried. I was angry, very angry…I still am.
As we go forward I’m sure we will try our very best to listen to the advice being given. We do it not because those are the Government’s rules. We do it because we care about our family and friends, our city, our neighbours. We do it to protect our beloved, beautiful NHS.
As I look back on all of this I realise I’ve been heartened by the self-sacrifice shown by so many. The way the majority have pulled together and stayed together.
But some things I have seen and heard have made me angry, very angry…I still am.