The last time I visited my dad, George, in his care home in February, I had no idea it would be the final time I would see him. A couple of months later, he would be dead, a victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It took a week from the virus hitting his residence, to him being infected, and six days from the positive test result until he slipped away. He went peacefully, but without us by his side.
We held his funeral on Wednesday, nine days after he passed, with just 10 mourners. There were no funeral cars, no hugging, and we were all socially distanced from each other in the crematorium. My mum, Sadie, sat a metre from me – near enough for me to hold her hand when she needed it. We both had gloves on.
My brother, Stuart, and his family watched the service on a webcast in their living room in Italy.
Dad had Alzheimer’s and visiting him was tough, but losing him so suddenly, and in such a way, has left us all reeling. Yes, he was no longer the strong, vibrant man he once was but we never imagined an end like this.
My mum was as devoted to my dad in his last difficult few years since his 2014 diagnosis, as she had always been in their 55-year marriage. Since his move into the care home in August 2018, she visited four or five times a week. Despite his lack of recognition at times of who exactly we were, he knew there was a familiarity, and there were flickers – moments where he would come through the dementia fog and call me “Cherie”, again, and squeeze my hand warmly. He did this on our last visit, and I cling to that memory now.
His care home was closed to visitors 10 days before the UK lockdown on March 23.
My brother, who has lived in Milan for almost three decades, had rightly cancelled a trip to come over to see us on the last weekend of February. The north of Italy was already being hit hard by the coronavirus and at that time Scotland had no known cases – he didn’t want to risk bringing anything to us.
My mum had seen my dad two days before the home had closed and, over the next couple of weeks, the amazing staff let her see him on video-calls. She told me he was bright and looking well. But the almost inevitable news that the virus had entered the home devastated us all.
He tested positive, and we hoped he would pull through. But when his condition worsened, we were told the hospital most likely wouldn’t take him because he had a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. We didn’t want him to go alone to a strange place and decided that, if we couldn’t be with him, he should have some familiarity around him.
We were offered the chance to go down and look at him through the window, but how distressing would that have been? My mum chose to have a last video-call and saw him lying peacefully in his bed. He died a few hours later. I wore a face mask and gloves and hugged my mum briefly in her garden that afternoon – I had to.
The days leading up to the funeral seemed interminably long. We couldn’t see anyone, we couldn’t take mum anywhere, go in the house and cook for her, just try to distract her – and ourselves – from the pain.
It was the worst of times. My emotions rollercoastered everywhere, and I felt more caged than ever by the lockdown restrictions. The overload of messages was both wonderful and awful. People were being so kind, but it only served to make the distance between everyone more apparent.
The funeral was like a dream. Our humanist celebrant recommended we have as normal a service as possible, even though it would only be heard by a few. We agreed, and the tribute was lovely, but the emptiness of the chapel was really hard to ignore.
Fighting every natural instinct to embrace and staying two metres away from our family was heartbreaking. We all chatted for a few moments afterwards, and then we all went home. It was bizarre.
My husband and I sat with mum in her garden with coats on for as long as we could stand the chill. Later that evening we had a video chat with Italy, and toasted my lovely dad.
He deserved so much more than that.
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe