Funeral without a handshake

Last week I lost my Dad to Covid. In talking since with my friend, Declan Varley, editor of this paper, he asked would I put some words down to relay to you readers what it is like to lose someone during these surreal times. If this piece, that I write amidst oceans of grief, helps one person to adhere to Covid restrictions more fully, and therefore potentially saves a life, that would be an enduring legacy to Dad.

As a small family, we adhered to the Covid rules. We hadn’t been into my parents in months, and like most of Ireland, were looking forward to our “Christmas Bubble”, and counted down the days till 18 December, when lockdown lifted, and we could “mix as two households”. Carefully, and with masks and anti-bac, of course.

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together as a small family of seven (windows open, ventilation flowing, doing our best to heed the public health advice ); masks were worn in the car when I collected my parents to drive them to my home, for what turned out to be Dad’s final visit. Dad was hale and hearty that day, enjoying a drink and a song, and we will cherish those memories.

But despite all precautions, Covid ravaged our family. And from 27 December onwards five of the seven contracted Covid. My poor Dad, at 86, the worst, and he was hospitalized. Have you ever thought if an elderly relative of yours went into hospital, what’s their technology ability? My dad didn’t have a mobile phone. So immediately our level of communication diminished. We couldn’t phone him, nor him us.

We wondered did he know we were thinking of him every moment. Did he think we had forgotten him? With Covid, you can’t visit. We were in isolation ourselves, as most of the family were recovering from Covid, and those who weren’t, had to restrict movements. So think on that. Even the practicalities of getting a newspaper into my Dad, to be delivered to reception (this is when he could still read a paper ), were curtailed, as we were furloughed.

The staff of the Shannon Ward, where he spent his final days, were amazing. They updated us daily as to how he was getting along. As best they could. They were so busy. One nurse told us how she was tending to 14 Covid patients. Each time she had to go into a patient, she had to don full PPE. Only to discard it afterwards, and put on a fresh set. Think on it. Even to pop in to check on someone meant two changes of PPE. Those staff are doing their best, in the most difficult circumstances.

Respect

We need to respect what they are facing daily, and do our part on the outside to make their working lives easier. Two precious Zoom calls were facilitated with Dad. The first one upset us greatly. The great tall man who had walked into A&E, was now on oxygen in a bed, and we could see how frail he’d become so quickly. He was a little better in the second, and that gave us (now we know ) false hope.

My mother and sister were afforded a PPE-ed-to-the-max visit with him. And then a few days before he passed, they and I were allowed in for an hour, again gowned up (you have to wear a visor, goggles, mask, gown, and gloves — my last hand-hold with my Dad when he was conscious, was while I wore rubber gloves ). He was very ill, on oxygen, in the High Dependency Unit.

But he was able to speak to us, squeeze our hand, as he cried, and we did too. And then a few days later we got the call we were dreading. Things had become urgent. We were allowed in, just us three, to him, again all of us in PPE. He was unconscious. We had 20 hours with him, and we prayed, sang, and loved him on his way. Again the staff were so kind, caring, and respectful to him and to us in his dying moments. The dignity he was constantly afforded will never be forgotten. These hospital staff truly are angels.But Covid is cruel.

My mum was choosing the suit he would be buried in. But, did you know with Covid it’s your birthday suit? Albeit in a gown. You’re in a sealed bag in the coffin, no embalming, no touching of the body allowed. So our last look at Dad was in that hospital room, and it was sorrowful to know we wouldn’t have a normal removal of remains, and the lines of people to shake a hand, squeeze a hug, and offer condolences.

His sanitized coffin was brought home, and he spent one last night with us. His siblings had to social distance outside the gate and wave their wishes to us. No one could be with us to grieve, just our small family, sharing a bottle of hand sanitizer, and donning masks to go to the door to talk to a neighbour two metres away, similarly masked. His coffin stood in the hallway, and we left the front door open so friends could see it from the appropriate distance. My dad deserved more, and your deceased relative would too.

Double the loneliness

When the hearse left our estate, neighbours stood out to honour him, all socially distanced. And a guard of honour from his former workplace did him proud. Ten of us, the lucky few, celebrated his life at his funeral mass. Ten. The church echoed, and the seats were empty. But we felt Dad’s presence there, and the love beamed in via webcam, as we knew friends and family were watching.

When we left the church, masked mourners, standing apart, stood solemnly to support us. That’s another thing, we couldn’t recognize anyone masked! All these small things you don’t think about. We laid Dad to rest in Rahoon Cemetery. Again only ten could join us. We were counted in at the gate by a council worker … surreal times. And since he passed, we sit alone at home.

No one can visit to console us … it’s doubly lonely now. We appreciate the calls and texts, and refresh RIP.ie to read the virtual condolences, that have to replace the in-person ones. I write this piece in the hopes that anyone reading who has Covid fatigue, has become complacent about the mask-wearing, the hand-washing, the adhering to 5km … that they may think again.

From the extended family point of view they have said that nobody knows how distraught the extended family are to not be able to hug ye and each other, to not be able to talk all night of the wake and tell stories of Dad, to line the aisles in church in support of his family and to surround us all and help. To hold us up in the graveyard. They have said how much they all missed this and how lonely it made the extended family feel.

You do not want anyone you know and love to experience what we did recently. This cruel disease took our beloved Dad in a fortnight, well before his time. You don’t ever want to host a funeral without a handshake. In his memory, please keep to the guidelines and get you and yours to the vaccine stage. There will be one more vaccination available now, as my wonderful Dad won’t need his. Stay well.

 

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