‘I have grieved in a hidden limbo’: losing a loved one in Covid’s first wave

My father died last March, before I could see him. As lockdown lifts, I wanted to talk to other ‘first-wavers’ about isolation, anger and this complicated moment

The first report of a death from Covid-19 on British soil came on 5 March. I had other things on my mind at the time: my 78-year-old father, Oliver, had gone into hospital that morning for planned but major surgery. He’d set out at 6.40am, pulling the front door shut with its distinctive thwuck and wheeling his carefully packed suitcase to the waiting taxi. He left the house he’d lived in for more than 50 years tidy enough, but paused for his return: half-read books open by his bed, a pile of paperwork on his desk, jumpers folded on a chair. He expected to be home a week later.

The operation, to fix a complication from earlier bowel cancer surgery, was a success, but his recovery quickly became messy. Each day seemed to bring a new problem, and he began showing signs of delirium. One day – after he’d rung me, panicking, to say a voice had told him he was dying – I raced to the hospital to be told he might not survive. His heart rate had rocketed and he had an oxygen mask clamped to his face. The doctors managed to stabilise him, but soon after that my own crisis and the one silently snowballing outside collided: my 15-month-old son got a fever, and I had to stop visiting.

At the hospital, I was taken aback to find my dad’s hand still soft and warm. ‘It’s only just happened,’ the nurse said

For such a loud lady, she disappeared in the quietest way, and it doesn’t feel right

There’s a lot of anger. People feeling abandoned, that things were mismanaged and their loved ones shouldn’t have died

When I hear people say they can’t wait for lockdown to end, I think, what about ‘I can’t wait for people to stop dying’?

Related: ‘You’d see him barbecuing in the sun’: Bernard Cherrington, died aged 79, of Covid-19

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Category: Mental Health