My dad died at the end of May. He had been living with dementia for several years — for decreasing values of “living” — and had been in a care home for the last two of those years. Ten days before he died he was taken to hospital when the care home staff became worried about his condition. This turned out to be a false alarm and he returned to the care home that night; however, it seems he contracted COVID-19 during the hospital visit.
He showed no symptoms. Until that point, the care home had been extremely careful to ensure they kept free of the virus, allowing no visitors and with some staff moving in temporarily. Sadly it seems possible my dad introduced it on returning from the hospital, and a number of staff and residents have subsequently been unwell.
My dad appeared fine until the day he died, when he stopped drinking water. He was taken to hospital again, where they realised he had pneumonia, and was near the end. Thankfully my mum was able to be with him — in full, suffocating PPE — for his last moments. It was quick and peaceful.
The lockdown period was by far the longest time they had been apart for the 55 years of their marriage. I cannot imagine how those last few minutes together felt.
It was only when mum received dad’s death certificate that we learned he’d had COVID-19. He’d been tested on admission on the day he died. Died with, died of, it doesn’t matter much.
And so he became a statistic: one of the 300 or so in the next day’s graphics, a nudge upwards on the charts. His life was near the end even without the virus, and bluntly his death came as a relief — he was a shell, he knew none of us, only music perked him up. He was existing, not living. And yet the virus took him before his time.
His funeral was last week. I drove behind the hearse — no funeral cars permitted — at 30 mph along a dual carriageway, and watched drivers around us try to figure out how to cut in for junctions. The service was small, only eleven mourners, socially distanced. Somewhere in Time by John Barry. Do not stand by my bed and weep. Jerusalem. String of Pearls by Glenn Miller. Various Jesus bits. There’s a poem at the back of the order of service I can’t read yet.
We used the photo at the top of this post on the front cover of the order of service. I took it at the party we held for his 80th, back in 2014. By coincidence I’ve recently been scanning and fixing photos of him kept by his own mother. Here are a few of them, plus some others in my collection.
He was kind, and calm, and loving, and entirely to blame for my sense of humour. I heard him swear approximately once. Even when we all knew his memory was failing, he remained cheerful. He’d hold out a palmful of coins and say he didn’t recognise any of them, and laugh about it. He accepted every new hardship, every walled-off memory, with grace and a shrug or an eye-roll.
And every time I visited my parents, I left thinking that was the best he’d ever be.
My mum became his carer, until his condition deteriorated and he needed special care. Throughout all of this she has been stronger than I thought possible, finding humour from the darkest moments. The memories of the last few terrible years can now at least begin to fade, and let the good years take their place. He is gone, but not gone.
We were so lucky.