Dealing with grief during a pandemic

My mum surrounded by her family

This coming Mother’s Day will be my first one without my mum being around. It will be the first of many ‘firsts’ over this coming year as I sadly lost my mum at the end of November 2020.

To be honest I am dreading it. I am a mum myself and I’m still lucky to have my mother in law around, but there is a small part of me which just wants to stay in bed, close the curtains and make the day go away. But instead, I have tried to take the positive approach and have invited my in laws around for Sunday dinner as it will be a good distraction for me, but I can’t promise that there won’t be any tears at various points during the day, but I will try to make my mum proud regardless.

No one can ever prepare you for how you may feel when you lose a loved one, let alone losing a loved one in the middle of a pandemic. In normal circumstances, there would be plenty of visitors to see those who are poorly, showing how much you love and care for them, surrounded by lots of flowers and cards so they know that they are not forgotten.

In my case, this didn’t happen.

My mum was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties, on the 2nd November which was also my first day of my new contract, I got home after picking up my equipment when my mobile rang. It was my sister.

“Don’t panic” she said

“Dad has had to take mum to the Drs this afternoon as she is having problems with her breathing, she is currently at the surgery on oxygen and they have called for an ambulance. They didn’t want you to know how unwell she was feeling as it was the first day of your new job and they didn’t want you to worry”

This was the start of an awful journey for my family

The ambulance took so long to arrive, that my dad decided to take my mum down to the hospital himself and take her to A&E. We live in North Somerset and at that time, we were in Tier 3, so it meant that we were not allowed to enter the hospital. My dad bravely walked my mum to the doors of A&E where they hugged and cried. My mums last words to my dad before she walked in was

“Please don’t let me die in here” He promised her that he wouldn’t, and he watched her walk into A&E.

It turned out that my mum was incredibly poorly. From the moment she entered the hospital she was hooked up to Oxygen with a mask on her face. For the first 3 weeks of her stay, she was not allowed to receive any visitors. She was not allowed to have any cards or flowers due to the risk of spreading Covid within the ward and the nurses had to wear full PPE.

Mum started to feel incredibly lonely and she would get so upset if she ever got a chance to speak to my dad via the hospital ward mobile phone (there was one mobile between two wards). The deterioration in her mental health was really starting to affect her will to live and she sounded as though she was giving up.

The mental health of my dad was also starting to take its toll too. They had been married for 60 years and he felt completely helpless that there was nothing he could do to make her feel better and instead spent most of the time on the phone trying to calm her down because the more upset she got, the harder it was for her to breathe. My dad also wasn’t allowed to visit my mum and would spend most of his remaining time picking up her dirty washing from the hospital entrance and dropping of clean washing for her. This was truly heart-breaking. We all felt completely helpless.

Then on Saturday 28th, I was summoned to the hospital with my sister as my dad had been told that my mum was not going to survive, and we needed to come and say our goodbyes. We were only allowed to go in one at a time and only given 10 mins each. We had to dress up in full ppe and were told that we were not allowed to hug her, kiss her but we could at least hold her hand. This is the first time I had seen my mum in almost a month.

I was shocked at how sterile her room was, there was no warmth to it at all. I wasn’t shocked by how my mum looked or sounded and I was relieved that finally I could get to see her. My mum had already been told by the Dr, together with my dad, that she was going to die. When she saw me, she cried, she told me she didn’t want to leave me and that she was sorry. I was utterly devasted that this was all the time I was allowed. I stroked her hair, took a deep breath, and told her that it will be ok and that we will be ok. I also said that her grandchildren will always remember her and that we all love her dearly.

After both myself and my sister had seen her, we then had to leave the hospital…that was it. We were in complete shock and just didn’t know what to do, how to feel or what to say to each other. My dad could stay for a little while longer, as I drove my sister and myself home. I then had the unenviable task of having to let my two sons know that Nanny wasn’t going to make it, which again was completely heart-breaking as they were not allowed to go and see her and say their goodbyes.

My mum did survive another 24 hours. My dad was able to go and see her again on the Sunday morning for an hour, but again, because of the Tier 3 visitors’ restrictions he couldn’t stay too long.

My mum sadly died at 8.30pm on the Sunday evening. She had no family or friends around her during her final minutes as the call came to my dad far too late. By the time he got to the hospital she had already sadly passed away. I can’t begin to describe the pain and upset at this thought, but I am so grateful and thankful for the nurses who were with her during her last moments. They held her hand and kept her calm. It’s a small comfort against a painful loss.

I know what my family have gone through is no different to the other 100,000+ people who have sadly lost a loved one during this past year while amid this pandemic. Grief under normal circumstances is so hard but throw into the mix a pandemic, in the middle of a lockdown where your network of support is suddenly separated from you and you only have your grief for company. It’s an incredibly dark place to be.

But what has kept me going is the kindness of friends and family who have constantly checked in to see how I am. During our grief, my family has become closer and stronger and we support each other through the tears, the anger, and the frustration we find ourselves in. I am also incredibly grateful that I am working for an organisation who look out for their staff during a time of need. I had only been working in my current contract for 3 weeks when my mum sadly died but the kindness shown by my peers, my team, and the senior managers I work with, has been really overwhelming. I have taken great comfort from that.

To end this blog, I just wanted to summarise and say that grief can affect you in many different ways and behind every smiley face, you may not realise the pain and sadness that someone might be dealing with so let’s make sure we are always kind and compassionate with each other.

I know that I am at the beginning of my grief journey and I am not sure if it will ever end, but I will make sure that I try to look at the positives and make my mum proud every day. Ive come to realise that you will never ‘get over’ grief but with the support of family and friends you can certainly try to move forward. I will always talk about my mum in the present tense as she is part of me and that will never change.

One thing I would ask everyone to do is that when this lockdown is over, please take the opportunity to reach out to your mums, dads, aunties, uncles, nannies, grandads, brothers, and sisters and friends and ask if they are ok. Give them the biggest of hugs when you see them (social distancing allowing) and use this moment in time to reflect on the past year, treating it as a springboard to make new and exciting memories, no matter how big or small and having a new appreciation with everyone you have in your life at that time.

Mum to teenage boys, Wife and a Scrum Master.

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