‘She wanted us to visit but we couldn’t’: grieving our mum after Covid-19

Angela
Angela

Sisters Sas and Yvonne lost their mum Angela to Covid-19. They describe a surreal diagnosis and why caring for their mother in the mortuary helped them grieve.

Your mum Angela died with Covid-19, could you talk a little bit about what that was like?

Sas

You listen to the news and you think, 'that must be so upsetting for the families.' Then the next thing you know your mum has become one of the statistics on the screen. It's surreal because you just don't think it's going to happen to you.

Yvonne

Mummy was diagnosed with dementia in her early 60s. It was difficult, but she was living with dementia well. We were prepared for the decline due to her illness but nothing prepared us for Covid.

Her symptoms were the lack of smell and taste, which were the last two symptoms at the time that the government announced. As soon as they mentioned the lack of smell, I just said to Sas, ‘I think that mum's got Covid.’

Sas

Mummy was tested in the care home and her result was negative, however her symptoms didn't improve and she went into hospital.

Yvonne

She was only there for a couple of days and when she was due to be discharged she tested positive for Covid. However, she went back to the care home as they felt it was the best place for her to be looked after.

Sas

I think the worst thing was getting the phone call from them saying 'your mum has died.' They allowed me and my nephew to see her from a window the day before. She wanted us to come in and visit her but we couldn't due to shielding, she looked so sad and despondent. To get the call, less than 24 hours later, that she's gone — it was very difficult.

What kind of person was your mum?

Yvonne

She taught us how to share, regardless of how small whatever we had was. That's a definite gift that we have inherited from her. Our family live abroad in the Caribbean and America. My dad passed away 21 years ago and so it was just mummy, Sas and myself.

Sas

It was nice with the mix of Caribbean and European culture. Mummy really embraced that, making us try new things all the time. The main thing with mum though, was that she always wanted to be kind to people and give to the homeless. If they had a dog they were definitely getting some money!

Yvonne

You don't realize the way that your mother is mentoring you at the time. She was always helping other people. She's handed that down to us and moulded us as adults.

Your family must have been going through so much after your mum died. What happened next?

Yvonne

The first thing we did was go down to see her. Sas was inconsolable, I thought she would pass out from grief and was, understandably, crying so much. I felt so sad myself, but knew I had to be strong. When we got to her room we spent three hours just hugging, crying and talking to her.

We contacted Poppy's as I was aware of their service and knew that I wanted to use them as our funeral directors. Because mummy had Covid, we visited her in the mortuary and not the family room for health and safety reasons.

Every time we saw mummy, Neil [the mortuary technician] would explain if there were any changes in her body — like if her mouth drooped a little bit, or her eye had slightly opened, so that we wouldn’t be shocked. Every step of the way, I felt like they were holding our hand.

We went down regularly and that helped with the grieving process. Because mummy was in the mortuary, we were always mindful of the fact that there were other people in there as well. We used to thank them for looking after her and each other. We felt it was important to honour them too.

Sas

It made the whole process easier in terms of saying goodbye. I was able to see her and process that she was actually gone. We weren’t allowed to visit her in the care home, but I was at least allowed to do that at the funeral home. We went down several times before her funeral.

Because of Covid you're limited with your contact, but Neil and the team gave us everything we needed to keep safe with PPE. Neil was really good in the sense that he demystified what was happening. He made me not feel scared to go next to mummy. I knew that it was okay and I had nothing to worry about and could enjoy that time with her.

On the day of the funeral itself, there were restrictions on the number of people who could attend. How did you handle that and what felt important?

Sas

Our mum wasn't a materialistic person so we wanted it to be very humble and low-key in keeping with her personality.

Yvonne

Mummy’s family are Hindu but she embraced Christianity when she came to the UK. We wanted to honour her in terms of both faiths.

Her family are always cremated in white, so we dressed her in a white dress. We wanted her Bible to be cremated with her and thought it would be nice if the opening song was Hindu. It was a short ceremony, but very meaningful and beautiful with Sas, myself, and our children.

Sas

Our family in the UK is very small as her family lives overseas so having to restrict the number of people wasn’t a difficulty. We prioritised her grandchildren and ourselves. We appreciated having a small intimate ceremony as this is what we would have done regardless of the circumstances.

I’m quite a private person so I didn't want Zoom involved in mummy’s funeral. It’s such an intimate time when you're grieving and I didn't want an audience.

Yvonne

I think that's what worked for us. For other families, it should be whatever works for them. It's really about having a conversation about what makes sense for the individual and honouring that.

Since the funeral, we’ve been in contact with our family abroad. They’re helping us, which has been lovely. The plan is to take mummy's ashes back to Trinidad and to scatter them at sea, which is in keeping with her family's tradition. We are looking forward to her being back with her loved ones.



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