I was dropping off shopping for my mum when the hospital called for her permission to withdraw my dad’s life support.
After both suffering flu-like symptoms for two weeks, his condition had quickly deteriorated – he was taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack and a bleed on his brain.
Now, sat three metres apart in camping chairs outside their home, we waited for the call to tell us he had died. When it came, we cried three meters apart, we did not hug or comfort each other. My otherwise-healthy 60-year-old dad died, alone, in hospital on 14 April. We got no opportunity to say goodbye.
My mum continued to self-isolate for a further eleven days after his death. We could not give each other any physical comfort at one of the most painful times in our lives. Dad’s funeral was a short service for five people in a local funeral parlour. We were not allowed to go to the crematorium, my dad was taken alone by the undertaker. Friends and relatives all over the UK and France had to find their own ways to connect and pay respects to a man who was loved and will be missed by many. We hope that one day it will be safe enough to celebrate his life in the way he deserves.
We all accepted that we had to maintain the lockdown and social distancing measures to limit the spread of the virus. We acted for the greater good.
While I’m devastated at the loss of my father, and deeply saddened by the circumstances surrounding his death, we all accepted that we had to maintain the lockdown and social distancing measures to limit the spread of the virus. We acted for the greater good, and I do not resent any of it.
My dad was a fit, healthy and active man who played golf regularly and enjoyed his life to the fullest. He was my five-year-old son’s best friend, and hero – and I find it incredibly hard to witness his heartbreak and help him make sense of losing his favourite person in the world. Perhaps naively, we assumed my dad would be around until my son was a young adult, and one of the reasons for sharing my story here is to show the risks of Covid-19 to everyone – not only those over seventy or with underlying health conditions.
But there is a second reason. This past weekend’s news that Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings knowingly breached the rules of lockdown – and worse, the government’s defence of his actions – has triggered immeasurable anger inside me.
Cummings has behaved with complete disrespect for our loss and sacrifice, and completely undermined the public health message to stay at home during this pandemic. The Prime Minister, and the government ministers defending him, are undermining the efforts of millions of people who, like me, have spent months in lockdown making their own sacrifices. How will the government now have any authority to ask people to continue with social distancing and lockdown measures, having openly supported Dominic Cummings’ brazen disregard for them? I fear these events will result in many people taking risks without really understanding that we do not know enough about the virus to say with any certainty who is vulnerable until it’s too late. That scares me: I would not want anyone to experience what my family has been through.
None of this is to mention that my husband and I too suffered with coronavirus. We continued to look after our five- and eight-year-old children throughout, drawing on help and support from our local community – including our children’s school. Friends and neighbours shopped and cooked for us, leaving everything on the doorstep in line with government instructions. Teachers called my children and made a doorstep visit to deliver a bereavement hamper to help them process their grief. At no point did we ask anyone to look after our children or do anything that broke the lockdown.
The Prime Minister’s suggestion that Cummings did what any caring father would do only adds insult to injury. My family and I followed the rules to the letter, even in the most horrific circumstances. We did what was needed to safeguard the wider community believing it was the right thing to do.
What does this government line say about us and all the other parents across the country who struggled on through illness and bereavement whilst trying to juggle work commitments, home schooling and all the financial, mental and emotional challenges that came with it? Last week we were being celebrated as law-abiding citizens, but Downing Street’s message this weekend tells us that, by following the rules, we are inadequate parents.
Kathryn de Prudhoe is a counsellor and psychotherapist
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