‘I don’t accept he’s dead’ - Grieving families share pain of coronavirus loss
- Credit: Archant/Anne Edwards
Fifty thousand deaths. A stark reminder of the inconceivable impact coronavirus has had on the UK.
In fact, the nation has now become the first in Europe to reach the grim milestone, with another 563 deaths recorded in the latest 24-hour period.
The overall figure, which includes those who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, stands at 50,928.
In Norfolk, 429 people have lost their lives since the start of the pandemic and another 486 in Suffolk.
But behind the numbers are people, and behind the people are families and friends grieving for their loved ones.
Anne Edwards’ partner of 37 years, John Swainston, died in April at the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston, having contracted the virus.
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The 73-year-old had been suffering from liver failure but, due to lockdown restrictions, Mrs Edwards was not able to travel with him to hospital or visit as his symptoms worsened.
Their last contact was a phone conversation three days after he was admitted. Four days later, the former newspaper editor received a call informing her Mr Swainston had lost his short battle.
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There was no opportunity to say goodbye and Mrs Edwards was the only person at his funeral.
“On that third day, when I spoke to John, he could barely speak because he couldn’t breathe,” said Mrs Edwards, who lives in Great Yarmouth. “I could just hear him struggling to talk.
“It is because it wasn’t expected that his death really hit me. Even now, I don’t accept he’s dead - I still have in my head that’s he’s in hospital. It is a surreal feeling, like I’m in a film.
“Now I’m more scared and more worried about getting Covid because I have seen the impact it can have.”
The absence of a proper send-off for loved ones is what upsets Georgie Keable the most.
Miss Keable lost her father, Brian, after he tested positive for coronavirus while receiving treatment at Beccles Hospital in April.
The 83-year-old, who was a dedicated fundraiser and completed a number of challenges for charity over the years, was battling prostate cancer and had also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“There was seven of us at the funeral and I was sitting all by myself,” said Miss Keable, who lives in Keswick. “I still don’t feel like we have done it properly and it must be the same for a lot of people.
“I hoped we might be able to do something by the end of the year, but here we are in a second lockdown.
“Whether someone has died due to the virus or another reason, you are restricted and cannot celebrate a person’s life. I don’t believe in closure, but it might give me that acceptance I need.”
While the majority of deaths so far came in the spring, the rate is beginning to rise again as a second wave takes hold.
Deaths are doubling approximately every two weeks and, despite the overall count rising, Mrs Edwards says far too many people still do not take the virus seriously.
“Because of what’s happened to me, I will tell people off for not wearing masks,” she added. “I was shopping this week and saw a couple not wearing them, and asked them ‘why?’
“I think most older people are taking it seriously, but there are too many who aren’t. Some are not following the rules because they simply don’t think they are going to get it.
“It is not just the dying that’s the problem, but the health problems it leaves. A lot of people will take years to recover.”
Having experienced the devastating impact coronavirus can have, Miss Keable, 44, finds the behaviour of others similarly infuriating.
“I think some people have got a very lackadaisical attitude,” she said.
“These people going about not wearing masks and using asthma as an excuse. If you’ve got asthma, which is a respiratory problem, you are vulnerable - so why are you outside?
“A few months ago there were people doing congas on VE Day, and people going off in large shooting parties, and we could not even have a proper funeral.
“From my point of view, it has been very difficult seeing people flouting the rules, when we just want to celebrate my dad’s life.”
With England plunged into a second national lockdown, it is hoped tougher restrictions will have a discernible effect on increasing case numbers and the virus’ R value.
But several MPs opted against it during the Commons vote, 32 of whom were Conservatives rebelling against their own party.
And now, around 70 members have formed an anti-lockdown alliance, opposing any extension to the current rules in order to protect the nation’s economy.
With the number of daily deaths consistently in the hundreds, Mrs Edwards believes the priorities of politicians must be called into question.
“When we had the first lockdown I was very conscious of how quiet the roads were,” she said. “Now the car parks are packed and people are going places.
“I know the economy is going to get worse with a full-scale lockdown but, if Covid is nipped in the bud early, it will bounce back. The government should be putting people’s health first - not the economy.
“Those MPs who voted against a shutdown - their constituents should think about whether they are the right people to represent them.”
Furthermore, with different parts of the UK adopting contrasting approaches to combatting the virus, Miss Keable believes a lack of clarity has had a detrimental effect.
“In all honesty I don’t think the local lockdowns have helped things,” she said. “It was an attempt by the government to manage things, but then the people are not all in it together.
“I’ve got family in Wales just coming out of a lockdown, and we’ve got three weeks to go. With all the mixed messaging, some just think ‘I will do my own thing’.”