I last saw my Father on 8th March 2020 when his Care Home locked down early due to COVID-19. At that time, we thought it would be for a few weeks and in fact we took him his Birthday presents early so that he had them to open on the day 18th March. In true style he opened them early as he was an avid reader and knew (he didn’t need to prod and poke and guess) that what we had bought were books. I later found that he had got halfway through mine, as there was a leather bookmark strategically placed.
On his birthday, 18th March he had a stroke and from then on, his speech was slurred, and it got harder and harder to understand what he was saying. We had to piece sentences and words together. He did manage a couple of Zoom calls with us but was frustrated.
For some and especially the elderly they crave the in-person meetings. My Father despite his adept use of an iPad, Facebook , Facetime and Zoom and his up to date knowledge of what to watch next on Netflix, really missed his family and the interaction with other Residents and their families who became his family too. Who knows if the stroke was a result of frustration, being scared and missing people which brought on by stress of those he recognised as Carers now wearing masks and looking like robots and or talking to his family through his bedroom window (luckily for us and him he was on the ground floor)
Communication throughout this time had been our saviour, using phone and Facetime and Zoom but nothing beats ‘in person; and as a family along with 1000’s of others this demise journey will be etched in our memories forever. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT that this would have been his journey with us looking on and not right as we should have bee, by his bedside holding his hand and kissing him!
My father passed away on 12th May 2020, two months on from when I last visited him in person. I was so lucky along with my siblings, husband and his two granddaughters, that we dearly and deeply loved him, and he loved in return a billion times more, so we had no stones unturned and have no regrets or things we needed to say. After 25years of looking after him and my Mother who was disabled (she passed away in 2016) our journey ended that day and what a journey that was. His own duty on this earth as a Police Officer also ended and he is now in paradise with my Mum.
So, on 13th May we found ourselves, my siblings and I, reading his ‘D Day’ file, this was his detailed plan for his funeral which he had written many years ago and amended a few times. Of course, much of it could not be carried out due to COVID-19, but on reflection we did a better job.
How, you may ask? Well, the crematorium service was all that he chose, from entrance music, hymns, readings, the presiding Vicar, the Crematorium and Funeral Director choice. What he didn’t know was that the Crematorium had been refurbished and it now had state of the art technology. This enabled many people to stream the service live ( also with a recording) from their homes and how important was this at this time to stay safe.
He always wanted people to connect afterwards at a Wake and boy did we do this ! We organised a Zoom Wake with 45 families accessing and with about 75 people in attendance. There were many people who could not attend for various reasons, but I have to say it was a HUGE success and Dad would have been immensely proud.
The Zoom wake, apart from food and drink that people had to supply themselves, was better than in person. Why?, well at a normal wake people tend to focus and gather with people they know and not mingle and chat to relatives that they have not seen for years. This way being muted on entry and coming into a shared screen with Dad’s name they knew they were in the right place, people paid respects by staying silent whilst listening to his favourite piece of music by Handel.
Next the screen was unshared and 45 ‘blankety blank’ screens appeared as if by magic. My brother presided over the proceedings and told everyone the format. I along with my eldest Daughter made all the magic happen in the background, sharing screens for music, slideshows and memories. Everyone was invited to speak (they knew beforehand) and all bar a few who were in tears, gave wonderful accounts of how they knew my Dad, along with stories, memories and words of comfort to us.
The feeling we all got listening was that using this medium, a Zoom Wake enabled everyone to hear from everyone else and not just those they would have approached at a traditional wake. Hence, they found out more about “the man”, who he was as a person, father, brother Papa, friend, colleague and a professional. The Zoom wake lasted for 1 hour and 45 minutes and all the feedback we had was that it had been a fitting tribute and how sad it was that Dad wasn’t there with us to enjoy it!
So who would have thought that on 8th March 2020 when I said my last in person “see you soon Dad” followed by a kiss as he held my hand as I left him, that I would never see him again and that in fact he would join his beloved wife Pamela, without us by his bedside.
We were lucky, we got to see him through a window and with amazing carers holding his phone to his ear, as he could no longer hold it on his own, and lovingly combing his hair and propping him up and moving the bed so we could see him through the double glazed window without a glare.
Who would have thought that restrictions meant that we could not attend his funeral that he had so meticulously planned. Our comfort is that we will hopefully be able to celebrate his distinguished career as a Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police force and as Commandant of the Special Constabulary, at a Memorial service at Westminster Abbey when we can all congregate in some form and be together as he so wanted and to sing loud and proud in a beautiful setting where he volunteered in his retirement for 12 years.
Who would have thought ? ………
As a result of this I have learnt a new skill as a ZOOM WAKE expert.