Like the Queen, I know the pain of grieving during a pandemic

Carol Duncan
·4-min read
Grief in the time of coronavirus can feel trickier than usual  -  PA/ PA
Grief in the time of coronavirus can feel trickier than usual - PA/ PA

When my mother Mary passed away in April last year, it came as a huge shock. Although she was 84, she had been in good health and lived independently. Every bereavement is difficult, but dealing with the death of a loved one during the pandemic was very intense. Almost everything about the process, from organising the funeral arrangements to finding personal closure, was made so much harder by the lockdown restrictions that were in place at the time.

That is why I have sympathy for the Queen, who will have to sit alone at Prince Philip’s funeral because of coronavirus restrictions. Although I was allowed to sit with my husband at my mother's funeral because we are from the same household, I know how hard it is to feel isolated from other members of you family.

Mary died after a fall at home; although she was never tested, doctors thought it was a possible case of Covid-19. At the time, she couldn’t go into the hospital to be treated because of the threat of the virus. I remember the doctor saying: "If you send your mother to hospital, you won’t ever see her again". And he was right. Her final few days were spent at home with me looking after her. When the nurse arrived, my mother passed away peacefully in her sleep. I think seeing that lady, who was so compassionate and professional, allowed my mother to finally let go.

The weeks that followed were scary. The world was only just coming to terms with the first wave of the pandemic, yet I was dealing with an incredible amount of grief. The days felt like a blur: at times I would just stand in the garden and try to make sense of it all. The grieving process felt lonely, as I wasn’t able to meet friends or see my family for support. My sleep became very disturbed, and I struggled to keep on top of the challenges that came with working from home. In hindsight, I was very traumatised, and it took me several months to come to terms with what happened.

When it came to planning the funeral, the directors took matters into their hands as they were familiar with the restrictions. We didn't have any choice over the time or date of the funeral, because the company apologetically said: "we can't afford to have any empty slots." That is a phrase that will stay with me forever

The funeral ended up being on my daughter’s birthday; it's not what we would have chosen, but at the time it was the best they could do. Just myself, my husband, my brother, his wife and one grandchild attended the burial service. It felt strange being upset, but not being able to hug them. However, despite all the sadness the service felt very dignified: it was a sunny day, and there was cherry blossom blowing around in the breeze. Mary loved nature, so that felt special.

Usually after a funeral you have a wake, but we had to go straight home. It wasn’t until six months later, when restrictions allowed us to host a memorial service with 30 people, that I started to feel closure. The rule of six was in place so we were only allowed to socialise in small groups, but that was fine. It was a wonderful day: my daughter read a poem which she wrote, and some of the other grandchildren contributed with prayers. Although singing wasn’t allowed, we had the organ playing which made the day feel like a true celebration of my mum’s life. We live streamed the Memorial Service on a private face group to include neighbours and friends who couldn’t attend due to restrictions.

During those difficult months, there were things that gave me comfort. Royal insiders say that the Queen will turn to her beloved Corgis for emotional support. When I felt at my lowest, I always knew that my Springer Spaniel would be there to cheer me up. We live in the countryside so nature was also a huge comfort for me, alongside my faith.

It is easy to view a bereavement during coronavirus as an entirely negative experience, but it wasn’t all bad. At the time of Mary's death, life had slowed down: although this made my grief feel more intense, it may have been more beneficial to my healing process later down the line.

Over the course of the pandemic, we have learnt that humans are amazingly resourceful. I have every belief that, no matter how hard it feels now, the Queen will find the strength to pull through.

As told to Alice Hall

  • If you have been affected by the death of a loved one during the pandemic, you can call the Cruse Bereavement Care Helpline on 0808 808 1677 to talk to someone.