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Coronavirus: Nephew's grief as Co Tyrone couple married for 54 years die within hours of each other

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Hearses carrying William and Madge Finlay's coffins drive side by side at their funeral in Ardstraw near Newtownstewart in Co Tyrone on Saturday

Hearses carrying William and Madge Finlay's coffins drive side by side at their funeral in Ardstraw near Newtownstewart in Co Tyrone on Saturday

Hearses carrying William and Madge Finlay's coffins drive side by side at their funeral in Ardstraw near Newtownstewart in Co Tyrone on Saturday

A Co Tyrone man said he has been left grief-stricken after his aunt and uncle passed away within just a day of each other as a result of coronavirus.

William (84) and Madge (82) Finlay from the village of Ardstraw passed away on Thursday and Friday last week, having been admitted to Altnagelvin hospital.

The two were both buried together in a small joint ceremony on Saturday afternoon at Ardstraw cemetery.

The couple, who had been married for 54 years, both had underlying health conditions when they first became ill around a week ago.

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William and Madge Finlay

William and Madge Finlay

William and Madge Finlay

Despite William suffering from the lung condition COPD and Madge requiring round-the-clock oxygen, nephew Robin (48) admits that the whole situation has left the family in "total shock", as they watched the pair deteriorate over days.

"It is just a terrible time now. It is hard to take in at the moment. The reality of it just comes at you in small bouts at various times," he said.

"They died within just 20 hours of each other, which makes it so difficult and tragic. A life together like that, just over.

"Me and my wife, we actually stayed with my aunt Madge in the hospital for her last couple of nights alive.

"She was on her own and we didn't want her to be left there, so we stayed with her the last few nights just to give her company.

"It had started last Friday week ago, when uncle William had to be rushed into hospital with coronavirus and unfortunately aunt Madge had also started to go downhill and had to be taken in on the Monday."

A life together like that, just over

He admits it was "heartbreaking" to have to sit in the car during the funeral service but was heartened by the support from the local community who stood at their doors and threw flowers, obeying social distancing, as the cortege passed.

"The hearses went past their family home with them side by side together. It was an emotional moment," Robin added.

Robin explained that the situation was particularly tragic as his uncle had just recently started to recover from a serious operation last year, with his spirits particularly high in recent months after successfully recuperating.

"Uncle William last year went in for a major operation. He got an aneurysm removed and he thankfully came through it after a long time in recovery," he added.

"It took him nearly six months until Christmas before he was feeling right and unfortunately this has ended up taking him now which is so sad.

"Within this community they were always involved in everything.

"Any organisation going here my uncle William was involved in organising it and doing the paperwork. If you ever needed forms filled in, he filled them in for you.

"My aunt Madge, she helped a lot of elderly people herself.

"She sat with a lot of older people when they were ill until they died and she would have always been looking after her neighbours here.

"They were both well involved in the church and the British Legion in Castlederg. My uncle was awarded an MBE for his work with the British Legion in 2003.

"The two of them would have done a lot of work in the Legion.

"Ultimately though, they had a simple life and also happy one. They never complained about anything, they just got on with their lives."

While it has been devastating for the family that the couple both passed away so suddenly together, for Robin there was some small comfort in that neither "was left alone".

"Everybody always said that one of them wouldn't have lived without the other," he said.

"She depended on him and he depended on her.

"Just like a right hand and a left hand, they went together."

Ardstraw Presbyterian minister Rev David Reid, who officiated at the small funeral service for close family on Saturday, added that William and Madge were a "loving and committed couple" and that faith had played a big role in their lives.

"Even through different health issues that both of them had over the years, they supported and cared for each other," he said.

"While they had no children of their own, they were very much loved by their wider family as well.

"They were also very highly regarded locally and it has been a big shock to have lost the two of them so shortly after each other.

"We are a rural and close-knit community here in Ardstraw, where people do look out for one another. In normal circumstances the church would have been packed for such a funeral service."

Robin and his wife are themselves currently quarantined as a result of spending their last days with Madge while she was battling the virus.

Belfast Telegraph