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'I couldn't even give mum a hug': Gareth McAuley's pain over dad's death during lockdown

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Former NI international footballer Gareth McAuley

Former NI international footballer Gareth McAuley

�William Cherry / Presseye

Former NI international footballer Gareth McAuley

Former Northern Ireland international footballer Gareth McAuley has spoken of his anguish after the death of his father, and how the Covid-19 restrictions meant he could not give his dad a proper send-off.

"I couldn't even give my mum a hug when she needed it most last week," the former West Brom and Rangers player told Sunday Life.

"My dad sadly passed away unexpectedly and I desperately wanted, as her caring son, to comfort her.

"She needed me, but I couldn't take the risk, for her sake.

"Instead, when I arrived at her house I had to sit in the car, put down the window and talk to her through that.

"The deadly coronavirus has wiped out any kind of normality and it has left me, following my dad's passing, with a range of emotions - anger, sadness and frustration. It's horrendous, the toughest situation I've ever had to experience."

The Larne man's father did not die from Covid-19, but the ramifications from the effects of the virus hit his family hard.

"We weren't able to give my dad the send-off he so thoroughly deserved and that hurts.

"There was no proper funeral service in a church, no opportunity for people who knew him well to pay their respects and no way for us as a family to grieve together."

He described the restrictions surrounding funerals, which limit the number of mourners, as inhuman.

"The minister was only able to conduct a short service by the grave with my mum, sister, brother-in-law and myself present," he said. "It was a surreal experience, something which was impersonal and bordering on, dare I say it, inhuman.

"Everything happened so quickly with my dad dying, trying to sort out arrangements, which were a nightmare, and having the short service at the grave.

"I'd travelled over to Larne on my own the day before after driving five hours from my home near Leicester to Cairnryan in Scotland to catch the ferry.

"I had to leave my wife and kids at home as they wouldn't have been able to come into contact with my mum and sister, and that would have been hard for them.

"Flying for me was out of the question," said McAuley, who was capped 80 times for Northern Ireland between 2005 and 2019.

"I went straight to my mum's house, but rather than having dinner and staying the night there my sister brought dinner out on a tray to my car and I was extremely grateful to Brian McRandal, the owner of the Curran Court Hotel, for offering me a room to stay in overnight.

"In a time of need good people come to the fore.

"Thankfully my mum lives in the same house as my sister, her husband and kids, so they've been able to stay together and be there for each other.

"However, after the burial I headed straight back to the boat and began my long journey home.

"I so wanted to stay around and be there for my mum and sister, but having come from England I was also conscious of the fact that there is a higher rate of infection there.

"My dad's passing away is still raw and emotional for me, and will take a while to process.

"But it's comforting to know so many are thinking about me and my family at this time.

"My heart goes out to those people who are going through similar situations.

"When this is all over we'll definitely be holding a proper thanksgiving service for my dad. And I can't wait to give my mum the hug she thoroughly deserves."

Belfast Telegraph