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Gareth McAuley

It's been the toughest week of my life... losing my dad and not being able to hug my mum

Gareth McAuley

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Gareth McAuley

Gareth McAuley

Gareth McAuley

I couldn't even give my mum a hug when she needed it most last week.

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

An emotional reaction, especially in a moment of shock and terrible grief.

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.

My dad didn't contract Covid-19, but when he died the ramifications from the effects of the virus hit my family hard.

I know it is the same for people and families all over the world and I have tremendous sympathy for anyone having to deal with illness or mourning at this time, but it doesn't make it any easier.

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.

The minister was only able to conduct a short service by the grave with my mum, sister, brother-in-law and myself present.

Regulations in Northern Ireland stipulate only 10 people are allowed for a funeral at the moment and when you take into account the undertakers, cemetery workers and minister, you don't have much room left in your quota.

Some extended family did turn up, but they were kept at the gates of the cemetery.

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.

I obviously 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. He knows my cousin and sorted it out. 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 basically 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.

I have of course followed government advice and been housebound for the last month, apart from a daily walk with the dog or some exercise with the kids, but I wasn't going to take any chances.

I couldn't live with myself if, unbeknownst to me, I'd somehow managed to pass the virus on to my loved ones at this awful time.

In the last week, I've been inundated with messages of support from so many people, which I'm really grateful for. Even though I haven't responded to each and every one, I have read them and will get back in time. 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.

It's been a dreadful experience, something I wouldn't wish on anybody, and 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