9 Days

How Covid-19 had a profound effect on my mum’s final days and the rest of my life.

Nine days — what we thought would only be one or two days turned out to be nine days. This is what nine days meant to me. For the previous three weeks, my parents had been on lockdown due to Covid-19: shopping dropped at the door, conversations through windows, failed attempts at video conferencing. Being both in their eighties, it was strange times, but with my mum having dementia this added another level to things. In the eighteen months prior, my dad, my three sisters, my brother and I had routinely taken care of her. Lockdown stopped this but when we found the end was close we all returned home to our small family home. What follows are my memories of those nine days and what I read out at the funeral. Thursday — we all got the call. Despite social distancing and quarantine, we needed to come and see you as soon as possible. I had been there the day before and stood in the back garden at a safe distance while you and Dad were at the window upstairs. I had got a wave and smile along with the customary being called John. But we all descended on the house for the first time in many, many years. We stood and held hands around the bed. It was the first visit of the district nurses and Last Rites from Father Stanley. You held on that day. Friday — waking up and feeling like a child again almost. Dad making bacon and egg in a pool of fat, big brother and sisters looking after things. We now realise we may be here for a day or two as you are a fighter and holding on. I bring pillows and a toothbrush for John from mine. Mags and Bernie go to the shop for supplies. We get a curry for tea and try to bring some sort of normality to a mad situation. Saturday — Today I started thinking about times we all spent together when younger. John left home when I just started school. Babs used to run rings around all the other footballers when we played on the school car park, before she left to do nursing, as Bernie and Mags had. I can still remember Bernie giving directions via all the pubs in Chorley. I went for a walk that afternoon and went to see how Layla was getting on. As my walk continued I got a message I needed to get back asap so ended up running back. To someone as physically inept as me, this nearly caused my lungs to explode but was calmed down by John as I returned home. Again we stood, hand in hand around the bed, but still, you carried on fighting. Sunday — The weather had been glorious so far which meant going out in the garden, helping Dad with various things. Not being much of a gardener I found John and Babs doing most, my weight being beneficial in pushing down the cuttings in the wheelie bin. Dad loves his garden. He hasn’t had enough time as he has done so well looking after you. I know we are so grateful and amazed at the amazing job he has done. You had been doing jigsaws, or starting some jigsaws and allowing others to carry on as they visited. The one of Tenby on the table had been there a while so today I thought it was going to be my task to complete it. So for a couple of hours, I sat there until all that was left was the sky. I’ll leave that for someone else I thought. I bet it’s still there now. Holidays to Tenby. To me, it felt like we went every year for ten years running but I’m sure it wasn’t. I remember the day trips to Caldey Island, numerous castles and St Florence or green welly land as you called it. I also remember numerous photo opportunities we had to sit for as you took picture after picture only to get home to fill up the film with pictures of the dog in front of the fire. It was also on one of these holidays that I was bought my first electric guitar, but that is another story. Monday — each day now followed a similar pattern. Wake up from our overnight shifts, get ready either at our own homes if close by or at Dads. Dinner, tea, and shifts overnight. We had a selection of meals cooked I felt well looked after so thank you to you all for that. I found the evening shift — half four till seven to be my favourite overnight slot. I would sit and talk to you, write and contemplate many things. She was still good company then. Tuesday — Again, the routine continued and all the time we reminisced about our past, telling stories and sharing memories. John and I would plan our evenings around what films we could watch at bedtime while the girls would be upstairs with their prosecco and wine. Wednesday — Another task I completed over these nine days was to publish the memoirs of Grandpap — Dad’s dad. This was an insight I enjoyed and gave me lots of things to think about. Not only does it show me what an amazing man he was but goes to explain why my Dad is as extraordinary as he is. I only hope as I grow up I can continue to be an Allton like the two previous generations before. And I look forward to reading your memoirs dad. Thursday — Throughout the week we had so many visits from district nurses at all times of the day and night. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say thank you for all that they did in these trying times. I remember when Mags was a district nurse and I used to play loud music during the day when she was on nights. She used to love that. We did our clapping at 8 pm for key workers though Bernie and John felt the need for bashing pans Friday — Friday was another day like those before but we saw that you were gradually getting worse. Your breathing wasn’t as regular. Another day passed for the Allton children in the Allton residence. At times it did feel like it would go on forever. Dad and I went to queue up at the chippy for tea but Dad stayed in the car — he just wanted to close his eyes for 20 mins. Saturday — And so to Saturday, a day that started like the eight before it. You had continued to feel worse — we could see and you sadly left us around three. I don’t know about the others but part of me felt relieved that you had finally stopped fighting and were now at peace. We were all upset obviously but we were there for each other. So I shall conclude — after nine days what did you teach me mum — that I should never give up and keep fighting, that Dad is an amazing man, just like his dad before and he has shown such amazing strength also and is a role model for me. If I end up half the man he is I will be a happy man. That as a family, grandchildren and partners we are amazing. There for each other in all the ways we all need. I thank you all for that. But more importantly mum, you made me realise what amazing sisters and brother I have. My conversations with you may not have meant much to you but they have meant the world to me. I may not have been much of a brother at times but I will always be here for you as I will for Dad whenever you need me. Thank you mum for that. I love you.

On the death certificate, Barbara Allton died of dementia. She was preparing for several hospital appointments and surgeries, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, these were cancelled.

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