Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.
– Lao Tzu
Seven years ago, almost to the day, I sat next to my 91-year old grandmother as she drew her last breath. Three days earlier, I had flown from London to Stockholm to visit her at her flat where she’d lived alone since her husband passed away in 1987.
My trip had been planned for a month, long before my grandmother’s health deteriorated, but a few days before my departure, I was admitted to hospital with a suspected mini stroke. Forty-eight hours before my scheduled flight, I was discharged with orders to rest, but I insisted on travelling as planned, despite feeling very weak.
“Postpone your trip for a couple of weeks,” friends and family advised, but something in me just knew I couldn’t delay; I had to go now. Before I left the hospital, I asked the consultant neurologist if it was safe for me to fly, and he looked at me as if I was mad but, after a moment’s hesitation, he said as long as I took my blood-thinning medications, I should be alright.
The plane had barely touched down in Stockholm before I was greeted with the news that my grandmother had suddenly taken ill with suspected pneumonia and been taken to a hospital by ambulance. She was still conscious when my mother brought me to see her at the hospital and lucid enough to register our presence. I’d brought photos of my young daughters to show my grandmother, and my mother had picked a small bouquet of spring flowers from her garden.
We sat with my grandmother for much of the day, and it was only with great reluctance I left the hospital for the night. When we came back the next morning, my grandmother’s condition had worsened. She was no longer able to take in liquids by mouth, and she kept drifting in and out of consciousness. A doctor came in and confirmed what we already feared; the end was very near.
From the moment I was born, my grandmother had been my greatest champion, and throughout my childhood, her love and support helped me through difficult times. She had always been there for me, and now it was my turn to be there for her. Sitting next to my grandmother, my hand gently touching hers, I watched as she drew her last breath. It was heart-breaking and peaceful all at once.
All these years later, I still feel deeply grateful to have been at my grandmother’s bedside when she passed away. That is why it upsets me so much when I read news reports about people, young and old, dying alone in hospital wards and care homes in the time of Covid-19 because family members aren’t allowed to visit due to the high infection risk.
Had the government headed the early warnings of scientists and prepared for the coming epidemic, providing hospitals and care homes with sufficient personal protection equipment (PPE), fewer people would have lost their lives to Covid-19 by now. If hospitals and care homes had the necessary stocks of PPE needed, family members might also be able to say final goodbyes to loved ones without risking infection.
Hearing that a thirteen-year-old boy died alone in a hospital, surrounded only by nurses who themselves lacked adequate protection, nearly broke me, especially as I am the mother of a 13-year-old.
How we die is no less important than how we live. Each person who dies alone and afraid because of Covid-19 is not just a personal tragedy; it also represents a disgraceful failure by our government to provide care and protection for the people they were elected to serve.