I lost my mum and nan to Covid-19 within the space of an hour

I lost my mum and nan to Covid-19 within the space of an hour

My mum only had a runny nose that Sunday. 

She’d been at work, but as some of her colleagues had caught Covid-19 I told her she had to get a test. She and my dad went to the local test centre, and hers came back positive the next day.

I told her to lay in bed and have plenty of fluids – I told her I’d make her some soup and have it dropped to the door.

That was the last conversation I had with her. Within a day of getting results, she was in hospital.

And she wasn’t the only one sick. 

My mum and my nan both went into hospital on the same day with Covid-19. And within an hour of each other, they were both dead. 

That Tuesday morning, I woke up to a missed call from my dad, and I just knew something was wrong. I called him back straight away, and he told me the worst possible thing to hear in a pandemic: ‘Your mum’s been taken into hospital. She couldn’t breathe last night. We called the ambulance, but it took them seven hours to get here.’

I couldn’t take it in. I was panicking, but he said he’d call back with an update later. I was stuck at home in Seven Sisters with my husband, while he was over in Enfield.

Not so far apart, but it might as well have been a thousand miles, because we weren’t allowed to go to his house – or the hospital. My dad wasn’t allowed to go with her either. There was nothing we could do but wait. I felt completely and utterly helpless.

That’s when I got another phone call – from my uncle this time, who lives with my nan in Edmonton, about 10 minutes’ drive from my parents. He told me my nan was going to be taken into hospital, too. I tried to speak to her on the phone but she just couldn’t talk. And that’s when the ambulance arrived.

The next I heard, my dad said that my mum’s heart had stopped, and she had been placed on a ventilator. When you hear that word ventilator it just shakes you to your core.

A couple of months before, another relative had been on a ventilator for about a week before passing away. But we thought we’d have time. We never thought my mum would deteriorate within a day. 

The horrible irony is, my parents had been so worried about me – I’d had cancer twice in the last few years and I’m only 34. I’ve got a heart issue, too. They worried about me constantly. But I’d been at home staying safe.

Meanwhile, my mum was classed as a key worker, as a hygiene operative in a place where they continued making food. But she was over 60 and diabetic, so she was deemed clinically vulnerable.

Those few hours were like an excruciating waiting game, hour by hour, waiting for the calls. After my nan went in, I couldn’t comprehend what was going on. I was having palpitations, I couldn’t breathe. We were trying to arrange a FaceTime with her doctor, even though she wasn’t awake. But then I got another phone call to say it was too late. She had already gone. 

Just half an hour later, the phone rang once more. ‘We don’t think your mum’s going to make it,’ said the doctor. ‘If her heart stops again, we’re not going to resuscitate her.’

I literally couldn’t comprehend it. I thought, if I can just get her on FaceTime, if I can speak to her, maybe she’ll wake up and hear my voice. And then I saw her, on the camera, with all the tubes in her mouth and nose. I was screaming for her to wake up. Even the doctor was crying. 

My mum was like the glue of the family, the life and soul. And she and I bounced off each other; we were very similar in nature, whereas my dad and brothers were quieter characters. So I thought if she heard my voice, she might wake up.

Then the doctor added my brothers and dad to the call, and that’s when her heart started to slow down. After a few minutes of speaking to her and telling her we loved her, she died on camera. We literally watched her die, but we couldn’t be there with her.

The doctor said: ‘Your mum’s gone now. I think it’s time to end the call.’ So we couldn’t even sit with her afterwards.

How can anyone imagine what it’s like, to lose a mother and a grandmother within an hour of each other? Even I can’t understand it. I still have to keep asking my husband whether it’s real.

How? How could it go from my mum not feeling well the night before, to gone the next day? I felt like I was going mad, because I hadn’t seen her, or my dad, or anyone. The situation was so surreal, as well as traumatic. 

And we couldn’t even grieve properly. In normal circumstances, you could sit by someone’s bed and hold their hand until you’re ready to let them go. But we were forced to part with both my mum and nan so abruptly, and we didn’t see them again until the funeral. 

It fell to me to arrange everything, because my dad couldn’t face the reality of what was happening. How could he? He’d just lost his wife and his mum on the same day. But in Islam, you have to bury the person as quickly as possible.

Plus my mum’s whole family was in Cyprus, so I had to wake them up and phone them one by one. And none of them could fly over for the funeral. It was devastating. 

But we managed to arrange it so my mum and nan could be buried side by side on the same day, with the ceremony done together. I even had to choose their coffins and flowers.

I tried to get the family involved as much as I could, with WhatsApp groups joining people in London and Cyprus, and people sharing pictures and videos that we had. We had to process and grieve together virtually, because we had no choice. 

My mother and my grandmother were buried together two weeks later, in Lavender Hill Cemetery. 

We were only allowed 30 people, even though there were two services side by side, but as many family and friends as possible came to pay their respects. They all stood in the cold graveyard, six feet apart, separated.  

Every single person I encountered at the cemetry kept saying, ‘I really want to hug you’ – but of course, we couldn’t. I just wanted someone to hold me, and we couldn’t.

I wrote my mum’s eulogy, but I couldn’t even read it out. And of course, we couldn’t have the normal mevlit – the wake after the burial, where friends and family gather for prayer, food and conversation, to grieve together, to cry in each other’s arms.

That’s especially important for the men – it lets them open up. But now, in this awful pandemic, our loved ones are just gone. We had to just go home, and we couldn’t even toast their memories alone in our living rooms

But actually, the service was incredibly comforting. I felt like my mum and my nan were looking after each other. It would have been heartbreaking to think my mum was completely alone through the whole thing. It gave us a bit of comfort that they were together. 

In our Turkish-Cyriot community, illness can be a private matter; you deal with it in your own home, you don’t talk to anyone about it, people don’t want to be seen as weak or be the centre of gossip  and a lot of topics are still deemed taboo … but I want to talk openly about what happened to my family.

The thing is, we tend to forget that all these numbers are actual people, actual lives of human beings. Being assessed as a statistic, rather than a family member or someone who’s loved by so many people, means we have somehow dehumanised what loss means. 

But we must be allowed to celebrate the lives we have lost. And we must encourage others to stay safe and keep their loved ones safe. I keep saying to people, it’s like we’re in an invisible war.

It’s like there are invisible bombs dropping all over the city, but people aren’t afraid to leave their house because they can’t see them. I think we need to treat it like a war, to do everything we can to keep others safe. We are all in this together after all. No matter what religion, age race or creed.

That’s how I’ll honour the memory of my mum and nan. I don’t want them to be forgotten. I don’t want them to be forgotten or be just another statistic.

As told to Harriet Marsden

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