In a time of coronavirus, conversations about grief are more important than ever. Losing a person under the impossible conditions a global pandemic present is unimaginable. Sarah Jane wanted to share her account of losing her father and the comfort a nurse called Caroline provided in her darkest moments. It’s beautiful, brave and incredibly emotional Thank you, @sjbellion for sharing this with us.
She was called Caroline and she had kind eyes. She touched my shoulder affectionately and offered me tissues as I sat next to my Dad. Caroline moved a small plastic screen to give me the smallest amount of privacy in what felt like a moment that was on display to the whole ward. She moved to the machine every time it started beeping, silencing it and in doing so allowing the next fifteen minutes to be as peaceful as possible. Her face was covered with a mask with only her eyes visible. We shared a moment looking at one another. We did not speak, but Caroline’s eyes said more than words ever could.
In the moments after, Caroline was my guide. Without any physical touch it was as if she had scooped me up and was moving me through the wards to our next destination. As we walked slowly I made a conscious decision to look all around me. So many people I thought. The noise of the ventilators ; repetitive by nature, created an almost deafening soundtrack to accompany our walk.Caroline apologised to me for having to walk through the wards. In that moment I felt the smallest I have ever known. It was as if my whole body had just turned inward on itself.
We came to a room where there were lots of other Carolines and we stopped. My Caroline told me we were now going to remove our PPE.
I’ve never really liked the colour blue.
Caroline talked me through how we were going to remove it. The other Caroline’s stepped to one side. I could be identified as a visitor by the mask I wore which was different to theirs. They knew I was only there for one reason. It was like a mutual understanding as they parted and once again I was reminded that a person’s eyes can talk to you in a way a tongue does not possess.
I listened intently to Caroline which was hard as I felt paralysed with a sadness I had never experienced before. “First we are going to remove our gloves”. I removed them and placed them in the bin next to me, my thumbs still poking through the holes in the sleeves of the blue plastic gown, my hands slightly trembling. “Now we need to wash our hands really well”. I will never forget that moment. It felt as if I was washing away any remaining trace of my Dad. It was an uncomfortable sensation.”Next we need to remove the gown”, Caroline demonstrated by ripping it from her front all the way down the middle, in what seemed like a violent removal of a restrictive device. It was as though we were freeing ourselves. An act of defiance. I ripped and tugged until I became free and placed it in the bin on top of Caroline’s discarded armour.
Next to be removed was my hair cover and mask. Caroline’s mask looked more proper and in that moment I hoped it protected her. My mask was secured by two ties at the back of my head. I reached around and removed my hair cover and then struggled against my unruly, unbrushed hair to find the ties.
Eventually I untangled them and removed my mask.For the first time myself and Caroline could see each others faces fully. Her face looked different to how I had imagined. She had a lovely face to match her kind eyes, with rounded cheeks and soft skin. Next we washed our hands once more. If I hadn’t already eliminated any trace of human touch with my father it was certainly gone now.
I felt heavy and small, as if I was made of lead. Caroline guided me to the door where a lady gave me my coat and said sorry. She helped me put it on and I joked that it was like coming out of the hairdressers. It was, in fact, nothing like coming out of the hairdressers, unless of course you have ever had a particularly harrowing hairdresser experience. Which come to think of it, I’m sure most of us have had some kind of fringe disaster at the very least.
We left the ward and I continued to follow Caroline down the corridor. She reached for my hand and the comfort that provided was akin to magic. The touch of another human in that moment meant more to me than I think she realised. Within the bind of our fingers I knew she understood the emptiness I was feeling. We walked down the fallow corridors towards the Chapel, with tears rolling down our cheeks. It was important for me to take a moment to compose myself before speaking to my family. I can’t say I believe in God, to do so would be untruthful. But I do know that my favourite holiday activity is not sunbathing or swimming. It is visiting Churches, Cathedrals and Temples. I am intrigued by religion and in that particular moment I felt compelled to go and sit in the Chapel. I recalled the silent comfort of being amongst places of worship and knew that it would bring me some relief.”I am just so sorry”, Caroline kept repeating as she passed me a leaflet.I knew she meant it, even though this had become her job. Her eyes spoke the truth.