I’ve been watching the Government press conference every day. The death toll is mounting. I feel so sad that so many have died; those towards the end of their life who didn’t choose to die this way; those who have gone before their time, who had so much more to give.

When I watch these stories, I start reflecting on my life and on those I have lost in the past.

You always expect your parents to die before you do. My mother was 68 and had so much more to live for. My father was 89. He was a WW2 veteran in the Royal Engineers and loved to tell his war stories to my sons as they were growing up.

My younger sister was just 48 when she died, leaving behind a husband and four young sons. This was such a cruel death and I miss her so much. I was with them all when they died, I considered it a privilege and honour to have been by their side, so they weren’t alone in their final moments. I hope they were aware of my presence and I think it helped me come to terms more quickly with their deaths.

I considered it a privilege and honour to have been by their side, so they weren’t alone in their final moments

I think of all the families and friends who have lost loved ones during this pandemic who couldn’t be there and those who are yet to face the prospect of not being able to say goodbye - either in hospitals, care homes or at funerals. It’s heart-breaking. 

I empathise with them as I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my husband 26 years ago. He was a journalist and at the time we were living in South Africa where he was a correspondent for the BBC. Brave and fearless, he worked in war zones around the world, so I always feared he would die early, while on assignment. Sure enough, while covering a coup, he died in a car accident. Through his job he’d become friends with Nelson Mandela, who rang me the night John died.

Penny & her husband

The loss for me and my two sons - then aged 23 and 20 - was tremendous, made all the more difficult as we never got to say goodbye. Overnight I had to be mother and father. At times it was daunting, but through it all there were my boys and they are the most important people in my life. Without them I wouldn’t be able to withstand this self-isolation, but I do so long to give them a hug.

These losses of mine help me understand how some people are feeling right now. My heart goes out to everyone. I really do hope that ways can be found to enable loved ones to say their proper ‘goodbyes’.

If I was ever asked what advice I would give people who are reflecting on all this, it’s to always say ‘I love you’, because terrible things can, and all too often, do happen.

Independent Age is calling on the Government to help facilitate opportunities for loved ones to say ‘goodbye’ during this crucial time. This means providing care homes and all care providers with clear guidance and enough PPE to provide these essential conversations for older people and their families.  

You can help us improve the systems that people in later life rely on by joining Independent Age’s online campaign network. We’ll keep you updated on our activities and how you can get involved.

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