The last few days have not felt real for Ruth Carney. The 43-year-old television and theatre director has been trying to come to terms with the death of her father, who passed away shortly after contracting coronavirus.
Pete Carney, 77, who lived in Belong care home in Newcastle-under-Lyme and had Alzheimer’s disease, first became ill with the deadly virus in mid-April. His condition rapidly deteriorated and he was admitted to Royal Stoke University hospital on 22 April. It was the last time Ruth, who was by her father’s side in the ambulance and casualty, would see him. He died on Saturday 2 May.
“He wasn’t a well person, but this isn’t how he was supposed to die. He wasn’t supposed to die in a hospital without me or mum with him,” Ruth said. “That isn’t what anybody wants for our loved ones. We want to be with them when they pass away. We want the comfort it gives us, and the comfort you are giving them.”
The director describes her dad as a hero, who always made her feel like anything was possible with hard work. Pete Carney, who lived at Kidsgrove and later Wood Lane, was a union man who “believed in people being treated fairly”. He married his wife, Kath Carney, in 1966. He retrained soon after Ruth was born and ended up as HR director at Alpha Flight Services in Manchester.
Ruth Carney, who lives in Sandbach, said it was difficult to accept her father was now one of thousands of care home residents to die after contracting coronavirus. “It’s incomprehensible. None of it at all feels real.” But amid the grief and shock is anger that the virus has spread so rapidly across care homes in the UK. “It feels like they were left to die.”
Among those who have died are the generation who fought and died during the second world war, prompting the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, to call for better support against the virus for the “VE Day generation” in care homes.
Beryl Wood died on 11 April. Her son-in-law says: ‘Being a grandparent was a role she fulfilled to a prize-winning standard.’
For Beryl Wood, the war was still fresh in her memory, said Richard Panter, her son-in-law. “She was widowed young and brought up two daughters , Kathryn and Alison, on her own whilst pursuing a successful career as a primary school teacher and head. She absolutely loved children and being a grandparent was a role she fulfilled to a prize-winning standard.”
Owing to the lockdown, the family had not been able to visit Wood for five weeks before she died on 11 April, aged 89, at Eden Mansions in Styal, Cheshire. “Her funeral, constrained as it was by the restrictions, was a thing of simple beauty,” Panter said. Those in attendance were her two daughters and their families, her four grandchildren. “It had a wonderful peaceful quality, in contrast to the maelstrom outside, and we were all so grateful to be able to say goodbye. She would have really enjoyed it.”
Margaret Parkes, 94, who grew up in Wigan and was the middle child of five, was a teenager at the outbreak of the second world war. She died on 29 April shortly after contracting the coronavirus.
“She recalled her mum getting angry at the radio when the news broke that England was at war because she’d only just decorated the house. Her childhood piano lessons were stopped prematurely when a German bomber dropped its load and narrowly missed her as she was walking to her lesson,” said 43-year-old Mark Thomas, a film-maker and lecturer, of his great-aunt.
Parkes trained as a junior nurse at Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, nursing the troops during the later years of the second world war. She received a Florence Nightingale scholarship to travel to the US, researching mental health and social care in the 1980s in Washington and New York.
“When lockdown began, Margaret appeared in good form. I think it triggered a wartime spirit, and she was always one for a challenge, having faced WW2, being a midwife in 50s rural Scotland, the polio epidemic, 80s New York and countless other major and minor events,” Thomas said.