At the time of writing, 20,319 people have died in hospitals in the UK of coronavirus. If you include all those who have died in care homes and in the community, the total number is estimated to be over 45,000. No one knows exactly how many more will die.
At 3:15 this morning, just over an hour ago, my Dad died in Gloucester hospital and was added to this growing and harrowing statistic.
The magnitude of the coronavirus is hard to fathom. There are close to 3 million confirmed cases globally with a death toll close to 200,000. Cases have been confirmed in over 190 countries around the world. It has, rightly, dominated headlines and headspace for months now.
It is in this context that the magnitude of my Dad’s life now sits. While my family and I come to terms with this personal loss, I worry about his life being lost in this context. As the virus and its deadly impacts rage on, I see how people focus on this and might, unwittingly, reduce all that he was and is, to the statistical part he played since his covid diagnosis just over a week ago.
I think my initial reaction, as I fail to get back to sleep lying here listening to the unfathomably loud birdsong outside, is that it is this that bothers me most. I have long since been at peace with the idea of my Dad dying – I am not at peace with his life being reduced to a statistic that reflects nothing more than part of this last awful week and the part he played in this wider tragedy.
But strangely today I think I see things differently to yesterday – almost like in death there has been a strange form of liberation. Dad is no longer the stroke patient, the care home resident with worsening vascular dementia or even the latest vulnerable man to be diagnosed with coronavirus. He is no longer any of those things – at least not primarily. Instead, he is now the plethora of memories floating in the minds of eyes of the countless people and lives he touched.
For me, he remains the Dad that showed his love through actions. He enabled me to believe that I could do anything. He drove me both literally and metaphorically to take every opportunity that arose. So much of where I am today is because I started life stood on the shoulders of a giant of a man. A giant with a heart bursting with love who held so little of the vocabulary needed to express it. In my mind’s eye now there are not the words he spoke to me, but the image of the man who stood on the side of my metaphorical football pitch cheering me on every step of the way.
But this is just me. Elsewhere, as the news of my Dad’s death spreads, there will be people reflecting. Sat now watching the sun rise I like to think that as the toast pops in kitchens all over the country there will be people thinking of the man who started his own business and employed dozens of people. As kettles boil there will be thoughts of the man who volunteered to rebuild steam railways. As people head out to walk their dogs there will be anecdotes of the Scot who would always toast the haggis. As people walk out of the door there will be thoughts of him, my Dad, holding the church door open welcoming everyone in… Thinking now, if there is one act of kindness that best acts as a metaphor for my Dad it is perhaps holding the door open for others.
And then there is the family of mine, of his, who are all mourning him in their own ways. But who I hope are thinking of their Dad, Uncle, Brother who has played such a role in their lives over the last 80 years.
And that’s the other thing – 80 years is a really long time. And so much has happened in his life. It cheers me now as the colours take hold on the trees outside and the shades of the night-time grey slip away to think of the multitude of ways he has touched countless lives over the years and how they live on. The love he has left behind stands as a testimony to him, to the lives he touched. All that he was, and all that he is, is still in the hearts and minds of all those who knew him. He lives on through a thousand anecdotes, memories and personalities he has shaped with his love and kind actions. He lives on through his children and his grandchildren but also through every person who takes joy in riding the steam railway he helped restore.
For me, there is so much beauty in that.
The scale of deaths we are seeing from coronavirus are a tragedy. But I think this tragedy only ever makes sense if you understand it to be the sum of its part. When we talk of over 45,000 deaths in the UK, the magnitude of this can only resonate if you break it down to the individuals we have lost and the impact their lives have had on family, friends and the communities we all live in.
The zest for life my Dad held lives on through all of us that remember him for the man he was over those 80 years. No amount of his own death or others will ever, or can ever, diminish that.
This morning the sun is up and so am I. And this morning I’m going to put twice as much butter and marmalade on my toast as normal and smile the way Dad did each morning he did this. Because you know what, there is a lot to be said for the simple pleasures in life – my Dad taught me that.