Death has a stigma and the burden of grief can hold us captive if we let it. May this be a process through which a loved one can be remembered and through which memories can be relived. Even though the pain of the loss may remain, may this go some way in relieving the hurt and the stigma of death and act as a public declaration that death has lost its sting.
I ask each participant to find a photograph of themselves with their lost loved one. We then return to the location of the original photograph to replicate the image.
It is a chance to think back and remember, to tell the story of that day and of the person that they have lost. Imagery allows for expression beyond what we can speak of. I hope it is an experience that contributes to the restorative process in overcoming the painful impact of loss.
The serene view north from Anglesey, out over the Irish Sea towards the Isle of Man
We all have a different experience of loss that can reveal itself in many ways. Sometimes it’s a response that is quite clear for those around you to see. Perhaps there are lots of emotions that they just don’t know how to let out, they’re not sure how they should be feeling or whether it’s right to be having certain angry or complicated thoughts.
It’s not about having the best photo, saying the right thing or having the answers, I just want to give people a chance to speak about their experience of loss.
My aim was that the combination of the photos we took and the conversations we had, we would be able to portray a deep personal story. This allows other people who are struggling and going through similar experiences to look through and find strength and comfort in the story, knowing that other people have been through it and are confident enough to share their story.
I lost my father to prostate cancer in December 2009. When my dad died, it wounded me in the deepest part of my being. The loss shaped the following few years of my life and will continue to do so, but I don’t have to let it define who I am. Through this time, it was really helpful to be able to talk about my dad. I wanted to share with others about the person he was, the emotions I was feeling as I processed the grief, and talk about the influence he had – and continues to have – on my life. Those conversations were often hard and few and far between, mainly because people just didn’t quite know how to respond.
Alistair’s dad holds his son’s hand while paddling in the sea at Swanage on a family holiday. Right: Alistair returns to Swanage to restage the original photograph after losing his father to Covid-19
I’m Alistair, and my dad was James. The original picture was from the beach at Swanage in Dorset. I’m not sure how old I was there, but it was a family holiday. We loved to go down there and find a pitch for the day, Mum and Dad would soak up the sun and me and Tim, my brother, would build sandcastles and splash around, and repeat until we had to go home.
He was a very loving father, he provided for his, looked after us. He taught me a lot of principles about always doing the best, always trying to be the nicest person and to make sure that others were looked after and cared for. When you look back you realise you’ve been prepared by your parents to live your life. Dad always just wanted to treat others how he’d want to be treated.
Taken on a family holiday in Swanage, Alistair (right), sits on a bench by the beach with his father and brother Tim
When we got the dementia diagnosis, several years ago, we had noticed over time that he was getting more forgetful. He wouldn’t use my name, he was losing his hearing, his vision wasn’t great and I lost him as a dad over those years. I still loved him as my dad, but I knew I wasn’t necessarily going to get that reciprocated, which was tough. He still offered to help when I mentioned to him about moving flat; he’d say “well let me know if you need a hand”. I think that’s just his character through and through and I always just try to emulate that.
I went to see him in the care home and I said to the staff that I’d like to volunteer in the garden if possible, even if he wasn’t aware of me being there, I could just help out and spend some time with him, but then we went into lockdown and that was the last time I saw him when he was awake and alert.
When the Covid thing came along, it was like losing him for a second time, but this time, obviously, for the last time. It was difficult because I had kind of processed losing him in a mental sense, and now I was losing him in a physical sense.
I did get to see him before he passed away and it was just a completely different experience because I had to wear all the PPE. In the past, I’d just always assumed he’d be there for years to come and you don’t think about it ever being the last time, whereas I went there, got dressed up and they said you’ve got 15 minutes. It was horrible having this countdown clock, where you have this time limit on how long you have left with someone. I just set it on my watch and it’s just counting down. I was thinking, I’ve got 30 seconds left with my dad, 20 seconds left, 10 seconds left. What do I do? What do I say? And I just panicked.
Alistair takes a selfie with his dad in South Wonston park, near to where they lived. One of the benches in the park is dedicated to Alistair’s brother Tim, and will soon also have a plaque for his dad
It made me reflect on how many times I’ve seen or called my parents and thought that maybe I’m quite busy and I haven’t really got time for this, but I’ll see them next week. I’ve gone away thinking that it’s OK that I didn’t see them for very long today because I’ll see them in the future.
It’s given me a real appreciation for just taking a second to appreciate that when you’re with family or a friend, that you don’t know necessarily when you might see them again and that’s why you have to make the most of the time you have with them. I’m trying to act on it in a positive way, rather than just thinking about why I feel that way because of Dad.
Posing for a portrait, Alistair remembers his dad
It’s absolutely OK to cry and be a blubbering mess sometimes. If you try to stop it, you’ll feel a lot worse. I know that particularly for men there’s this societal pressure to be a strong support and a rock for people, but for your own sake, for men and women, to let your body do what it needs to do. You want to cry because your brain is telling you that you need to process this, to not fight it but to let it happen, then you’ll feel that pressure is unloaded.
Jonathan and his father on Christmas Eve 2019 with his new pair of Air Max
My name is Jonathan. The picture of myself and dad was taken on Christmas Eve 2019. We’d had Christmas together for the previous 54 years and it was a tradition we never broke. It was a fabulous event, we went out for a meal and then came back and exchanged gifts here.
My dad was 88 and he was getting old, things were failing. As a son it’s really upsetting when parents get older. I would do anything to try and make his life easier. I saw that he was walking badly and he said that the flesh on his feet was getting thinner and thinner and it was painful to walk. He’d never been into a Nike store, but he hobbled in, and then pretty soon we were having him trying on lots of pairs and we fitted him up with a pair of Nike Air Max. He was virtually running around the store, which was really lovely, really heartening. I felt as though I’d knocked off 10 or 15 years!
Jonathan took his dad to the Nike store to buy these Air Max trainers, which dramatically improved his mobility for the last few months of his life
He was so busy, I couldn’t keep up with him. I’m half his age, but he was out every night of the week. He would attend choirs, he was in the Greater Manchester Police Choir, the church choir, he was in Probus. I just don’t think he liked being at home.
He was the person I’d known longest in my life, he was always there. He was a bit like Switzerland, he never really offered a view, but he was always there to support me and catch me if I fell or tripped. It’s three months since he died and I’ve spent the last three months going to call him every day. So it’s been difficult.
He was the 12th coronavirus victim in the UK, so it was right at the very start. The health service and society as a whole didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to process and deal with the virus at that stage. So that was really difficult, because we couldn’t go to see him. We were only allowed to see him at the very end with lots of protective equipment, but if he hadn’t have had the coronavirus he probably would have been here today, because they would have treated his underlying health issues. It’s really, really difficult.
The quiet kitchen. Jonathan’s dad died on 13th March, well before lockdown was introduced
He died on Friday 13th, which I just couldn’t believe. The last time I saw him, we’d had a chat and I’d said what a cool dad he was, that he’d done a really good job, and he said, “No, I don’t think I was that good”, which I thought was really sweet. I said goodbye to him and went into the anteroom, where I had to take off all the protective equipment. I was halfway through taking it off and he called me back, but I couldn’t go back because the room had a positive air pressure, so I’ll never know what he wanted me for. That went with him to the grave.
It sounds really strange, but it’ll be very odd when the pandemic ends, because it has felt like a very intimate time, in that we went into shutdown and I could think about my dad’s experience, but it was like a shared experience with the whole of the world. I dread to think of other families going through the same thing that we went through. When someone dies of cancer or a heart attack, it’s dreadful, but that’s the moment. Whereas my dad died on the 13 March and from that point on, coronavirus has been on the news every minute of every hour of every day. It was like someone sticking a knife into the wound all the time, there was no escaping from it. As a family we felt properly battered.
Jonathan reflects on losing someone amid a global pandemic. Seeing it on the news every day has felt like, ‘someone sticking a knife into the wound’
Normally if you suffer a bereavement you have the support of family and friends, and we couldn’t go and see anyone. We were in lockdown before the country, in our own lockdown, so it’s been a very lonely time. Every step along the way was difficult, it felt as though we were unfortunate pioneers. The first funeral director that we went to wouldn’t deal with us. It’s been unusual.
At his funeral, we only had 10 people there and I liked it because it was nice and quiet. I’d discovered tapes of him singing so we actually played him singing a song on the way out and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. That was really magical.
Philip stands with his parents on a summer evening on the balcony of his caravan, located on the north coast of Anglesey. Second image: Philip returns to the caravan to restage the photograph after losing both of his parents within 48 hours to Covid-19
My name is Philip and the photograph is of me and my parents. We bought this caravan in 2016, and they were very much part of our lives, so they would come for a weekend. We are in the very north of Anglesey. If you think of the island as a clock, then we’re at 1 o’clock, overlooking the most northerly lighthouse, Point Lynas.
My dad was a travelling salesman for James Stewart and Co in Ardwick, opposite Manchester Apollo. His turf was Moss Side. He used to sell from a catalogue going door to door and he was well known in the area. He did that for 30-odd years.
The view back up to the caravan park from the coast. Being only a small site, the caravan park is close-knit community
My mum brought us up, two boys who liked to fight and liked to be boys. She was also the bursar at the Ryleys school in Alderley Edge, and was very into amateur dramatics, so was part of the Wilmslow Green Room Society. She was in a lot of plays, then did a lot of backstage and in her older years did a lot of wardrobe, so there’s a team of six that meet every Tuesday to talk and sort the wardrobes out.
Mum had coughs, she definitely had Covid.She was fit and healthy, walking a mile a day, in the drama group. Dad was playing golf and doing the garden, but he died of a broken heart, basically. Even though he did test positive, he never had a cough or any real symptoms. I lost both parents in 48 hours. My family is my world, so the only reassurance is that we were telling them to stay in, eat and have the paracetamol and do what the doctor says, that they’d get through it and to be strong.
My brother still lived with my parents and had to give CPR to both of them. They were in lockdown, so even after both parents dying, Peter had to stay in the house for another five days and we weren’t allowed to visit. It’s all that stuff that you don’t hear about and have no idea what people are going through. To this day, he has not had any symptoms. He’s never been tested, nobody approached him, but he’s never had a day of illness.
The serene view north from Anglesey, out over the Irish Sea towards the Isle of Man
We were only allowed 10 people at the funeral when we could have had 200. We printed 100 orders of service and posted them out to different people, just so there was something for them to share on the day. We did a video, so we can share that with people, but obviously nobody got the funeral that they wanted.
For the first three weeks after my parents died, I became a bit of a counsellor. People would ring me up and I’d have to explain everything and say well, we have to look for the silver lining in it all, we have to find something every day that helps and is a positive. We’ve done that, we have managed to find that glimmer, even little quirky things, memories of them, thoughts of them.
I suppose the only comfort is that there isn’t an answer. There isn’t something that we could or should have done to make the result anything different than what it was, because nobody had that knowledge. Everybody was scared and there are still friends of my mum and dad that haven’t gone out.
We summed it up quite nicely in that if somebody else came into the room, that person became the most important person. So it was never about them, they were the host and hostess. Drop everything, someone’s come in, what can I do for you, get you a drink, something to eat, oven on, and we’ll look after you, tell us what’s going on in your life, is there something we can help with?
Philip takes a moment to remember his parents, both of whom he lost to Covid-19
I used to sit and watch every United game with my dad, we were avid football fans and we’d chat away, so the first time I watched United I put a glass of white wine next to me. That’s what makes it tough sometimes, those chats, those little bits that fill in your week. It’s good to talk it out, you have to do that.
I’m just so pleased that they saw both my daughters get firsts, graduate and be in the jobs they want to be in. They burst with pride about my girls. I’ve tried to do the best to acknowledge them and pay them tribute, and if we can be half the people they were, then we’re doing a good job.