After losing Dad to Covid, this is my first Father’s Day without him

I’m glad my dad was able to walk me down the aisle and know his grandchildren before he died. (Picture: Shirley Woods-Gallagher)

It’s been 12 months since my dad, Alan Woods, passed on the most surreal of days.

I was told through the briefest of phone calls from a nurse on a Covid ward what I had no chance to prepare for. 

So I found it sickeningly ironic to find myself clinically vulnerable to the same virus and on a digitally-generated shielding list that meant I couldn’t be with him while he fought for his life in a hospital 60 miles away. 

I have hugely missed talking to him. We would’ve ranted about the Government’s handling of the pandemic over the last year. We would’ve wondered at the marvel of science and vaccinations.  

I’ve always known how lucky I was to have him. After he suffered three heart attacks in my early 20s, I expected it would be heart disease that eventually took him from us, not some terrible virus during a pandemic.

Who knows how much more time we could have had, or how different his death would have been if it wasn’t for Covid? 

I’m just glad he was able to walk me down the aisle, and be with all his grandchildren in their early years. 

Funerals in the first lockdown were limited to 10 people in the crematorium for no longer than 30 minutes. But for shielding people like myself, it meant not being allowed to go to funerals or wakes, however small. 

I experienced my dad’s funeral in the car outside the crematorium, while listening to my own pre-recorded eulogy on WhatsApp video. That’s not normal, but I quickly learnt that when all the usual rituals for grief are gone you must create new ones. 

I will be forever grateful to my uncle who helped me through those dark days; getting ready for a funeral I would never attend. I am also grateful to my brother who championed me writing the eulogy. If I didn’t have the eulogy, I would’ve had nothing. 

For those of us who lost someone during lockdown, it’s not just about the funeral. In normal times, you would get to see people who knew your loved one in the year afterwards. You would get to distract yourself seeing people and doing things. It’s been dystopian to do this under effective house arrest.

Shielding has been tough, but the addition of a significant bereavement made it intolerable. I began to feel like I was a burden to my husband and son, even though they have been the best of men. 

As hopeless as this has felt, I have come to an acceptance – a revelation – that it’s also hopeful. 

Shielded in my own home, I found myself able to express my pain on my own terms and not worry about crying in front of others or appearing to be OK. Maybe that’s a more authentic way to be? 

My dad and I spoke every week on the phone. (Picture: Shirley Woods-Gallagher)

Death is the inevitable conclusion of life. Loss is the price we pay for love. Grief is personal. I’ve learnt that speaking your truth is the only way to get through. 

I was lucky; my dad let me know every day that I was a very loved daughter. We got on as well as adults as we did when I was little. 

We would roar with laughter and endlessly put the world to rights. We spoke every week on the phone (landline, of course) and exchanged really bad predictive texts on his Nokia brick – technology wasn’t for him!  

We would sit on the garden swing at his house in the summer chatting about everything and nothing. He would always say, ‘You alright, my friend?’ 

He was the most compassionate father-in-law, always looking out for my husband after his own dad tragically died while we were on our honeymoon. They were true friends, even if Dad annoyed my other half by fiddling with the heating settings every time he stayed at our house. 

He was the most gorgeous grandad to our son, always reading to him and getting down on the floor to play. Our son thought it was hilarious whenever we would go to Dad’s house and he would say, ‘I like it when you stay; we get nice food. We don’t normally eat like this. Can you come again?’

He made friends with my friends. The friends I grew up with have all missed Alan. Talking with them about Dad on video calls and walks has meant everything to me. 

He made us all laugh so much. He would tease us about getting a bit old in our early 20s, and that none of us were married and we would end up ‘on the shelf’. 

He even brought my closest friend, Jen, a packet of yellow dusters as her wedding present. As the last laugh, I placed a single yellow duster on his coffin, while wearing personal protective equipment in a quick five-minute visit before his funeral. 

My brother put another duster on the coffin for me in the crematorium. Dad would’ve loved this humour. 

I named a heart for both him and my aunt Mary on the National Covid Memorial Wall. Both were taken by Covid in lockdown one. Soon, there will be a tree planted for him and all people (whatever they died of this year) in Norfolk Square and all over the High Peak.  

As hopeless as it’s been over the past year, seeds grow in the darkness. I move forward as a changed person. 

I still have a relationship with my dad, just a different one, and that’s OK. He will always be part of my life.

If he could see my journey and how I have begun to rebuild my life in the wake of the pandemic, he would be proud. I can just imagine him looking down on me, proud as punch, saying: ‘That’s my girl.’  

I can’t sit with him on a swing in his garden in the summer months chatting to him anymore. That chapter of my life is over. I bought my own swing for my garden late last summer. My son loves it. 

I have now taken on the baton of talking about everything and nothing to my child on a garden swing. I now know that the little moments like this aren’t the small things; they’re everything.

And for that, I am eternally grateful to my fantastic dad. 

If you are bereaved and struggling this Father’s Day, Marie Curie’s free Support Line offers practical information and emotional support on 0800 090 2309. To find out more, visit:

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