They met on a blind date and married nine months later. For the next 44 years, Chris and Trish Walker were inseparable. Until the pandemic.
For the past eight months, Trish has not been allowed to touch her husband and has only been able to speak to him for just over an hour, even though he has already had – and recovered from – Covid-19.
The restrictions were imposed by the 74-year-old’s care home in London, where he was placed after a spell in hospital. It was supposed to be a temporary measure but it feels permanent to his wife.
“The carpet has been pulled out from underneath you and you’re still falling, because everything that was part of our life is still there at home. Except he isn’t,” she said.
“I can’t let myself unravel,” she added. “It’s as if you’re a widow, but you’re not. Divorced, but you’re not. You’re between worlds. You become nothing. You’re not his wife any more in any meaningful sense – but you are, and you want to be.”
Trish had just begun teaching French in Belfast in 1975 when she met Chris, who was a journalist working in Northern Ireland. “We met on a blind date at the Europa hotel,” she said. “He was great fun, very droll. Lots of anecdotes, interesting stories.”
They married in a small ceremony in Oxford and celebrated at the Cherwell Boathouse. When Chris was posted to Jerusalem, Moscow, then Beirut to serve as a foreign correspondent for newspapers and broadcasters, Trish went with him, working as a French teacher in international schools.
In May 2017, Chris was admitted to the Maudsley Hospital when he started to lose cognitive function and mobility. Doctors spent two years trying to find a diagnosis. Shortly before the pandemic hit, it had been decided Chris should return home.
During his hospital stay, Trish was a regular visitor, until her last visit on 18 March. “I would sit with him and read him funny articles from the Spectator,” she said. “We would talk.”
He fell ill on 23 March and tested positive for Covid-19, but only suffered a high temperature for a few days.
They have tried to talk over the phone, but rigidity in Chris’s fingers means it is almost impossible for him to hold a handset.
“Gradually, you heard on the news that care homes were doing their best to facilitate visitors but this one wouldn’t,” Trish said.
“They kept saying no. I phoned the Care Quality Commission [which regulates care homes] and they said no, it’s Public Health England, they make the rules.”
She was eventually allowed three short visits in the summer but since September the home has been shut to visitors, despite guidance from health secretary Matt Hancock allowing care homes to open.
“It is a prison sentence and there seems to be no redress,” Trish said.