Remembering Covid victims: LBC callers give moving tributes a year on from lockdown

1 January 2021, 11:48 | Updated: 23 March 2021, 13:44

Amanda Henry lost her father, Robert, during the spring peak of the pandemic
Amanda Henry lost her father, Robert, during the spring peak of the pandemic. Picture: Amanda Henry
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Today marks a year since the UK first went into national lockdown; a year which has seen sacrifice, loss of livelihoods, and most tragically, loss of loved ones.

The current number of coronavirus-related deaths has reached 126,000 in the UK.

Here LBC callers have shared their stories of friends and relatives who died in 2020 as a result of the disease.

'The doctor said he should be home by the end of the week'

Stacey Murphy, 51, lost her dad to Covid-19 after he was admitted to hospital with a kidney stone.

Christopher Murphy was a man who was full of life and loved living
Christopher Murphy was a man who was full of life and loved living. Picture: Stacey Murphy

I used to drive with my partner Rose from London to Wales every Sunday to see my dad Christopher, 83.

We would get his shopping when we got there before taking him to the pub. He would always like to go for a couple of pints, although he could only stomach two pints by then. Despite that, he was well in himself and wasn’t a frail old man. He was full of life and he loved living.

My dad was taken to hospital with a kidney stone in March, and the doctor said he should be home by the end of the week. Everything I found out later was due to myself or Rose ringing the hospital. On one phone call, they said he had developed a cough; that he had tested positive and had been moved to a Covid ward.

It was a really weird couple of days. When I say it out loud, it sounds a bit naive.

Stacey's dad Christopher
Stacey's dad Christopher. Picture: Stacey Murphy

On 5 April, the person who answered the phone said dad was doing great and was eating his dinner. We thought then that he was going to beat the virus and we went to bed with no worries.

The next morning, however, the nurse told us he was agitated with his oxygen mask. The doctor then called to say he had deteriorated a lot. At 3.45pm a lady called to say he had passed away.

It was so, so unexpected. I actually dropped the phone and was screaming: “No, no, no, no!” Rose finished the call.

When you’re not with the person at their side, different people will react in different ways. My dad was a real people person and he hated being alone. He would have been looking at people in gowns and masks wondering what the hell was going on.

The effect of this pandemic is going to go on for a long, long time. God forbid you lose someone to cancer - you see adverts for cancer charities, but they’re not there all the time. This is constant. You see it in any ambulance, anything on the news, any newspaper you pick up. I see the number of dead on 6 April and I think about how one of those links to my dad.

You only get one chance to do things as correctly as you can. I have a lot of regrets that I wasn’t more forceful for more information.

Covid-19 is real, it exists, and it does kill people. And they don’t all have underlying health issues. Until it knocks on your door, the message doesn’t hit home.

'My friend didn't need to die'

Jasmine Dotiwala lost her friend, Mercury-nominated artist Ty, in May

Ty was an artist who always had something really important to bring to the table
Ty was an artist who always had something really important to bring to the table. Picture: Jasmine Dotiwala

I first met Ty on the scene while I was working at MTV and he was a rapper. Everyone who knew his tracks knew him for his witty and talented storytelling. It resulted in several acclaimed albums – one of which, Upwards, got him a Mercury nomination.

In my later MTV years, Ty was one of a close group of friends that we brought together. We were trying to get the channel to champion more British black music – Ty was one of the artists and we would debate and gossip about everything going on in the entertainment industry.

He was a big part of the gang and always had something really important to bring to the table.

One of the last times Ty posted on Facebook was around the time we started taking the pandemic seriously in March. He wasn’t taking it seriously. He posted a comment about someone coughing on him. A few weeks later, we got a message to say he had been admitted to hospital with mild asthma. We had never seen him have an asthma attack.

He was later taken into intensive care – but was eventually brought back out to go on the ward. We breathed a sigh of relief.

I’ll never forget the day it happened. It was hot, just after lunchtime. I was standing under a tree. As soon as the phone rang, I knew. It was a call from a mutual friend, who said Ty had passed away on the ward. He was 47.

Ty (left) and Jasmine (right)
Ty (left) and Jasmine (right). Picture: Jasmine Dotiwala

It makes you really angry seeing the London protesters and tweets from the likes of Laurence Fox. My friend Ty didn’t need to die – he could have lived with asthma all his life.

Afterwards, all the media did stories on him. Not just in the UK, but in the US and across the world. He’d never got the sort of press that he got when he passed away. There was something annoyingly ironic about it all. None of you wanted to talk about him when he was alive.

Part of me doesn’t believe that he’s not here. It’s because we didn’t see him sick or see him in hospital. And we weren’t able to actually go to the funeral, but watched it via Zoom.

Ty’s whole experience and story has taught me that it’s important to tell everyone while they’re alive how wonderful they are. I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but we should celebrate people while they’re alive.

Perspective is another thing this year has taught me. I love going out and I travel a lot – but none of that really matters. I don’t need fancy clothes and phones. As much as I love my friends and having a fun time, just getting through the next week and month keeping my mum alive is what makes me happy now. If she is eating well and listening to a bit of Frank Sinatra, then I'm happy.

'Suddenly, unexpectedly, their voices catch...Something has taken them over the edge, and they are crying'

LBC presenter Eddie Mair writes:

Radio has always been the most intimate medium: the human voice connecting with the human ear. During what we now know to be the era of Covid, that intimacy has been more valuable than ever.

Lockdowns, curfews, firebreaks - call them what you will - have left millions of people isolated. Some are physically alone, others share their living space with many others. But isolation can be universal at a time of anxiety, fear and uncertainty. A familiar voice has a value you can't put a price on.

In the months that Covid has been taking a toll on us all, I've been struck by how willing people are to share their sometimes brutal experiences: lives upended in the most awful circumstances. My most abiding memory of this period is how close to the edge people are. Countless times I've been talking to listeners on the air and suddenly, unexpectedly, their voices catch. There is pausing and swallowing and apologising: something in the conversation has taken them over the edge, and they are crying. In the moment it appears out of the blue, but of course it isn't. The interaction - the human voice connecting with the human ear has taken them to the heart of the matter.

I always hope those conversations are of value to the other person. I know from audience feedback that they serve a purpose for the third person involved: the listener.

These are some of the memorable people who've been good enough to share intimacies with me.

'Dad was a bit of an idiot - but he was my idiot'

Amanda Henry, 38, lost her dad to Covid-19 in April

Amanda's dad Robert was quite a character
Amanda's dad Robert was quite a character. Picture: Amanda Henry

My dad caught Covid-19 and passed away on 8 April, so the whole of the first lockdown was focused on the disease.

When we initially manoeuvred into the restrictions, I was keeping myself busy in the community and helping the local sister deliver meals to the vulnerable. But when I found out my dad had been caught poorly with Covid, it was quite a struggle. I wouldn’t go out. I wouldn’t even go out on the balcony from fear. I wouldn’t let my children outside; I was really anxious.

My dad Robert, 78, was bed bound in a care home, so it was mentally quite hard to get my head around it. Seeing him like that was quite difficult and it affected me.

I would usually visit him several times a week, but the last time was a month before he died. We had no real communication after that because the care home was locked down and the Zoom meetings I’d requested were never set up. He didn’t understand how to use the telephone because of his dementia.

Amanda (left) and Robert (right)
Amanda (left) and Robert (right). Picture: Amanda Henry

My dad was quite a character, always joking around and taking the mick. I even had to apologise to the funeral director because a photo of him in a mankini made it onto the order of service! He was a bit cheeky in youth and he was a bit of an idiot - but he was my idiot.

Connecting with people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 has helped me a lot because this is a different kind of loss. It’s different to losing someone before the pandemic. You feel isolated and alone. People don’t understand the anxiety around it.

But we’re all still learning. I have gotten involved with a Covid bereavement group, where everyone’s stories seem to be similar and everyone’s grief and how everyone is feeling is the same.

Throughout this pandemic and in times of despair, it’s the people who rally around – obviously not physically, but virtually – that have been a great help.

For myself, I’m just winging it. I have young children, so when it first happened, I did struggle quite a bit. But I also pulled myself up and I put myself back to where I should be. I just felt at the time that my children massively helped me conquer my anxiety and mental health. When I feel like I’m struggling, I look to them and they make me strong.

If you’re struggling, don’t struggle by yourself. Make sure you reach out to someone that you care about.

Even though my dad’s ashes are in the house, I’m still not quite ready to start the grieving process. I’m on autopilot at the moment because I need answers as to how and why he contracted the virus in the way he did.

Once I feel like I’ve received the answers to my questions, then I can hopefully move on to grieving properly. But that’s where I am at the moment. I’m just channelling my energy into trying to get the closure that I need.

'There was much laughter, much banter'

Judy Bishop, 70, lost her close friend Colin in November

Judy's friend Colin had a wicked sense of humour
Judy's friend Colin had a wicked sense of humour. Picture: Judy Bishop

I turned 70 this year and now I’m on my own - going through a divorce after 30 years of marriage. It has been extra difficult. But in spite of that, you’ll always see someone to talk to in Great Bentley - that’s the essence of the village. My friend Colin was a part of that. He made a huge part of that.

Colin died on 12 November. He went into hospital testing positive for Covid-19. We’re all going to miss him.

Myself and my husband moved down to this village in 1997 and were determined to be part of the village life. That’s how we met Colin and his late wife Maureen - both of whom did lots for the village. There were coffee mornings that Colin and Maureen arranged, and he was president of the Clacton Lions Club, a volunteering group. They just did so much.

Colin had a wicked sense of humour. There was much laughter, much banter. We would talk about the football - Spurs – always with a laugh. He was a kind and generous man. But all those things have gone now.

Being in this village is a lot different to being in a town. It’s a very precious thing. However, the essence of a village nowadays is gradually going to change - but I might be able to fill some of the gaps that have been left.

The example has to be followed from Colin and Maureen; to keep an eye out for those who are vulnerable and can’t get out and about - and to make them laugh. I’ve learned from them both how precious it is to value what you can do for your community.

Yes, I’ve also learned I can’t change the world. It has been a tough lesson. I may not be able to change it all. But I can make a difference.

As soon as we get back to being able to have a hug, things will be OK. This is all definitely a chance to appreciate what you have, and to make the most of the small things. When you’re making a cup of tea or coffee, make it a bit more special. When I have a cup of coffee these days, I’ll make sure I have it with a biscuit or a piece of cake!

'My dad was a massive family man'

Lesley Cully, 54, from Oxfordshire, lost her father in April

Roy was a massive family man
Roy was a massive family man. Picture: Lesley Cully

My dad, Roy, was a massive family man. He was a really well-known chap in town and he liked to go out for drinks with friends. He would always go to the pub on a Saturday and Sunday and everyone would come and chat to him.

Lesley and her dad Roy
Lesley and her dad Roy. Picture: Lesley Cully

But he went downhill rapidly. He was elderly and in a care home, and the lockdown affected him massively. We’re a large family and we all visited my dad several times a day - and all of a sudden that stopped.

I got a call from the care home completely out of the blue just to tell me he was very poorly. The carer who phoned bluntly told me he was going to die. I then had it on my shoulders to tell my siblings and my mother that my dad was dying. It was horrendous.

We were terribly, terribly sad that we weren’t able to be with him right at the end, but luckily we were able to see him on the last day. I truly believe he was waiting to see my mum. He got to see her that day.

I’m very much an open book and a talker. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I think talking is the best tonic. Evaluate and talk to other people about their experiences - and try to listen to what other people have to say. Don’t shut yourself away if you’re struggling. Talk it through with your loved ones.

Losing my dad has made me change, and I think this whole Covid thing has made me evaluate my life and be appreciative of what I’ve got. It has also helped me realise who my friends are.

I’ve found that you can’t judge people by their cover; you need to understand their situation. And you can’t necessarily understand their situation until you’ve been through it yourself.