An emigrant’s pandemic: A week after Allegra was born, my phone rang. I knew Dad was gone

I watched his funeral every day for two or three months. It still doesn’t feel real, writes Laura Shiels

Mam, myself and Dad on August 28th 2019 – the last time we were all together at home in Artane

Mam, myself and Dad on August 28th 2019 – the last time we were all together at home in Artane

 

I have lived in Tauranga, New Zealand since late 2017. I struggled being here during the first year and almost returned home to Dublin but ended up meeting my now partner in late 2018. All was going well, and he came home to meet my parents in August 2019. They thought the world of him.

We had so many plans for 2020 but the borders here in New Zealand closed in March 2020. Such a strange feeling, being so far from home and now unable to leave the country.

I worried about my parents as they were both in their 60s at the time and my dad had some health issues but as things worsened back in the homeland they reassured me that they were doing everything right. Isolating, distancing, wearing masks etc.

I watched my dad’s funeral online. It felt like an out-of-body experience. It didn’t feel real

I worried but the reality of Covid was still sinking in. Here in New Zealand we were going about life as usual. Mixing with friends and family etc.

I became pregnant with my first baby and my parents first grandchild in April. They were over the moon and I suppose we were quite naive thinking “sure things will have calmed down over the summer and then we can start planning your trip to New Zealand for Christmas and baby’s pending arrival in January 2021”.

Abroad during Covid

I felt quite sad that my parents were missing out on the ultrasound appointments, decorating the nursery, shopping for clothes and buggys: they had waited so long for this to happen and now had to watch it all unfold via WhatsApp pictures and videos.

Allegra at 8 months
Allegra at 8 months

Little did we realise just how things would change. The Covid situation was going from bad to worse in Ireland. I kept up to date and on the morning of January 4th I turned to my partner Sam and said how many more cases of Covid were in Ireland. His reply “speaking of Covid, I’ve just been talking to your mum and your parents have caught it. Your dad is in hospital, he’s been there since New Year’s Eve”.

I just broke down. Thirty-nine weeks pregnant and to hear my dad was just like one of those people I’d seen on so many news reports. Everything bad went through my mind, “what if he dies/what if he never meets his first grandchild/what if something happens to my mam... both of them” all the while I’d be stuck the other side of the world and be able to do nothing.

My baby was due January 11th but didn’t arrive until January 24th. We called my mam within minutes of baby Allegra Anne’s arrival and introduced her to her first grandchild “call my dad and let him know she’s here”, I said to my mam.

The following morning my mam called and told me that there was nothing more that could be done for my dad and all we had was hope”. Sitting on the bed cuddling my 12-hour-old daughter and trying to make sense of all of this.

One week later, on February 1st, my phone rang and I knew straight away he was gone. My mam was with him when our Trev passed away. I screamed “he won’t ever meet her, he won’t ever meet her”.

An artist friend sketched this of my Dad holding Allegra.
An artist friend sketched this of my Dad holding Allegra.

My best friend Jacqui and her sister video called me when my dad’s coffin was leaving the family home. I watched my dad’s funeral online. It felt like an out-of-body experience. It didn’t feel real. It’s been almost eight months since he died. I think about him every single day. I watched his funeral every day for the first 2-3 months. It still doesn’t feel real.

My mam has watched Allegra grow up over WhatsApp calls and pictures: she longs to be able to hold that little girl. I want to come home and try and make sense of the timing of everything, but so many things are slowing the process down. I’m waiting for my residency, I need a place in managed isolation in New Zealand booked before leaving, my partner and I have one more vaccine to get but then we worry about our daughter who cannot be vaccines just yet – I just want to go home and hug my mam so tight. I feel guilty and useless at times. I want to do more for her but my hands are tied.

My heart knows my dad is gone, my head is expecting him to meet us at the airport with open arms and I can almost see and hear him reading “goldilocks and the three bears” to Allegra doing all his silly voices and “Trevorisms”. Trevor Shiels RIP... February 1st 2021.