Letter to grandad who died from Covid-19: 'I'm proud of my future because I can be like you'

Family of coronavirus victim says pandemic's impact on grief is often overlooked

Christy O’Malley (83) was a family man. He visited each of his children and grandchildren at least once a week, was fond of a family sing-song and organised word games to entertain the adults and children at gatherings.

But when he died from coronavirus on March 30th in Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, his family couldn't be with him, they couldn't attend his funeral ceremony a day later, and instead had to view it through a livestream.

Devastated that she was unable to say goodbye in person, his eldest grandchild Rachel (17) wrote a letter, which was read out during the ceremony.

“I am almost glad the last time I saw you I didn’t know what was going to happen because I did not yet know the pain of your absence, only the joy of your presence. I remember the last time I was in your house you showed me how to use the tools for the garden and an alarm you had built for your shed,” the letter said.


‘Utter admiration’

“I remember standing there in utter admiration of someone who was so smart – but would never brag about it, someone who could have been in pain but would never have moaned and someone who put other people’s feelings above his own.”

She added: “You make me proud of my past because you are what I came from and proud of my future because I can be like you.”

Mr O’Malley didn’t have the typical coronavirus symptoms. He lost his sense of taste and was more tired than usual, his family said.

Having had cancer in the past, his daughter Patricia brought him to the hospital to undergo various tests. While there, he developed a temperature and tested positive for the virus, before suddenly deteriorating.

Dara Keogh, his son-in-law, said while there is awareness the virus causes death, its impact on grief is often overlooked.

“You’re attending a virtual funeral, it’s not the same. The grieving process hasn’t started yet. It’s not the way we do funerals or do grief at all. It’s like it’s happened but it hasn’t happened, and so it’s very difficult to process and move forward,” Mr Keogh said.

“You can’t come together, you’re forced apart and rightly so. Having seen the outcome, the worst-case outcome, you wouldn’t want anybody else to go through it.”

His wife Patricia has had to isolate for 14 days because she brought her father to the hospital.

“She is now in a bedroom, and she can’t go out, and we can’t go in, and she had to take the news on her own and could only speak through a doorway. She hasn’t seen her brother or sister or any other member of the family since he died.”

He said that despite the difficulties this brings, there is a sense of solidarity within the community, as people try to help one another through the loss and devastation.

‘A thorough gentleman’

“One lovely thing our neighbours did was on Monday night, they all gathered outside the house, with social distancing in mind. They gathered for a minute’s silence, all holding candles,” Mr Keogh added.

“They put a little arrangement of flowers together and then each of them put their candle down by the flowers in a little jar. Then they all stood back and they sang The Rose, and wished us well.”

Mr O'Malley, who was born and raised in Crumlin, Co Dublin, before moving to Palmerstown in 1962, was an avid reader and was an active member of Our Lady's Choral Society until 2015.

“He had books that he would read upstairs and books that he would read downstairs. He could have six or seven books on the go at once,” Mr Keogh said.

“He was just a thorough gentleman. He was a man who engaged with people in a very loving way. Behind the [fatality] figures are real people. There’s a human consequence to this.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times