Deborah Lewis suffered the trauma of losing both parents during the pandemic. Now she is using her experience to support others through the grief process with the launch of a new covid support group. She started it from her home in Milton Keynes, but it is already helping thousands of people across the country, as she told Pulse’s Sammy Jones.
As society gradually starts the healing process after the devastation wreaked by Covid, there is still a long way to go. The vaccination rollout has provided us with hope and inches us nearer to normality and the recent lifting of restrictions has done wonders for the mood of the nation.
But for those who lost loved ones to the pandemic, things will be forever changed.
Deborah endured the pain of losing her father to Covid in April 2020.
“…I discovered there was an absolute lack of information and support regarding what to do immediately following a death,” she explained, “The normal routes of registration were simply not available as the council offices were closed due to lockdown.”
And when it came to saying farewell, the funeral process was no more simple: “Crematoriums across the country operated under their own ‘guidelines’ meaning the number of mourners varied depending on where you lived. Not many people were aware that these could be negotiable via a chat with the crematorium officials.
“Everything was so confusing and just made grieving even harder!”
Channelling her grief, Deborah came up with a plan to benefit others like her: “I quickly realised that we wouldn’t be the only ones struggling and so I set up Covid19familiesuk so that we could share our experiences and knowledge with others.”
Since establishing Covid19familiesuk the group goals have changed a little, but its core aims are resolute: “To provide a localised knowledge and support network for anyone grieving during the pandemic,” Deborah said, “Our goals are to ensure memorial events are held across the UK to allow those who were previously denied the right, the chance to say that final goodbye, and to get some closure, as well as working with mental health teams and service providers to offer tailor-made bereavement care for those who have had to deal with their grief in isolation and with little support.”
Deborah was right to think that there was a need for the support offered by her group. The public response has been incredible. What started as an informal collective in Milton Keynes has now spread far and wide – there are now more than 4000 members in 37 groups across the UK.
“It makes me so immensely proud that people are reaching out and supporting each other, locally and nationally. I won’t lie, it has been an awful lot of hard work,” says Deborah, who now works as a full time volunteer for the group she founded.
“I spend eight hours a day or so doing admin work, and my regional admins also give up their time. We have all suffered bereavements during lockdown. Everything we do is voluntary – some things are more important than money, and offering people a light during their darkest times is one of them.
“The response from elected officials has been poor with little support,” says Deborah, “However Great Linford Parish Council have been amazingly supportive, and a real shining example of a parish council that cares about its parishioners.”
Similar support has been forthcoming from Deborah’s employers, Gullivers Theme Park Resorts, who have offered to contribute to the upcoming Milton Keynes memorial event, and also showed their compassion during Deborah’s losses. Devastatingly, six months before she said goodbye to her father, her mother had passed away.
“Their ethos of a family team is far more than just words,” she said, “I am so lucky to have been surrounded by love and support at a very difficult time.”
The group is still very new and it has yet to achieve National Charity status – everything costs cold hard cash and they need to have £5000 in the bank account to be able to press ahead with that.
“We hope to achieve it in the coming months and are appealing for support – we aim to go into 2022 as a registered charity.”
As things progress, Deborah and her team hope to organise social events and gatherings so that participants can connect with others in an informal way too – a chance to reconnect with people after truly traumatic times.
“We will also be encouraging mental health providers, councils and others to work together to provide comprehensive support for anyone bereaved. And if there isn’t a Covid19familiesuk group in any areas where one is needed, we’ll create one.”
When we are dealing with grief, searching for support isn’t something that many of us find easy to do. Deborah has advice for anyone struggling: “To anyone dealing with grief right now, I say ‘reach out.’ Do not feel that you have to deal with your emotions on your own,” she insists, “There is no timeline for grief, no matter if the loss was last week, last month, or last year. We are here to help you through it, and to put you in touch with others who truly understand your pain and can offer you support and friendship.”
On June 23 Covid19familiesuk will present a memorial event for Milton Keynes.
An invitation only lantern parade will begin in Midsummer Place in the heart of town, and will light up the night as it snakes a trail down Midsummer Boulevard and through to the MK Rose where a public ceremony, Candlelight4Covid will be held.
Dignitaries will give speeches, and the bereaved will be able to leave messages for their loved ones.
The Covid-19 pillar, engraved to commemorate those who have lost their lives to the pandemic here in the new town, will be lit up at the event, which will be led by Master of Ceremonies, celebrant Michael Gurner.
The Bard of Buckingham will deliver words of reflection and hope, Milton Keynes based charity choir Musica MK will unite in voice, and music will come from singers Lissie Allsop and Jess Green. Pianist Neil Hammond will also perform.
Deborah is a Great Linford Parish resident and her parish council (GLPC) awarded Covid19familiesuk a £1000 grant to help it develop.
“The pandemic has been traumatic for so many people, and the devastation was worsened by the restrictions on funeral numbers and not being able to mix with others,” said GLPC chair Marc Whelan.
“It is great that we are starting to find some normality again, but for the many families that have been bereaved during the pandemic, life will never be quite the same.
“As a parish council we recognise the needs of our residents and believe that Covid19familiesuk is a wonderful vehicle to help people,” Marc added, “The memorial event is a chance to pay respects and support one another now that we can meet up again.”
> The MK Rose event will begin at 7.30pm and all are welcome.