National Day of Reflection: Looking back on four years since being widowed to Covid-19

February 2024

WAY Ambassador Emma Charlesworth reflects on the rollercoaster of emotions she has navigated since her husband Charlie died after contracting Covid-19 four years ago…

Covid-19? Pandemic? That was that weird thing that happened a few years ago wasn’t it? Where we all fought over toilet rolls and antibacterial wipes in the supermarket? Where we weren’t allowed to mix with family and friends? Where the world just seemed to have a slower pace for a few months? That’s what I’m talking about right? 

Memes such as the phrases I’ve quoted above started really doing the rounds in 2023. I can’t tell you how angry they made me. And in an odd way, how jealous they made me. You see you have no idea how much I wish this was my memory of the pandemic. That I was able to look back on it and laugh at how absurd it all seems now.

But my reality is so, so different. Because the pandemic resulted in me becoming a widow at the age of 39. In my late husband losing his life at the age of 45. In our daughter losing her father at the age of 10.

"I was unprepared for it. I was unprepared for the pandemic affecting my life in this way. Things like this happen on the news and not in real life."

As I was watching the news stories unfold and the heightened warnings coming the UK’s way, I simply had no idea of what this was going to mean for me. That’s not to say my family didn’t take it seriously, we did, but you just always think things like this are going to affect someone else. 

This is the time of year that I’d just like to fast forward through. When February hits, I often say that it would be good if I could just fast forward to May. Dates such as when he got his temperature, when he was admitted to ITU, when I was told to prepare for him to never come home and the day he died (amongst a myriad of other dates) are imprinted on my brain. There are countless Facebook memories of family events. The last selfie of myself and my late husband. The last Facebook post he ever made when he came down with his temperature. The posts I made updating everyone on his progress. The complete and utter hope I was clinging to. The desperation I was feeling. I relive all of this every single year. And I know that I am not alone at this time. There are so many of us in the WAY Widowed and Young from Covid group who are all doing exactly the same at the moment. Wishing that there had been a different outcome. Wishing that none of us had ever had cause to meet. Because ours really is a club that no-one wants to be a member of. 

Every widow and widower has their own story. Their own challenges to face. Their own battles and confusion to process. But for those of us who lost in the way we did; we face challenges that are different to others. That’s not to say our situation is worse, but it is different. So many of us weren’t with our loved ones when they died. We had to say goodbye via a screen or in some cases, not at all. People who have lost loved ones to something such as a terminal illness aren’t faced with having to repeatedly hear that the disease that killed their partner is a hoax. It was never real; it was just something the government made up. We’re repeatedly asked, “did they have an underlying medical condition?” as though that somehow makes it ok that they died as a result of Covid-19. 

We’ve been subjected to countless images of positive Covid-19 tests on social media with people moaning about how this now means they’ve had to change their plans and have been inconvenienced. I can’t begin to explain how much I wish that had been the case in my house. And all the while, we’re still grieving. Trying to get our heads around just how on earth this ever happened.  

Learning lessons for the future

Which then brings me onto my next point. The UK Covid-19 Inquiry. An inquiry that was set up to examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and learn lessons for the future. I have gone through a vast range of emotions since this inquiry started. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Despair. But worst of all, it’s sent me down a “what if?” route, which is something I’d managed so well to avoid. I’d always, always tried to be pragmatic about it. This was the first time in over a century that the world had seen a pandemic, and no-one would have known to deal with it. But now, I have this uncertainty hanging over my head. And that is a very tough thing to have to process. I don’t, and won’t, do politics but suffice to say the Partygate revelations and WhatsApp messages that were sent amongst the government and its advisers have not made for easy reading. The hollow apologies that have been made because it’s seen as the right thing to do. The disregard that has been shown for the bereaved and the public in general has been tough to process. 

The ITV drama Breathtaking has recently aired giving an indication into what life was like for those working in the NHS during the pandemic, but I’ve not been brave enough to watch it yet. Friends have told me that they think it would be too triggering and that it would be wise for me to avoid it. And while I’m so grateful that the amazing work of the NHS under such extremely difficult circumstances is being highlighted, it’s everywhere I look again on social media. It feels never ending. We simply cannot escape from the virus that killed our loved ones. We’re back to that fast forwarding again. Would it ever be possible to fast forward to a time when this isn’t the case? 

Honestly. I don’t know. These reminders and feeling that I can’t ever escape were brought back to me at the start of January this year. The incredibly sad news that Derek Draper, the TV presenter Kate Garraway’s husband, had died hit me so, so hard. You see, we share the same wedding anniversary, 10 September 2005. Both Derek and Charlie were admitted to ICU on the same day. 30 March 2020. I have watched in awe of all that Kate has achieved and all that she has gone through since that day. Such similarities, but different outcomes. Until the start of 2024.

I am not ashamed to say that when the news broke about Derek I sat and cried. I found it completely heartbreaking and triggering. It brought back so many feelings to the surface. The life she now faces as a widow. The challenges she is going to face. The judgement she is going to face. I’ve watched as she’s been criticised for laughing. For going back to work too soon. I simply cannot understand why people think it is ok to make such comments. When I posted on my blog Instagram and Facebook pages the day the news broke, I received comments such as “how can he die of something that doesn’t exist?” and “she’ll be milking this in a documentary soon”. I deleted them as soon as I saw them. But whatever happened to compassion? Again. A reminder of what we as widows to Covid-19 face. Different challenges. 

Sharing stories beyond statistics 

It was for this reason that when WAY asked me to join the UK Commission on Bereavement’s Lived Experience Advisory Forum (LEAF), I jumped at the opportunity. This forum worked closely with the Commission for just over 15 months to share stories and help shape recommendations that made up the report that was issued Bereavement is Everyone’s Business. This report set out the changes needed to improve bereavement support across the UK. This wasn’t an easy thing to be a part of, to take on board other people’s grief, to listen to other stories and realise just how many differences there are in the way bereaved people are treated across the UK. But it was one of the most rewarding things to be a part of. It was an honour to be on the panel at the report launch. To tell my family’s story. To watch the emotion and tears as I told of the pragmatism of my 10-year-old daughter and what life has been like for her. 

"I have always vowed that my late husband will never be a statistic of the pandemic. That his legacy will live on."

And opportunities such as the LEAF mean I am able to make sure that this happens. Being a WAY Ambassador gives me an opportunity to share his and our story. To remind people that there was so much more to the pandemic than toilet rolls, antibacterial wipes and being stuck at home. Third of March sees the fourth National Day of Reflection, organised by the charity Marie Curie. It’s a special moment to remember everyone who died during the pandemic. It’s one of the reasons I’ve written this piece now. So many people lost their lives during this time, and they deserve to be remembered. If you have a moment, I’d like to ask you to take it to think about all those who were lost and for those whose lives were never the same again.

And while there is not much positive I can take from that time; I look back now and am forever grateful that I did a doorstep photoshoot with my daughter. I consciously made a decision that I wanted us to have something to make us smile from that time. Two of those photos are still up in my house to this day. I suspect they always will be. Because to me they signify hope. That out of something so horrific, positive things can happen. And at the end of the day, hope is everything. 

You can read more about Emma’s story in her blog, which won last year’s Helen Bailey Blog Award for the Best WAY blog, as voted by fellow WAY members. Read Life is a Rollercoaster

More about National Day of Reflection

Marie Curie’s fourth annual Day of Reflection falls on Sunday, 3 March 2024. It's a special moment to remember everyone who died during the pandemic.

Marie Curie is encouraging everyone to take part in a minute's silence, share the name of who you’re remembering on the day and plan a reflective event or activity.

Find out more 

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Members can access, a telephone support line offering counselling, legal and financial support, a subscription to our members magazine, specific groups to connect with others and helpful resources to help you understand your loss.

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