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Tributes paid to people with Covid-19 who have died, as Stormont decides on next steps for the North

A woman whose parents died from Covid-19 three days apart launched an online archive of grief stories.

Bronagh O’Connell
Bronagh O’Connell
Image: Michael McHugh via PA Images

Updated Nov 12th 2020, 3:38 PM

AN ONLINE ARCHIVE of grief has been set up to help encourage people to adhere to restrictions, as tributes were paid to a man in his 50s who died on Wednesday after contracting the disease.

Today, tributes were paid to Tony Doherty, a Belfast Health and Social Care Trust worker who died yesterday after contracting Covid-19. 

The BBC reported that two other members of Tony’s family also died recently after contracting Covid-19; the Belfast Telegraph reports that they are Tony’s parents.

In a statement released to TheJournal.ie, Belfast Trust said it was “deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague Tony Doherty”.

Tony was a valued member of our team, but more importantly, he was our friend. Tony was a larger than life figure with a heart of gold who made an instant and lasting impression on everyone he met.

“We all shared many laughs and good times with Tony and we hope these memories can provide some comfort to everyone in the days and weeks ahead.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with Tony’s wife and son, his family and friends at this very sad time. We would ask that the family’s privacy is respected,” the statement said.

SDLP MLA for Upper Bann Dolores Kelly said that the news was ”truly heartbreaking”, and gave her sincere condolences to the family.

The Stormont Executive has been deliberating for four days now on whether or not to continue with circuit-breaker restrictions beyond tomorrow, when they are set to expire.

All parties except the DUP think the measures should continue, as cases have not decreased enough to warrant a lifting of restrictions; the DUP is arguing for some restrictions to be lifted to help businesses operate.

Grief archive

Meanwhile, the Dean of St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast announced an effort to collate the tales of loss caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among the stories told is that of Bronagh O’Connell’s parents – two former teachers who died three days apart after contracting Covid-19. She said she was denied the opportunity to celebrate their “wonderful” lives during a proper wake.

“He was just put into a coffin and we never saw him again,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell “We had looked after them right to the end. They were like two packages in sealed bags because of Covid and put into their coffins, very, very sad, dreadful – it just felt empty,” she said.

Her mother did not know her husband of 60 years had died last April. She was 86 and he was 89.

“Watching them both being taken out of the house three days apart was horrific,” O’Connell said. 

She is a nurse and has seen many people die but said this was “atrocious”.

She said her father had gone downhill very rapidly after being diagnosed. Her mother followed the same trajectory but suffered more with her breathing.

They had been enormously successful in their professional lives, he rose to the head of the Stranmillis teaching college, she was a school head of art.

It is difficult to put into words the great feeling of loss.
That the whole generation above us in our family is now gone, that is overwhelming.

O’Connell urged people to wear masks and socially distance, wash their hands, the basic health messages.

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She welcomed the establishment of the record.

“The people who luckily have not experienced it can get a tiny insight into how it has affected a couple of families,” she said.

Hopefully they will realise how important it is to abide by the restrictions.

Inspired by St Paul’s Cathedral’s ‘Remember Me’ campaign, the website is collating tributes and stories of people all over Northern Ireland.

Belfast Cathedral hopes that the initiative is a continuous legacy of memories retold, which people will be able to treasure for years to come.

Dean of St Anne’s Stephen Forde said it was an opportunity for members of the public to visit Belfast Cathedral as a place to reflect on the challenges, sacrifices and loses that we have all experienced in 2020.

“Through all the restrictions of these past months, it has been so difficult to gather our memories and share our stories of those we have loved and known, but lost,” Forde said.

“’Lives Reflected’ allows us a place to share our memories and celebrate the best in the people we know,” he said.

“’Lives Reflected’ can be a place of healing for our losses, and a promise of togetherness for the future.”

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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