Losing My Grandad During a Global Pandemic (and Reflecting on My Grandma’s Passing 20 Years On)

Grandad and me at his then-local JD Wetherspoon in April 2019

Warning: This is a very emotional blog post, so grab your tissues!

My mum and Grandad at Tintern Abbey, Wales, in April 2015

Saturday 27th June 2020 started out just like any other Saturday since the lockdown began. I had a lazy morning, went to pick up a prescription and go shopping in my local Boots chemist/pharmacy, did some video editing and had a Skype video call with my parents and my sister. Late that night when I checked my Facebook, I was shocked and saddened to see that my 90-year-old maternal grandfather (who was my mum’s dad and I had always called Grandad, but he was known as Big Grandad to his great-grandchildren) was admitted to hospital with a major stroke. It was hard to believe that on this day the previous year, my grandad, my parents and I had participated in a quiz that my uncle Ian had hosted during a holiday to South Shields and surrounding areas. Upon seeing the news, I lay awake for quite some time and feared the worst so much so that I didn’t go to bed until just gone 1am the following morning. 

Grandad with my cousin Hayley’s daughter Faye in August 2013

My Sunday also started out in a lazy way. I was planning to film a video for my YouTube channel on that day, but I decided to postpone my filming in light of the news about my grandad. The rest of my Sunday consisted of collecting some Amazon parcels from my local pick-up point and cooking. My dad sent me an update about my grandad over Facebook Messenger that I prefer not to share in this post.

Grandad, Mum and my sister Penny at my cousin Kathryn’s son William’s 3rd birthday barbecue party in August 2017

On the Monday, I chose not to volunteer from home for my agency because I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next with my grandad. Late that night, my sister Penny messaged me on Facebook and told me that while my grandad felt uncomfortable and the medical staff thought he was going to die, they were giving him very good care and making him feel as comfortable as possible. This update further sent me on a journey into the unknown. 

My dad and Grandad at Grandad’s then-local JD Wetherspoon in December 2014
Grandad, me and Dad at Tintern Abbey, Wales, in April 2015

I also decided not to volunteer on the Tuesday and I’m glad I didn’t. At just gone 11am (which is the time I normally start my volunteering), I was lying on my sofa whilst still in my pyjamas with my usual morning cup of peppermint tea on my coffee table and Duran Duran’s The Reflex playing on Spotify on my phone. My mum sent me a message on Facebook to inform me of the worst. My beloved grandad had passed away earlier that morning. I immediately burst into tears upon reading the message – I couldn’t believe that I had lost a loved one during a global pandemic. He actually died 20 years and 13 days after my maternal grandmother’s passing. I then went on to share the news to the rest of my family, my friends and my followers on social media and by e-mail to the support staff at my block of flats. As I was typing the e-mail, I received numerous notifications from my dad audio calling me on Facebook Messenger. I became very overwhelmed and had a mini-meltdown because I felt that I couldn’t answer his call and e-mail the support staff at the same time (I don’t use the audio and video call features on Facebook Messenger anyway because I’m more used to using them on Skype, but I already knew what my dad would have said). After having received the missed call message in the conversation between my dad and me, I messaged him to explain why I couldn’t answer his call. He then replied to say that he understood why. I then sent a text message to my paternal grandmother to say that I was thinking of her and my paternal grandfather at this difficult time. I even thought of texting my friend from down my street about the news, but I didn’t because I was worried she wouldn’t reply (she never replied to the last text I had sent her in May). I thought that my grandad’s death came very suddenly while my grandma’s death from lung cancer came more slowly. 

My grandma and me on the day of my christening in August 1987

One thing I was extremely grateful for during this difficult time was the flexibility of my volunteering role. When my grandma died, I had no choice but to go to school because I was only 13 at the time. Upon going to school the week after the weekend she passed away, I found it hard to concentrate. I initially forgot to thank my school’s SENCO for my Circle of Friends prize, which made my in-class teaching assistant think I was being ungrateful. My teaching assistant also thought I was being rude in class when I didn’t realise it and she even warned me that she’d remove me from the classroom if I got worked up once more (I was so afraid of this warning that I tried my hardest to remain silent for the rest of the lesson and I felt that I couldn’t tell her about my grandma). When the time was right, I finally told my teaching assistant that my grandma had died and she understood why I hadn’t been feeling myself at school that week. Having my own flat made it a lot easier for me to have as much space to myself as possible whilst coming to terms with my grandad’s loss. 

My uncle Andrew, my uncle Ian and Grandad at Andrew and Grandad’s then-local JD Wetherspoon in April 2019
Grandad and Andrew’s old garden in April 2019

From the night of my grandad’s hospital admission to the day he died, I experienced the mixed emotions of anger, fear, sadness, overwhelm, guilt, regret, concern and confusion. While I prefer to keep why I was angry, concerned and confused to myself and I already explained why I was scared, sad and overwhelmed, I felt guilty and regretful for not spending as much time with my grandad in his later years as I did when I moved from Newport to London in 2006. He and my uncle Andrew moving to outside of Newcastle last year was another reason I hardly saw him in his later years, although I was content to have seen him a few times in the last full year of his life whether it was helping him and Andrew prepare for their move or spending some time with him during my trip to South Shields. Little did I know that my last full day of my trip would also be the last time I ever saw my grandad in person and I only ever phoned him once since he moved to thank him for the last ever birthday card and cheque he ever sent me this year. Events such as my voluntary role temporarily becoming a paid role and the COVID-19 pandemic had prevented me from seeing him in person ever again.

Screenshot of the chapel where Grandad’s funeral took place on Obitus.

Due to the pandemic, I decided not to attend my grandad’s funeral in person (I didn’t attend my grandma’s funeral either because my mum was worried I would say something inappropriate there without me realising it due to my autism) because I didn’t want to travel further than necessary (I had already missed out on staying with my family in Newport for my mum’s 60th birthday, Easter and my 33rd birthday as well as my 2000s music-themed adult weekend at Butlin’s Bognor Regis), I didn’t want to risk my chances of potentially catching the coronavirus (like some people in the kind of news we get on TV, on the radio, in newspapers and online could possibly have done) and only a certain number of people were allowed to physically attend the funeral. It took place on Friday 10th July 2020 (the day this post was published) and it was even streamed online via Obitus (a website where people can watch live streams of funerals). Although the service was only about half an hour long, I saw some familiar faces in attendance; my cousin Kathryn read out a lovely poem; some lovely music was played; and a bible passage about fishing and The Lord’s Prayer were read aloud. My grandad will be cremated just like my grandma was. 

My great aunt Val (Grandma’s sister), who died in December 2019, Grandad, Grandma and me when I was a child.

I will always remember my grandad for his sheer generosity; his caring nature (such as comforting me after I had a bigger meltdown in a fish and chip shop, which made me think he had an excellent understanding of my autism); his daft sense of humour; and his fondness of fishing and ballroom dancing. I will always remember my grandma also for her sheer generosity; her luminous beauty; her good taste in brightly coloured clothing; her intelligence; and being an excellent cook. 

Roy William Rook. 25th February 1930 – 30th June 2020. RIP. 

Pauline Rook. 30th July 1936 – 17th June 2000. RIP. 

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