“We want to help others to let mum and dad’s memory live on”

A Strabane man, whose parents died from Covid-19 within 12 hours of each other, has set up a group to help people honour those who have died during the global pandemic.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 12:32 pm

Ciaran Ward’s parents, Bredge and Owen, sadly passed away from Coronavirus in November last year. 

The couple, who were 69 and had been married for 49 years, contracted the virus and initially were at home with mild symptoms.

However, their condition became worse and first Owen and then Bredge were admitted to the Covid ward in Altnagelvin Hospital. Their conditions did not improve and they were admitted to ICU, where they sadly died within 12 hours of each other.

“Dad was taken into ICU first of all and then my Mum went in a couple of days later. They were in ICU together when they died.

“It’s hard to describe what it is like to have lost them both in this way. It is surreal.”

Ciaran, who has five siblings, said his parents didn’t get the send off that the family would have liked to have given them. However, he said they feel ‘lucky’ they were able to give them a funeral.

“Some families were unable to do that because of the Covid restriction or were restricted to four or five people at the funeral,” he said.

“We didn’t have a wake for our parents, which is a big thing, and the coffins were closed. We were only allowed in the funeral home for an hour and that sort of doesn’t give you any closure.”

Ciaran Ward came together with Brenda Doherty, the daughter of Newtownabbey woman Ruth Burke the first woman to pass away as a result of Covid 19 in the North, to discuss ways they could support other bereaved families.

“We wanted to support families who had suffered a loss from Covid, but also wanted to honour the loss felt by all bereaved families during the pandemic, no matter what the illness.

“There were support groups set up, but none of them were local, so we established a private Facebook group - Support Group for Covid Bereaved NI. Not a lot of people are aware of it yet, as it is all through word of mouth,” Ciaran said.

The group which was set up a few weeks ago now has over 70 members. The majority of them are from the North, but there are also bereaved families from England and the South involved.

“These people have been unable to meet family or friends to comfort each other after they lost a family member. The group allows them to speak to others in a similar position,” Ciaran said.

The group were inspired by a New Jersey woman, Rima Samman who lost her brother Rami to Covid.

“Rima created a Covid 19 memorial of the names of those lost during the pandemic enclosed in yellow hearts. I contacted Rima to add mum and dad’s names as New Jersey was a special place for them.

“They came to visit me in 2002 while I was working at JFK Airport and we visited New Jersey during their visit. It meant a lot that they were honoured on the Jersey shore.”

Ciaran decided to do something similar to honour local people who had died during the pandemic.

“We established another page, Memory Stones Of Love ,after speaking to Rima and her husband Travis. We were humbled to learn our experiences were so similar, Covid has no boundaries and has effected every corner of the world.

“Shortly after my sister Marie painted the first stones to remember the names of all those lost during the pandemic, whatever the illness.” 
Within just ten days, over 30 names were inscribed on stones as a token of love to remember ‘30 very special people’.

Ciaran said the stones have given people a sense of closure they were unable to have before.

“The feedback has been really good and bereaved families are really grateful that someone is doing this and remembering their loved ones.”

The group have started to take the memory stones to scenic locations in Donegal, including Fanad Lighthouse and Ballymastocker beach. They intend to travel around the North in the future so people can visit the stones.

“We know there are plans for permanent memorials to honour all those lost during the pandemic,” Ciaran said. “We would like the stones to be used alongside any permanent memorial, or if possible, to eventually go to a museum to mark this period in history.”

Ciaran said that he and his family wanted to help other bereaved families to honour their own parents.

“We know what everyone is going through and we just wanted to help others. Mum and Dad were very selfless. They would have helped anyone, so we want to help their memory live on and this is just one way to do that.”

For more visit: https://www.facebook.com/Memory-Stones-of-Love-103916488539052