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'It's just breaking my heart I couldn't be there'

Last week Covid-19 killed Anne Best - and her husband couldn't go to her funeral

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THE LOVED ONE: Parish Priest Gerard Alwill and undertaker Pat Blake at the graveside at St Ninnidh’s cemetery in Derrylin, during the burial of Fermanagh’s first Covid-19 victim, 72-year-old Anne Best. Photo: John McVitty

THE LOVED ONE: Parish Priest Gerard Alwill and undertaker Pat Blake at the graveside at St Ninnidh’s cemetery in Derrylin, during the burial of Fermanagh’s first Covid-19 victim, 72-year-old Anne Best. Photo: John McVitty

THE LOVED ONE: Parish Priest Gerard Alwill and undertaker Pat Blake at the graveside at St Ninnidh’s cemetery in Derrylin, during the burial of Fermanagh’s first Covid-19 victim, 72-year-old Anne Best. Photo: John McVitty

The last time retired civil servant Tom Best saw his wife of 51 years alive was when she was being placed in an ambulance and driven away from the home they shared in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, last Wednesday afternoon.

Anne (72) had been complaining of severe pains on Monday and a doctor recommended that, given the outbreak of coronavirus and her underlying health conditions, she needed medical attention. But over 24 hours later her condition worsened and she died in the isolation ward at South West Acute Hospital without ever seeing her husband again. Anne Best was the first person to die of Covid-19 in the county - and she will not be the last.

With Northern Ireland essentially under lockdown, social restrictions to fight the spread of coronavirus are leaving both the sick and the bereaved to face mortality alone. It has changed the way people here live and die.

Yesterday afternoon Anne Best was buried at St Ninnidh's cemetery in Derrylin - again, without her husband watching over her. He has been told to self-isolate at home for 14 days and so was barred from saying farewell to his soulmate. There was no funeral and only a handful of mourners watched from a distance as the coffin with a single white rose was lowered into the ground by gravediggers wearing gloves. Parish priest Gerard Alwill read prayers and undertaker Pat Blake stood soberly underneath a bright blue sky as the sun illuminated against the windows of the church behind them.

"It's breaking my heart, it's just breaking my heart that I couldn't be there when she died or at the funeral," an emotional Tom Best told The Impartial Reporter newspaper.

Clutching a photograph of his wife, Tom paced up and down his garden, a short distance from where his wife was being laid to rest.

"I am not going to break all the rules and walk up there and see her. I'm not going to do that because that would not be right; it would be selfish on all the people of Derrylin," he said.

Tom Best recalled how his wife began to feel unwell on Monday and by Tuesday her health had deteriorated.

"She said 'I feel awful, awful sick'. There was a lot of moaning… if you could hear someone groaning and moaning… and she could take pain," he said, explaining that local doctor Michelle McBrien then called an ambulance.

But he couldn't be by his wife's side - and he later received a phone call from a doctor at South West Acute Hospital informing him of the worst possible outcome.

"I got a call on the Wednesday night explaining that things were not looking good. I've been around a lot of death over the years and I can put two and two together. When it comes to your own door you just fall apart and that is a fact.

"I told the doctor whatever you are doing, you are doing your best. Then he said the next call will be the one to tell me she was gone. 'You can be expecting it' he said," explained Tom Best.

The tears rolled down his face as he tried to take in how he went from watching crime programmes on TV with his wife and making her breakfast each morning - to now being forced to mourn her loss at home alone.

"What impact has it had on me since she died? That's the big… you know, I don't know what I can do. The last time I seen her was when she was being put into the ambulance and looking down and that's it.

"It's heartbreaking, it's heartbreaking. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, that is a fact. Maybe some good will come out of it. It's just one of those things.

"It is unimaginable, I don't think we have ever faced anything like this in our time, in my 77 years anyhow. You might wonder why I wanted to cook her breakfast and do things for her. It was simple, I loved her," he said, folding the photo of the couple's wedding day in Gibraltar in 1969 and placing it back into his pocket.

"I loved her," he said.

Sunday Independent