Demand for help from Covid-19 bereaved soars in east London

counsellors and clients

Drop In Bereavement Centre clients and counsellors meet in Barking. - Credit: Jon King

The Covid-19 pandemic has left thousands of families mourning the loss of loved ones.

In Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Tower Hamlets, more than 2,000 people have succumbed to the virus within 28 days of testing positive.

As a consequence of measures brought in to control the disease, family members were restricted from making hospital visits to their sick and dying relatives.

Many were unable to plan proper funerals, feeling not only the pain of losing a loved one, but also not being able to say goodbye on their terms.

Debbie Dowsett's partner Tony Williams died on January 7 following complications from heart surgery. He was 62.

Gill Bouquet lost her father George Hunt in May last year at the age of 97. As was the rule at the time, only 10 people were allowed to attend the funeral.

Derya Delmont was unable to visit her mother who died of Covid-19 in her native Turkey in November.

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Haris Ali's mother Amirun Nessa was 81 when she died in February, three days after testing positive for Covid-19.

"It was a shocking bit of news I didn't want to hear," Haris said. "Things happened so fast. She was the leader of the family. It was like losing the foundation."

About a month later, Haris's brother Esuf died. The "comedian of the family" who lifted his relatives' spirits was 65. 

Lorene Graham beat the virus after catching it in January - the same month she lost aunts Myrtle and Doris to the disease. 

"That was a mind-blowing thing. I'm trying to bear up. I pray everyday - God give me strength to carry on," Lorene said.

Still not feeling 100 per cent, the carer now sees life differently.

"I live every day happy to wake up and see another day. A lot of people did not survive," she said.

Umesh Pandit's father Pravinchandra died at the age of 83 in April 2020 during the first wave.

Suffering from chronic kidney disease, Pravinchandra had just started dialysis treatment. The family was unable to carry out the last rites for the practising Hindu.

"The last 16 months have been quite challenging. I lived with my dad so have found it difficult not having him around," Umesh said.

Erlinda Marcano is a senior lead counsellor at the Drop In Bereavement Centre which is based in Plaistow but supports people across east London.

The centre has set up one-to-one help as well as group meetings for those who are grieving.  

"The idea is to let clients know they are not alone and that they can help each other. We set up the group last year, since the pandemic started. 

"Everyone was confused. People didn't have anywhere to go for help," Erlinda explained.

Before Covid-19, the centre would receive about 70 referrals a year from GPs covering five boroughs.

But between March 2020 and June, it received 89 referrals in Newham. This is on top of 116 from outside the borough in the five months since February. 

However, the centre reports that funding has dropped even though demand for services has soared.

Face-to-face fundraising was halted during the pandemic, with sponsorship reduced and donations decreased, according to the centre.

It became reliant on small pockets of grant funding from organisations including East End Community Foundation, National Lottery Local Connections Fund and Tesco Bags of Help.

The government has set up a national £500million mental health recovery action plan. 

A department of health and social care spokesperson said: "Losing a loved one is a tragedy and behind every death are friends and families grieving their loss. 

"Covid-19 has put additional pressure on bereavement services and over the last year we have given more than £10m to mental health charities, as well as those who support people dealing with bereavement to ensure support is there when it is needed most."

Umesh praised the Drop In Bereavement Centre and its staff.

"It's a shame they are not getting the funding they should. What these ladies do is amazing. I was a bit apprehensive to open up to others.

"I'm a sociable person, but private when it comes to certain things. I still find it quite hard. But I've found the support very useful," he said.

On the group's impact, Derya said: "It's somewhere I don't have to hide my emotions. We're all sharing the same pain."

To donate visit localgiving.org/charity/dropinbereavementcentre

For more go to thedropinbereavementcentre.co.uk

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