It was the ‘calm and carrying on’ British public, not COVID-19, that ended my mother-in-law’s life

It was the ‘calm and carrying on’ British public, not COVID-19, that ended my mother-in-law’s life

Open access article

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

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Despite pleas from political leaders to stay at home, people continued filling pubs, beaches and supermarkets stripped of their provisions, exacerbating the spread of the virus

Older people are ‘supposed’ to pass away before their children — that’s the way of the world. But, during this pandemic, many are dying before their time.

On 21 March 2020, my mother-in-law died from COVID-19.

Just a few days before, The Pharmaceutical Journal team and I, like many people across the UK, began working remotely in an effort to limit the transmission of the virus.

This was no big deal, large swathes of the British populace seemed to think. We’re working from home, but we can still invite family members over, see that concert or go for those birthday drinks. For many, everyday life was uninterrupted.

We did what we British do best: we kept calm and carried on. We assumed that if you were relatively young, and had no underlying health issues, everything would be fine.

Our government’s initial response to the threat was weak. And the so-called leader of the free world, Donald Trump, downplayed the severity of what he called the “China virus”.

Then the virus came to the West. It did not discriminate by ethnicity or skin colour. It had no language barrier; no class exemptions. It just came with impunity.

Italy was hit hard and soon became the epicentre of the pandemic. But, in the UK, still, we carried on. All the while, this threat had breached our shores and entered our cities, streets and homes.

Home was supposed to be a safe place, but with the death toll rising, keeping calm was not so easy for me. Despite pleas from our leaders to stay at home, every night the news showed our nation still filling pubs, beaches and supermarkets stripped of their provisions.

We all have a part to play in this fight. Some of us will have paid a big price already

All the while, we ignored the fact that it was us who were responsible for our loved ones dying — it’s here that I come back to my mother-in-law.

My partner and her siblings were so careful, knowing that contracting any virus could be life-threatening for their mother.

In her home there were restrictions on visitors. The house was as sterile as it could be, and self-imposed isolation was in place long before prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on social distancing.

While those at risk were taking precautions, the young and healthy acted as if they were immune, enjoying their last hurrah in the crowded bars before they closed.

They may not have been at risk, but thousands of people like my mother-in-law were.

Those nonchalant citizens — who refused to stay at home, who defied social distancing instructions, who flouted general hygiene rules — carried the virus from pub to wine bar, from bar to corner shop, from shop to tube station, from tube to home.

Home to my mother-in-law.

How did it get into mum’s sanctuary, despite our caution and our efforts to isolate her? Had we brought it home on a loaf of bread from the busy supermarket? Did it come in through the coat of her caregiver? Did it get in our hair when we were waiting for the bus? Or did it stick to our trousers while we were sitting on the tube?

We don’t know, and it’s only now that we can think about it. Because once she showed symptoms, everything moved so fast.

On day one, she was admitted to hospital. On day two, she stopped responding. By day three, she was gone.

All I can do now is be there for my partner. Hold her close when she cries, absorb her rage when she is angry, be rational when nothing makes sense and show her love when the one she loved the most watches from above.

We all have a part to play in this fight. Some of us will have paid a big price already. We must learn, adapt and carry on in the most responsible, caring and loving way we know how.

My love goes out to those fighting this pandemic — the people going out to care for us, feed us and keep us safe. I am thanking them by staying inside. By not being an unnecessary burden to a struggling system.

By not giving legs to a virus that can’t walk.


Wayne McLean, art editor

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, It was the ‘calm and carrying on’ British public, not COVID-19, that ended my mother-in-law’s life;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207880

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