By Ian Silvera, Account Director
As we’re bombarded with Covid-19-related facts, figures and data every day, there is a risk that the human toll of the pandemic gets lost in the numbers. That data, after all, is blunt: it only tells us whether someone has died, survived or is still at risk from the novel coronavirus. Hundreds of thousands of stories, despite the news media’s best efforts, aren’t being told, aren’t being recalled and aren’t being shared. The iconic St Paul’s Cathedral has today made a remarkable intervention to help those mourning loved ones lost as a result of the pandemic in the UK.
The cathedral has launched Remember Me, an online memorial for all faiths and none. The project has the blessing of His Royal Highness Prince Charles and has been supported by businessman and philanthropist Sir Lloyd Dorfman. Newgate Communications has also played its part in the initiative by providing pro-bono communications support for the project.
As part of our agency’s role, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oliver Caroe, the Surveyor of the Fabric to St Paul’s Cathedral (a role which Sir Christopher Wren famously held), who shared his own story.
Oliver’s mother, Mary, sadly passed away aged 81 due to Covid-19 on 5 April. A committed Christian, among many other interests, she was a GP, a family planning doctor and a police surgeon in which role she helped found a rape and sexual abuse suite for Surrey Police.
In later life, Mary became best known as a “formidable custodian” – as The Daily Telegraph put it – of Vann Garden in Surrey. The garden was designed by Victorian horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll and was adored by Mary, who became an expert on Jekyll.
Oliver, who paid tribute to the “amazing” and “remarkable” NHS staff who looked after his mother, also recalled Mary’s “huge range of friendships” which spanned the UK and the globe, describing her as a “bringer together”.
“She could appear rather formidable, but she had the most amazing way of keeping in touch and nurturing deep, lasting friendships with a vast number of people, who have not been able to say any farewell,” he said.
Due to the nature of the novel coronavirus disease, the vast majority of Mary’s family and friends were not able to see her during the final period of her storied, creative and loving life. And since her generation (of 70 and 80-year-olds) are in the government’s at-risk category, many of Mary’s loved ones weren’t able to attend her funeral. For Oliver, the Remember Me memorial will help them and others as they grieve.
“It’s really profound how the virus impacts us all in our daily lives, but especially for the unwell and the bereaved. Many people will have had no time to reflect, to give thanks or remember,” he said. “When my mum was sent off in an ambulance, we feared we would never see her again. Not having any of the closeness, face to face conversations or rituals that you would normally have in place with someone over their last days adds to the deep emotional impact. We have also found it so hard that we have not known or been able to thank the huge number of NHS nurses and doctors who cared for mum; there are so many emotions that have no outlet”.
For Oliver, the Remember Me memorial is also about a brighter, hopeful future. “Looking ahead is really important,” he said. “As a country, in due time we will have some great events of remembrance and thanksgiving. It’s also important for us that my mother’s friends and family will eventually come together and have a humdinger of a party in her honour. In the meantime, I hope the Remember Me memorial will help us all look ahead, past the immediate, painful horizon, in hope.”