John and Mary Boxer should have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary this week – marking 60 years of marriage. Their family had planned to throw a big party for the whole family. They died of Covid-19 within days of each other.
“They both came from large families and were both one of seven children,” says her daughter, Elaine. “Four boys and three girls. Dad worked in telecommunications and mum was a cleaner and then a nanny at Sunderland Royal Hospital. ”
The couple had been friends since childhood, growing up in the same part of Sunderland in the north-east of England.
“My mother stopped working to take care of her mother who has lived with us and my sister all of our lives. My grandmother was 103 years old when she had to go to a nursing home after my mother’s hips deteriorated. She was 106 years old when she died.
Elaine and her sister Glynis had planned their parents’ 60th birthday.
“We were thinking about booking a room and playing my brother-in-law, who is a singer,” Elaine said. “We knew my parents loved her singing and would have loved to hear her sing. But because of the lockdown, we put our plans on hold. “
On April 10, John fell ill and was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital, the same hospital his wife had worked in. It was Good Friday. The staff found nothing wrong with him and sent him home.
But on Easter Sunday, he returned and the hospital performed Covid-19 tests. On Easter Monday, he tested positive.
“The hospital was going to send him home, but when my brother-in-law came to pick him up, he couldn’t get up,” Elaine says. “Dad had diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, but he said he felt tired and exhausted. ”
John remained in the hospital, but his health deteriorated and on Friday April 17 – seven days after falling ill – he passed away.
‘Mom stopped eating’
“I couldn’t believe it,” Elaine says. “I spoke to him on [Maundy] Thursday and he seemed to be fine – he was chatting and laughing as usual. ”
Elaine says Mary, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, initially struggled to understand what had happened.
“She stopped eating, but we blamed her on grief,” Elaine says.
A few days before her father’s funeral, Elaine went to town while her sister went to see their mom.
“My sister called me to tell me I had to come right away. Mom was in distress and her temperature had risen. She did not have a cough or other symptoms related to Covid-19 but her oxygen level was low.
Mary went to the hospital this afternoon, where she tested positive for the coronavirus. She was kept in the hospital and the family was able to view her via video call.
John’s funeral was held on Saturday May 2 at St Hilda Roman Catholic Church in Sunderland – but only seven people were able to attend.
“It was me, my partner, my sister, my brother-in-law, my father’s older brother, my cousin and his wife. We had all put our phones on silent, ”Elaine says.
“After the funeral, we returned to my sister’s house. My brother-in-law checked his phone and saw that there were some missed calls. He called the number and was taken to the hospital. He told my sister what the hospital said. ”
Mary was dead.
“We hugged each other and started to cry. We knew mom was doing badly and because of her age there wasn’t much they could do. But it was a shock that it happened on the day of daddy’s funeral.
“There were tears and sadness, but my sister and I went on autopilot. We called to let the family know. We also called the priest and he said the church had prayers for mom earlier today.
“We called the funeral directors we had just left – they couldn’t believe what had happened either. “
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Mary’s funeral was on Victory Day, May 8. At that time, the rules on attending funerals changed. Sixteen people were allowed to attend the funeral and it was posted on the internet for friends and family.
“Mom and Dad both have great families and I feel like they were cheated on at the funeral they would have had,” Elaine says.
“Mom and dad loved each other a lot and they would do anything for each other. If one were in the hospital, the other would be by their side constantly.
“They enjoyed their vacation. For their 40th wedding anniversary, they traveled to America and had a wonderful time in Florida and Las Vegas. “
The family are now planning to celebrate John and Mary’s life next year. “We were going to have a big celebration for my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary and bring the whole family together. We will have a common memorial for them later in the year.
“We need a closure,” Elaine adds. “The little solace we have is that they’re together again – they’ve always been together. ”
Additional reporting by Kris Bramwell