Nora Dempsey is from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. She studied experimental physics at Trinity College in 1998 and then did a doctorate there. In Grenoble, she did her post-doctoral research on magnets. Her father Jim died last month, but due to Covid-19 restrictions, she was unable to attend his funeral.
Grenoble has been my home away from home since I arrived 22 years ago. The attraction of the place, beyond its great gastronomy and its wine, is its great international character, thanks to its close links with the study of sciences. Grenoble also has many hiking and skiing trails, nestled between three mountain ranges.
I still have very strong links with Ireland. I usually travel home two or three times a year and I planned to come back in April for the third anniversary of my mother’s death. Sad because I had to miss it because of the travel restrictions of Covid-19, I was not ready for the surreal experience of having to follow my father’s funeral and burial online after his sudden death at the end of April.
My father, who had Alzheimer’s disease and heart problems, had spent a few weeks in Wexford General Hospital after falling home. After his discharge from the hospital, he was transferred to a nursing home as part of a recovery plan.
Due to the pandemic, he was not allowed to receive visits, although one of my sisters was able to see him very briefly the day before he was transferred from hospital to home. He was in good shape and seemed to have taken a turn.
It was therefore a shock to receive a call from one of my sisters telling me that Dad had died of a heart attack, just nine days after moving into the retirement home. One consolation we have had is that he died peacefully, in a pleasant environment, cared for by very kind and professional employees.
Having not been allowed to visit my father in the last days of his life, my two sisters and two brothers, who live nearby, could at least have seen him lying in his room on the evening of his death. Unfortunately, this was not possible for me or another brother living in Berlin. That evening, we missed the first important rite for our father.
Many calls with family members and close friends brought us through this first cold shock. Not being able to return home to Ireland added to the frustration of being detained in Grenoble. Having respected the decree here relating to exercise (maximum one hour within a radius of 1 kilometer from your home) since the start of the lockout, the next morning I broke the rules to climb the Bastille. It is a fortress which is located almost 300 meters above Grenoble, accessible by a mixture of dirt roads and steps through woods, ramparts and tunnels. Hike on this almost deserted monument, listen to the song of the birds and take a look at the city below, it did me good.
My family in Ireland organized the obituary, the abduction and the funeral services, with the undertaker and the parish priest. The RIP.ie website really took on new importance for me during the Covid-19 crisis – in fact, it was the first time I had ever heard of or visited the site. Reading the messages left on the condolence book page helped me cry.
I heard about the man, not just the father that Jim Dempsey had been. Father Michael Byrne, parish priest of Bree, is an informed priest who has set up a live Facebook link to allow people to follow masses and online services since the beginning of the isolation of Covid-19. Thanks to this, my brother and I, family members from as far away as Australia, as well as family and friends who were much closer but still barred from traveling, were able to attend my father’s funeral virtually. . We followed the procession to the grave and the funeral, thanks to a Zoom link set up by my brother in Berlin, and the improvised filming on a niece’s smartphone.
Covid-19 stole a traditional Irish funeral from us, as did many other families. Not being there deprived me and my brother of the chance to say goodbye. About a week after my father’s funeral, I woke up one morning wondering if this had really happened.
I can’t wait to go back to Ireland when I can visit my parents’ grave, go to the church where their funeral was held and toast them with friends and family. I hope.
If you live abroad and want to share your experience of how Covid-19 affects you there, send an email to Irish Times Abroad at is[email protected]