Getting Through Together / Grief and loss / Finding new ways to say goodbye

 

It would be an understatement to say that the start of lockdown for Andrew Kirkup was a difficult time. The day before New Zealand moved into level four, Andy’s father James ‘Jim’ Kirkup died of a lung infection in Sussex. The week after that, Andy lost his job as a digital artist for a weekly magazine, when Bauer Media closed down. “I’d never heard of Zoom before all this,” Andy says wryly. “One week I was using it to find out I’d been made redundant, and the next week we were using it to plan a funeral.”

Jim Kirkup was 77 years old when he died, and he had been struggling with dementia. It had been touch and go a few times, and Jim was living in a rest home, but he was still able to head along to see Andy’s sister Lisa every week for lunch. It was the recurring lung infections that were knocking him back – normally he would respond well to antibiotics, but not this time. “We did wonder if it was Covid-19, but they didn’t test him. We don’t think it was, but we don’t know for sure,” Andy says.

Andy and his two sisters had a couple of weeks to plan the funeral, which had to take place entirely over Zoom because of global travel restrictions. With Andy in New Zealand, and his other sister Tania in Florida, there were many logistical difficulties to work around, including time differences for the guests taking part in the funeral.

One unexpected silver lining to losing his job meant that Andy suddenly had time to work on the slideshow for his father’s funeral, which he said helped him immensely in working through the loss.

“It was a nice process to be able to do that. He’d been unwell for a while with dementia, and so we’d almost forgotten the man we all knew and loved,” Andy says. “Going through the photos, it helped us remember who he was before, because we hadn’t seen that for the last few years. It was a nice way to send him off.”

At midday (UK time) on 15 April, Andy’s sister Lisa hosted the funeral service at her home. It was 11pm in New Zealand, and Andy, his wife Sarah, and their two kids all dressed up for the service, lit a candle, and tuned in to the virtual funeral, alongside over 100 of Jim’s loved ones. Andy, his sister Tania, and other family members all made tributes to their dad, and the whole Zoom funeral joined in for a rendition of Roger Miller’s classic King of the Road.

“He’d have liked that,” Andy grins. “He loved a bit of karaoke.”

It was very sad that they couldn’t all be together, he says, but “it was the best we could do”.

After the service, Lisa – the sister based in Sussex – walked down the road and into the village where Jim’s coffin was waiting at the local undertakers. In a lovely British twist, the undertakers’ business space used to be the local pub, where Jim had enjoyed a pint or two.

“It was like he was waiting at the bar for us, almost,” Andy says.

In the weeks since his father died, Andy has been trying to get used to the strange new daily timetable. After over a decade working in lightning-fast weekly deadlines, it’s an adjustment, he says.

“I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.’ I was doing nothing, but everything – my mind was all over the place.”

But he’s using this new-found time well, he says. “I’ve been doing a lot of baking – baking bread for the family every day, and then some walking and cycling.”

Andy and his whānau were supposed to be heading to the UK this June to see his dad, but that’s on hold for now. Once international travel is possible, he and his family will continue with their travel plans. As sad it was to say goodbye over Zoom, Andy is proud that the whānau did the best they could for their beloved dad. “He was 77 when he died, but he had 70 good years, which is a lot more than some people get.”

Tania Andy Lisa and Jim 2006 leaving for NZ party

Tania, Andy, Lisa and Jim