Yellow hearts to remember our loved ones: Grieving families say campaign set up in memory of a grandmother who died of COVID-19 reminds people their lost relatives are ‘more than a statistic’
- Yellow hearts are appearing in some windows in Britain for sobering reasons
- Each heart represents one of the 37,460 victims lost to coronavirus in the UK
- Here five families tell JILL FOSTER why this simple but poignant emblem has given them some comfort in their grief
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Pictures of rainbows have become a familiar sight in the windows of Britain’s homes in recent months in thanks to the NHS. But now, yellow paper hearts are also appearing in some windows – and the reasons are altogether more sobering.
Each heart represents one of the 37,460 victims lost to coronavirus. The movement, Yellow Hearts To Remember, was set up by a family who lost their beloved grandmother to the virus last month. Now, it has over 5,500 members, each sharing their own personal story of loss.
Here five families tell JILL FOSTER why this simple but poignant emblem has given them some comfort in their grief…
WE CREATED THIS GROUP – BUT NOW IT BELONGS TO EVERYONE
Sheila Gompertz, a computer scientist from Birmingham, died on April 12 aged 83. Her husband of 59 years, David, 84, a retired medical scientist says:
Sheila was a very bright, intelligent lady who wore it lightly. She had a Masters Degree in computing sciences as well as a Royal Horticultural Society certificate. People would come to our house not to say hello to me but to see Sheila’s garden. She knew all the Latin names of every plant and flower.
Sheila Gompertz, a computer scientist from Birmingham, died on April 12 aged 83. She is pictured with her husband of 59 years, David, 84, a retired medical scientist
Yellow paper hearts are appearing in windows to represent the death of someone fro the home
But about six years ago she developed dementia and we moved to Birmingham to be nearer to my son, a respiratory consultant who is currently working on a COVID ward. We had a carer for a while but Sheila needed round the clock care, so 13 months ago we found a wonderful care home not far from our home.
Until lockdown I was visiting her every other day. I don’t know if she still knew who I was. We would sit together and she would cuddle my arm, so she knew I ‘belonged’ to her in some way.
The first I knew that she was ill was when the care home called me to say the paramedics were with her. My son was the only one who was allowed to see her and she died three days later. I couldn’t speak to her on the telephone or see her. There was no point as she wouldn’t have understood what was going on.
The idea for the Yellow Hearts was a joint one between myself and my very talented grandchildren. I had remembered the yellow ribbons from the Vietnam War and suggested we do something similar for those people who have died from the virus. Like so many people, I listen to the Downing Street briefings every day where they reel off the numbers and parrot the phrase: ‘These are all individual stories’ but that’s no good. People need a place where they can express their loss and tell people about their loved ones. We also need to show on a local level how many people this is affecting personally.
Sheila was a very bright, intelligent lady who wore it lightly. She had a Masters Degree in computing sciences as well as a Royal Horticultural Society certificate, her widower says
Sheila’s granddaughter Hannah Gompertz created the yellow heart group on Facebook
My granddaughter Hannah said that no one could buy yellow ribbon right now but we all have crayons and paper so perhaps we could draw hearts and put them in our windows instead. She and my granddaughter Becky had the idea to set up the Facebook group Yellow Hearts To Remember and it’s taken off. We’ve filled a hole everyone needed – a place where people can tell the stories of their nearest and dearest. Sadly there are thousands of people who have now posted their tributes.
That Facebook group doesn’t belong to us anymore but to the people who have contributed. I keep reading their stories of loss and I weep for them because they are devastating. But so many have come forward to thank us for setting it up. I do think it’s helping people know they’re not alone.
IT’S VITAL TO SHOW OTHER FAMILIES THEY’RE NOT ALONE
Hefin Williams, 80 and wife Valerie, 74, from Warrington died less than a fortnight apart. They leave four children, six grandchildren aged nine to 22. Here, daughter Nikki, 46, a neonatal nurse says:
COVID-19 is a thief. It has not only stolen our wonderful parents but it’s stolen time from us being together as a family to grieve. It’s horrific.
Mum and Dad still had years ahead of them. Dad had celebrated his 80th last year but they were so full of life and loved by everyone. Dad volunteered at the local hospital and mum had only just retired from her job as a carer. They enjoyed eating out, going to the theatre, dancing. Unbeknown to us, it may have been their downfall but we have no idea where they picked up the virus.
Hefin Williams, 80 and wife Valerie, 74, from Warrington died less than a fortnight apart. They leave four children, six grandchildren aged nine to 22
Nikki William’s now has a rainbow to thank the NHS and yellow hearts for both of her parents
Mum became ill first. She had no underlying health conditions but developed a dry cough and high temperature and was taken to hospital when her breathing became difficult. She was placed on a ventilator and it broke our hearts that Dad was left alone because they did absolutely everything together. But within a week, we had to call 999 for Dad too and the last time I saw him was in the ambulance. He died on March 30.
At his funeral on April 9, the funeral cortege drove past Warrington Hospital where he volunteered and hundreds of NHS staff applauded him. We recorded the whole thing, so mum would be able to see it when she woke up. But the following day, she passed away too. It’s devastated the whole family.
My sister and I came across the Yellow Heart page recently and it’s so important because people need to hear the stories of the thousands who have died. I’ve created a poster with two yellow hearts, a picture of my parents and the hashtag #loveforthelost and the family have them in their windows. Groups like this are vital for letting relatives know they are not alone. I believe mum and dad were the first couple to die of it but I’ve since heard of more and I’ve reached out to them to say: ‘You’re not alone. We understand what you’re going through’.
MUM IS NOT JUST A STATISTIC
Pamela Fruhmann, 60, a former secondary school teaching assistant died on April 10 at Bournemouth Hospital. Her daughter Jessica Hayder, 31, a primary school teacher says:
Mum was loved by everyone. She was strong and sociable. She’d been through so much in her life and after she’d passed away we were overwhelmed by messages from people who knew her.
She’d been battling acute myeloid leukaemia but hadn’t been in hospital since October. However at the end of March she was readmitted to the cancer ward with a sore throat and a high temperature. At first, she tested negative for COVID. But then she deteriorated and was tested positive.
Pamela Fruhmann, 60, a former secondary school teaching assistant died on April 10 at Bournemouth Hospital
Pamela had been battling acute myeloid leukaemia but hadn’t been in hospital since October
I live in Vienna and the borders were closed so I couldn’t get to her. I would Facetime and both my sister Olivia and I would sing to her, telling her we loved her and that everything was going to be alright. We didn’t want her to know we were struggling or how serious it was. Thankfully, she really didn’t have much idea of what was going on.
I’ve struggled with the thought that my mum was alone at the end. I thought back to awful scenes of people having to say goodbye to their loved ones from a distance and suddenly we were in the same situation. I even had to attend her funeral by Facetime, reading out a poem as the minister held the phone up to the mourners.
I spotted the Yellow Hearts group a couple of days ago and thought it was amazing. To see how many other people have been affected has made both my sister and I feel less alone and I feel more connected to the UK. Just reading through the stories, people have lost parents, siblings, friends and they’re all ages. We’re all uniting in this horrible situation.
Pamela is pictured with her daughter Olivia (right) and Jessica (left) at a wedding
Pamela Fruhmann died last month aged 60. She is pictured in hospital
Olivia said: ‘I spotted the Yellow Hearts group a couple of days ago and thought it was amazing. To see how many other people have been affected has made both my sister and I feel less alone and I feel more connected to the UK’. Pictured is the yellow heart in her window
Olivia shared this sweet message on Facebook to thank the founders of the page
Everyone is extremely supportive, which is so vital at a time where friends and family can’t even be together.
On the day mum died, there had been 9,875 deaths and I remember thinking: ‘My mum is one of them’. But this group helps because she’s not just a statistic. We can all put faces to the numbers.
The hearts make people realise that it’s not just the old and sick who are dying and there is a reason for the lockdown and to be socially distanced. It’s raising awareness as well as giving support.
My sister has a post-it note heart in her window. We’ve also raised £4,700 for the leukaemia ward where mum was treated. She would have loved that.
DAD WAS DEAD WITHIN FOUR HOURS OF GOING TO HOSPITAL
John Ashwell, a retired pawnbroker from Hertfordshire, died on March 27 aged 70. He leaves his partner of 30 years, Jenny, 73, as well as three stepchildren and six grandchildren. His stepdaughter Sue Williams, 50, a company director, says:
John Ashwell, a retired pawnbroker from Hertfordshire, died on March 27 aged 70. He leaves his partner of 30 years, Jenny, 73, as well as three stepchildren and six grandchildren
It’s the shock of losing John so suddenly which has hit the family so hard. You hear stories about people with COVID being on ventilators for weeks with this virus but John was taking into hospital at 11am and was dead by 3pm. I could hear the sirens of the ambulance rushing him to hospital. Next thing we get a call to say he’d gone.
John was one of those people who couldn’t sit still. He’d survived a stroke and cancer but was always on the go – he loved travelling, fishing and walking. He’d planned to go to Greece this year.
There was no indication that he was ill. He had no cough. The night before he died, he watched television, had some cake and went to bed. He was fine. But next morning he could barely breathe and was unresponsive. Mum rang for an ambulance and he was sedated.
The nurse who sat with him when he died told us that he wasn’t frightened, that wouldn’t have been aware of what was going on – which will be some comfort in the future. But we can’t get our heads around any of it.
It was my 23-year-old daughter Hannah who spotted the Yellow Hearts group. She’s a key worker and is devastated by what’s happened. Not being able to hug her or my mum or sister at John’s funeral was horrible.
Putting up the yellow hearts is a good way show how many people are being affected by this awful virus. You see people walking around in groups, thinking it won’t happen to them – but it does. The 37,000 people who have died are not just numbers – this shows how it is affecting people on a personal level. It would be nice to have some kind of permanent memorial with all their names on it one day.
BEHIND EVERY HEART IS A FACE AND NAME
Keith Sanford, a former football steward from Grimsby died on April 2 aged 57. He leaves his wife of 38 years, Eileen and three children and six grandchildren. His daughter Marie, 36, a nurse says:
Dad was the loveliest, friendliest person who would do anything to anyone. He was a joker too – the first time my in-laws met him one Christmas, he was dressed up as Santa after visiting his grandchildren. He had a fake parking ticket that he used to put on my husband’s car and he’d fool him every time!
Keith Sanford, a former football steward from Grimsby died on April 2 aged 57. Pictured, with daughter Marie
Keith is pictured with his wife Eileen and daughter Marie on her wedding day. She said he was the ‘loveliest, funniest man’
Keith, who had received an organ transplant, was in the high risk category. He is pictured with his grandchild
The window of Ketih’s children’s home is now marked with a yellow heart
He was in the ‘high risk’ category as he was a kidney donor recipient but he’d done his best to shield himself. We have no idea how he caught the virus as he was so careful. He was admitted to the Diana Princess of Wales hospital at the end of March after he tested positive and we couldn’t to visit him at all. Despite that, we were in regular contact with him via video. But as he deteriorated, he was unable to take calls anymore. The staff on the ward would try to help him but his breathing was so poor, he couldn’t really say anything.
On April 2, the hospital rang to say he didn’t have long left and I could come to see him. I raced there but can only have been in the room for 30 seconds before he passed away. I do hope he knows I was with him. Outside, I heard nurses crying. As a nurse myself, I know how much pressure there were under. To lose one patient on a ward is hard but Dad was the fourth in a very short time. It must have been awful for them.
I can no longer listen to the daily briefing because Dad is a part of those increasing numbers, so when I saw the Yellow Hearts group, I joined it because behind every heart is a lovely face and a name and a story. That’s so important for the families, to be able to share the stories of their loved ones and for us to realise we’re not alone in our grief.
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