The last video clip the Delany family has of their mother, Eileen, shows her sitting up in bed, hair combed perfectly around her face, with a bed sheet pulled around her frail body.
Are you saying goodbye to them?” asks the nurse with the camera while gently stroking Eileen’s arm.
“No, not yet.”
It wasn’t time to say goodbye but a few days later on April 10th 2020, Eileen Delany died in the Oisin Ward of St Mary’s Nursing Home in Phoenix Park, Dublin.
Two days earlier, while the facility was dealing with one of the deadliest outbreaks of the Covid-19 pandemic, she was swabbed for the virus.
Her medical notes say the sample, which later tested negative for Covid-19, may have been “inadequate” because the 89-year-old was struggling to open her mouth. she died without her loved ones at her bedside, the cause of death being “upper respiratory tract infection”.
Eileen is not included in the names of the 20 St Mary residents who died from Covid-19 in the first wave. Her family believes she should have been retested after her death and say they will never know the truth about what happened to her mother.
Almost two years after her death, they tell her story.
The iconic Clery’s in its heyday on Dublin’s O’Connell Street was Ireland’s largest retail outlet. It was famous for its large storefronts, beautifully curated by a window designer who was ahead of her time – Eileen Delany.
Glamorous and fun, with a dedication to fashion, she became known for her eclectic style and creative flair. It was the 1950s, a time when women’s place was in the home, but even then, Eileen was among the few who broke with form.
“She had a wonderful career as a window dresser,” said her daughter Bernadette Irish Independent.
“She was very fashionable, had a great sense of fashion
style and was fun and creative in her approach to what she did.
“She worked at Clery’s with Dad before she married, and after she got married, her world became her family. My father and she had a very happy life together.
“They were very united and we were a very close family. Mum went back to Clery’s work part-time and was there throughout our childhood.
The Delany family – Eileen, Noel and their four children Noel, Louise, Bernadette and Helen – lived in a spacious semi-detached house on Cedarwood Road in Glasnevin.
Eileen’s husband owned a butcher shop and the family was well known locally.
“We had a beautiful life and we had a beautiful childhood,” Louise said. “In her later years, Mama became an artist.
“She was an excellent, beautiful painter. She loved her career, she loved her family, she loved her life. She was a very optimistic, happy, positive person and she was always in a good mood.
“We had a very open house, welcoming and sociable. And she was very popular. Unfortunately, in her later years, after my father died, she lived alone.
“She lived for her garden and worked in the garden all the time. Everyone knew Eileen’s garden. She had a nice home.”
After Noel’s death in 2006, Eileen lived alone in the family home for as long as she could.
The diagnosis of dementia took its toll and after her children took turns caring for her and Bernadette moved in with her family, it was decided to find a suitable nursing home.
“It was a heartbreak for all of us,” Bernadette said.
“It’s very upsetting to leave your mother in a nursing home. Mom was at a point where she could no longer be cared for at home.
“She had been doing respite care at St. Mary’s and we made an exception for this location because they had their own GP.
“This was critical for us because at no point did we want mom to go to an ER. As a family, we cannot stress this point enough.”
On 6 March 2020 St Mary’s, a publicly run facility, banned all visitors and took over management from Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI).
Four days later, the state’s chief physician, Dr. Tony Holohan questioned the closure of care homes to visitors and the social impact of such restrictions “before they’re really necessary”.
St. Mary’s reversed its decision following comments from Dr. Holohan and allowed visitors in and out of the country for seven days.
On March 18, the rules were changed again, with an internal memo to staff stating: “A ban on visits will be reinstated for all residents.”
“There was a lot of confusion with Covid and visits,” Bernadette said. “St Mary’s closed, then reopened. To be honest, I was very nervous about the whole thing. It was St. Patrick’s Day, the day the restrictions were announced, and I decided not to go inside. Louise went to Mum’s instead.’
The visit would be the last time Eileen’s family would see them face to face.
“I remember telling her the flu was coming,” Louise said. “The staff was very good and told me not to worry they would take care of her. They were good, but she didn’t understand anything at all.”
While the country went into lockdown, the Delany family left their mother in the care of staff at St Mary’s.
“It was chaos from that point on,” Bernadette said. As her siblings’ nominated person to make calls to the nursing home for updates, Louise was responsible for keeping the family informed.
“We didn’t want to call and harass them all,” Bernadette said.
“We knew they had enough to do, and we tried to be respectful.”
In the days that followed, the Delany family said communication with the home was frustrating.
“There was panic,” Louise said. “You could feel it when you rang the bell. You got through and were then put through to a fax line that kept ringing. It was awful.”
On the occasions that she did come through, Louise was assured that her mother was in a good mood and at ease.
“Every time I called, they were like, ‘Oh, Eileen’s grand, your mother’s grand. She’s sitting up,'” Louise said. “That was until the penultimate day before her death.”
At this point, the virus was already spreading in the nursing home.
St. Mary’s staff began voicing concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, with some even appealing for PPE donations on social media.
In an email dated March 26, employees were instructed on the “prudent” rationing of PPE. “Unnecessary use of PPE will deplete supplies needed as the number of people with the virus increases,” the email said.
Meanwhile, the Delany family were aware that there were staffing issues due to Covid-19.
“When the staff replied they were quite honest and said there was a lack of staff. The feedback we got was that mom was fine.”
In the medical records the family received after their mother’s death, an April 2 entry indicates that the doctor was notified of “Eileen’s occasional hacking cough.”
On April 3, it was noted that she “remained lethargic all day.” The family knew she was on an IV.
On April 5, Eileen’s family was informed that there were positive and suspected cases at her mother’s ward. Eileen was waiting for a swab, which medical records say was taken on April 8th. However, it was noted that “the sample may be insufficient because the patient did not open her mouth well”.
“I called around five o’clock on April 9 and got through,” Louise said.
“They actually said, ‘Would you like to talk to Eileen?’ I said I’d appreciate it if you weren’t too busy. Mom said, ‘I got a fright’. I said, ‘Mom, don’t worry, I love you and everything is fine’ or something like that.
“They said they thought she was scared of them in PSA. Anyway, they told me not to worry, she was great.”
The next morning around 1am, Bernadette received a phone call telling her that Eileen had died.
“The doctor said he pronounced Mum dead of an upper respiratory infection,” Bernadette said.
“I said, ‘So my mother had Covid?’ And he said very politely that your mother died of an upper respiratory infection. At 5pm we were told she was fine and by 1am she was dead.
“In between I remembered we brought mum in there just because there was a GP, no call was made to us to say she was worse, not well, your mum has a bad one turn, prepare yourself.”
The Delany family buried their mother on April 14. The hearse drove down Cedarwood Road, where her neighbors came out to pay their respects. In front of the family house, Bernadette’s husband played the clarinet.
“The restrictions meant it went straight to the grave and only 12 of us were allowed. Louise is a celebrant, so she conducted the service. It was a very private matter,” said Bernadette.
You and Louise are pragmatic.
“She was 89, so we know she didn’t have much time left,” Bernadette said.
“We accept her death was during Covid, a terrible time for so many, but we wish we had been given more information because we were told mum is and is fine when Louise called. We also deeply regret not insisting that she be retested for Covid.”
The women play Eileen’s video, a valuable recording for which they are grateful.
“I adored my mother,” Louise said. “She kept me updated. Losing a parent is hard for anyone and we know we’re not the only ones who have gone through it.
“We would have just wished for more communication and more transparency. How many people died like our mother? Should she be included in these official Covid numbers? Will we ever know?”
A spokesman for the HSE said it was not possible to comment on individual cases.
A statement added: “The cause of death will be determined and recorded by the coroner.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/covid-stories-how-many-people-died-like-mum-will-we-ever-know-what-happened-41463962.html Covid Stories: ‘How many people have died like mum? Will we ever know what happened?’