A grieving sister who has been in hospital for almost a month was given the chance to pay her last respects at her sibling’s funeral by attending the ceremony virtually, thanks to support from Walsall Healthcare staff.
Iris Gibbs, aged 90, has been recovering at Walsall Manor Hospital after suffering chest pains and pneumonia.
But she was still able to ‘attend’ the service of older sister Dorothy Macdonald at Streetly Crematorium, supported by Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust’s Patient Experience Team. She watched the ceremony in Ward 7 on one of the trust’s patient i-Pads accompanied by Reverend Anthony Swaby, Trust Chaplain, who has supported several patients at virtual services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dorothy died of natural causes aged 94 at her home in the Shetland Isles, passing away peacefully in her armchair overlooking the sea. The sisters were very close and chatted four or five times a day – even on the day of Dorothy’s sad passing. Two days later, Iris, who called her sister ‘Dolly’, was admitted to hospital.
Dorothy’s son Alan Macdonald, 64, explained: “It must have been an awful shock to Iris as she had only spoken to my mum earlier that day and then I had to ring her to tell her she’d died.
“I think it’s just amazing that she could attend mum’s funeral virtually because she wouldn’t have been able to be there otherwise. When staff at the hospital told me about it, it took a load off my mind and when I explained to Iris what they could do, it was like a burden had been lifted. I’m grateful and very thankful to the hospital for arranging it.”
Iris, the family’s oldest surviving member, was pleased to be able to pay her respects. “I was very grateful to attend the funeral,” she said. “Dolly was a wonderful sister who I was very close to. It was a very good service.”
Rev Anthony said: “I do my best to support patients and bring comfort, peace and togetherness when they can’t be with their families and we have done various services from the wards.”
Despite having made a new life for herself some 678 miles away in the Shetlands, Dorothy wanted her funeral in Walsall; her late husband Roy, 79, was cremated at Streetly in 2005. Covid restrictions on travel meant it was logistically extremely difficult for Alan to attend the service, but he appeared on a screen in the chapel to read out his pre-recorded eulogy at the ceremony officiated by Reverend Siobhan Bridge.
Dorothy and Alan had planned the service and chose two songs to be sung at the service, When You Were Sweet Sixteen by Irish folk band The Fureys and Valentine Moon by Sam Brown.
Dorothy went to live with Alan, her only child, in North Roe, the tip of the Shetland mainland, following the loss of Roy, a retired property manager. Up until then, Dorothy and Iris lived near to each other in Aldridge, and before that in Great Barr. The sisters became even closer when they were widowed, after Iris lost her husband Ron, who she ran a dance school with in Aldridge, six years ago. In recent years Dorothy would visit Iris for a week three times a year.
As well as Iris, Dorothy is survived by her two grandchildren – Alan’s son Joseph, 36, a lecturer in salmon farming who was born in Walsall and is now based in the Shetlands, and daughter Ondine, 35, a nurse who was born in Edinburgh who has now moved from London to live near Alan.