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Out Of Touch: covid stories from WA

Joanne Micallef and Suzanne Green

Sisters, Joanne Micallef and Suzanne Green share beautiful memories of their father and the difficulties of grieving when isolated from one another in lockdown. 

Out of Touch documents the unique experiences of Western Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic that hit Australia in early 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic lead to dramatic changes in people’s personal lives, including the way families and members of the community grieve and say goodbye to loved ones. Sisters, Joanne Micallef and Suzanne Green share beautiful memories of their father and the difficulties of grieving when isolated from one another in lockdown.

Copyright © 2020 Joanne Micallef and Suzanne Green

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories and the State Library of Western Australia by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories. 

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Funded by the State Library of Western Australia. This collection of stories, documents, experiences of the COVID 19 pandemic that hit Australia in early 2020. The COVID 19 pandemic led to the declaration of a state of emergency in Western Australia on the 16th of March.

WA went into lockdown between the months of March to May, with further restrictions continuing for months after. During this time, events were canceled, schools shut down and parks became overcrowded. Thousands of individuals, businesses, communities and organizations were severely impacted as they were forced to work from home social distance and book emergency flights.

This collection, produced by the Center for Stories in Northbridge, Western Australia, explores these unprecedented effects and contributes a record of this remarkable time in history. This interview features sisters Joanne Micallef and Suzanne GREENE as they share beautiful memories of their father who passed away.


Joanne Micallef: My name is Joanne Micallef. I’m here today to talk about the story of Dad’s passing and how the COVID situation affected both the grieving process and, in the lead, up to his passing.

Suzanne Green: My name is Suzanne Green. We’re here to talk about dad’s passing, the things that were going on in our family at the same time during that very sad time and how it affected us all during the COVID situation in Perth.

Joanne: Mum and dad, the family home was where we all grew up. They then moved into a residential facility which with independent living and then increasingly we discovered that they weren’t coping; after Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, they weren’t coping with their independent living situation. And they we moved them into a full care residential facility. Which would have been around September 2018.

Suzanne: It was very difficult to watch them; mum and dad lose their independent living situation. Mum was very resistant to the care coming in. It was difficult for her and it was certainly very difficult when they did go to the aged care facility and very soon after that they were separated because originally, they were very good at the aged care in that they tried to keep them together and they even had a lovely set up. Where one was a beautiful living area and the other room was their bedroom. But when Dad started to wonder, they suggested that he had to go into the dementia ward.

Joanne: The lockdown situation with COVID did affect us all as six children in a family because we all visited regularly and we knew that Mum was grieving our father only it was the 17th of March when we were no longer allowed to go and see Mum and she’d only lost Dad just over two weeks prior to that.

Suzanne: Dad’s passing was right when everything was starting to become bad in Perth. I remember in the lead up to the funeral he passed on the 1st of March. The funeral was on the 10th. We all had this really morbid fear that Mum wouldn’t be allowed to go to the funeral and we were thinking because she was in an aged care facility. So we’re thinking how are we going to, we really worried about how we were going to tell Mum that she wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral of her partner of 65 years. We were very fortunate compared to other families very soon after that couldn’t even have a funeral. Whereas we did get to have a funeral. We had no concept of how many people would be attending the funeral.

Joanne: You know, we were still showing grief through that physical comforting of each other because we were family at that stage, although we all lived independent from each other, it hadn’t got to that stage where we all stopped seeing each other yet. We were all still seeing each other. For me, having seen what was unfolding in other parts of the world, getting led by  people who had a better handle on the actual the dynamics of the disease and how it manifests in societies and and gets transmitted. I found that quite a relief that we were told, you know, what we had to do and to stop the spread and try and, you know, protect other people in the community, although it was hard. But I think having said that, if our dad’s funeral had been affected to the point where we weren’t able to have people at our dad’s funeral and had that lovely send off, I think I would have been quite resentful.

Suzanne: I don’t think I would have been able to cope given his age. We put that in the paper and he yeah, he had all these people there that spoke so nicely to us about our dad and what an amazing boss he’d been. He didn’t retire till he was 70 and Mum did cope very well. The lockdowns were not in yet. She didn’t know what was ahead. She probably was a little bit caught up in that very, very grief stricken. Dad wasn’t talking to her a lot. The Alzheimer’s. He sat with her all day. The aged care allowed him to come out of the dementia ward and sit with her all day. But he didn’t speak towards the end, but he was there. He was just right there. And that’s what Mum wanted and that’s what she misses now.

Joanne: since they were 16 years old and my dad passed at 87 and I don’t think there’ll be many days that we’ve spent apart in those years. We were very close family and our dad was the world to us. He was an amazing man, so we were all absolutely grief stricken, not being able to go in and see Mum at that time.

Suzanne: Mum not being a confident person, very difficult to get her to sit in front of an iPad with a lady sitting on the arm of the chair and I’m trying to get her to speak and ask her questions. But I could tell she just kept looking as if to say, you’re going to leave the room because she wanted to just be alone with us. She didn’t like that. Some people would cope with that, mum. Mum never would, would have done. We also had to facilitate, unfortunately, some legal, not legal just well yeah legal to get things sorted. As far as Mum was, Dad’s executor, unbeknown to us, we didn’t realize that.

So we had to sort of get people involved where Mum was sitting the other side of a glass door. I was the other side with; with people that had papers for her to sign and we had to talk on the phone through the glass and say they upheld their end, they were not going to bend.

And, you know, I said, Can I just bring this? And fair enough. They no one was allowed through those doors. So. It was very well orchestrated that they were very helpful with because we could have left it, but we didn’t know how long it was going to go on. And so it was just a phone contact and mum was in her room the whole time.

Joanne: we were in in a limited capacity. So during the full lockdown we could do things like go to her window, like I would call her from the car park and she would come to the window and we would try and maintain a conversation which was not overly successful. She didn’t quite get that concept. We tried face time. That was also awful because she did not get the concept at all. Plus, it was facilitated by their staff. So the staff were there.

So it didn’t have any personal it wasn’t a personal conversation. It was just a very stilted, you know, contrived conversation. And she’s not a social lady. So her whole social circle for her whole life was her family and her children. She wasn’t big on friends or having any other form of social interaction. So for those eight weeks, she literally sat in her room by herself reading, knitting and wishing my dad was there.

Suzanne: I think the effect it had on the six of us, it varied from person to person. We all felt heartly sorry for her. And we’re very we were grieving our own dad and we were trying really hard to think of ways. Some of us were trying to think of ways we would send in little packages with food and photographs of new grandchildren that had been born.

I had a daughter who had a little girl was born on the 20th of March, so a few couple of weeks after the funeral and of course, unable to go, mum’s unable to come out and see a great grandchild.

There had been others born as well in January, so two great grandchildren were born in January, one being my granddaughter and one my older brother’s granddaughter. So she’d seen very little of them and was unable. And she does love babies. Her face lights up with the baby, so we would send photographs of the babies, little packages, magazines, crosswords, anything. But she got an abundance of everything. So now when you go in, now there’s just all these crossword books piled up and; and she’s got the photos everywhere, and that was all we could do.

But it, it definitely affected us all differently, which I think definitely as hard as it is to say,

Joanne: I think because we were all ordered into isolation straight after the death, we didn’t get that chance to get together as a family like we normally would and play music and have a few wines and reminisce about Dad. We were all sort of locked down into our individual homes and I just think we all had to get straight back into being an employee, being a mother, being a wife. And I don’t really think I was able to grieve the death of my father properly with my siblings around as I would have liked.

Suzanne: I would agree with that. And we couldn’t even see each other. The grieving process was very different because we; we couldn’t see anybody. I think I came over to your house once or twice and we got very, very far apart and told a couple of wines.

Yeah, cry, play some music. Yeah.

Joanne: But in a way, I actually really enjoyed Lockdown. I think everyone had that sense of, you know what, it made me slow down.

Suzanne: I will take away from this COVID time. Similar to Joe, I loved the slowing of my life. However, it’s nowhere near as hectic as Joanne’s. I’m in a different stage of my life.

Joanne: It made me reconnect with Monopoly and my children, and I actually. Really enjoyed it. So there was that aspect to it, and I don’t want to ever go back to that crazy life I was living. I want to take time to smell the roses. That’s one thing I definitely got from the COVID  time.

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