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AS Jean stood outside her home in Tredegar, south Wales, she watched the hearse with her husband of 60 years pulled slowly away.
Roy Prisk, a much-loved father and proud Cornishman, had died of Covid-19 aged 85 in Greenhill Manor Care Home just a few days before, leaving Jean – herself terminally ill – unable to say goodbye.
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Roy Prisk, 85, passed away on April 12, 2020 at Greenhill Manor Care Home, Merthyr, of Covid-19Credit: Supplied
Over 120,000 lives have been lost to Covid-19 in the last yearCredit: Veronika Ward
Now the mum and wife – who had been shielding for months – could not attend her husband’s funeral due to the high risk from coronavirus.
Instead, Jean wept as her daughter Claire followed the hearse with her young family, attending the funeral in her mum’s place.
Recalling the terrible day last May, Claire Welch, 52, says: “Losing Dad the way we did has hit Mum really hard.
“Because she was shielding at the time, she couldn’t go to his funeral or say goodbye.
“We couldn’t even hug Mum at this point, it was the most awful thing.”
Like Jean, thousands of families across Britain have found themselves unable to say goodbye to relatives who have tragically lost their lives to coronavirus.
Strict social distancing measures, stay at home orders and limits on funerals have prevented many from grieving.
Today marks one year since the UK entered its first national lockdown to save lives from the relentless spread of COVID-19.
Today marks one year since Britain entered a national lockdownCredit: PA
People clapped the NHS every Thursday night to thank workers on the front linesCredit: Getty
Together the nation pledged to do what was necessary in the face of an unknown virus: Stay home, protect the NHS, and save livesCredit: Getty
On the evening of Monday, 23 March 2020, Boris Johnson delivered this message to the nation: “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction — you must stay at home.”
In measures not seen in living memory, school doors swung shut, careers ground to a halt, swings were padlocked in playgrounds – and friends and families were barred from visiting each other.
Together the nation pledged to do what was necessary in the face of an unknown virus: stay home, protect the NHS, and save lives.
Memory Trees – Tributes to loved ones
As part of the Forest of Memories, founders Salmaan Nasser and James Young have created a website called Memory Trees where families can share tributes to loved ones they’ve lost to Covid.
For each tribute on the Memory Trees platform, a tree will be planted in that person’s name free of charge.
On the first anniversary of lockdown, we share some of the dedications families have made to relatives who have died of the virus.
‘Forest of Memories’
The government’s stay-at-home order undoubtedly prevented many fatalities.
But on the anniversary of the first lockdown, Britain has suffered a sobering death toll of 126,284 – the largest in Europe.
Excess deaths since last March stand at over 140,000 – double the fatalities seen in the Blitz in World War Two – and may take into account the wider toll of lockdown measures on people suffering from mental health issues and other conditions.
Behind each figure lies a person’s life, and many stories left untold.
Who were they? What did they stand for? And who have they left behind?
Now a bold initiative plans to commemorate every life lost in lockdown by planting over 140,000 trees across the UK.
Founded by close friends Salmaan Nasser and James Young, the Forest of Memories hopes to offer solace to families across the UK and celebrate the lives of the ones they’ve lost.
Salmaan Nasser, 40, started The Forest of Memories after losing his job in the pandemic
Families can share an online tree to the relatives they have lost, a tree will then be planted free of charge in that person’s nameCredit: Veronika Ward
Forest of Memories Director James Young, 40, hopes the project will become a symbol of recoveryCredit: Veronika Ward
Alongside the physical trees, relatives can share digital tributes to loved ones on a website called Memory Trees.
For each tribute shared, a tree will be planted in that person’s name free of charge.
With the support of local councils, the National Trust and the Woodland Trust, Salmaan and James aim to create a network of forests across the UK, enabling families to visit their relatives’ tree near to home.
Forest of Memories director James Young, 40, says: “Through this project, we’ve actively asked people to dedicate trees to their relatives free of charge.
Peter Owen, 77 – London
Peter’s daughter Rebecca Kummer, 42 says: “Peter Owen was a wonderful husband of almost 50 years.
“He loved his family, gardening, swimming, history, the Wales rugby team and doing voluntary work in his local area.
“He is very much loved and missed by Jo, Becky, Lucy, Sophie and Leo, and all the rest of his friends and family.”
“People have been sharing really heartfelt and positive messages.
“While I’ve been fortunate not to lose a family member to Covid, I’ve experienced the same trauma as everyone else has in lockdown.
“I lost my job and have gone through homeschooling and the uncertainty like so many.
“This project is a way for us all to move forward and to find a symbol of recovery.”
Claire Welch and her mum Jean, 85, are just one family who have found solace through the plan.
Jean Prisk, 85, has found solace through the Forest of Memories after her husband Roy, 85, died of Covid-19
Many have found themselves unable to process the losses and strains of the past yearCredit: EPA
After Roy’s death on April 12, 2020 and without the closure of a funeral ceremony, Jean has struggled to process her loss.
While generous support from her husband’s care home and her community has helped, the idea of dedicating a tree in her husband’s memory has offered Jean a sense of hope.
Her daughter Claire, an author and boutique owner from Tredegar, South Wales, says: “When the idea of the Memory Trees was first mentioned to Jean, she jumped at the chance.
“The dedication has given her comfort and solace for all the heartbreak she’s been through and offered her hope that Roy’s memory will live on.”
Luigi Ciesco, 79 – Epsom, Surrey
Luigi’s daughter Elena Ciesco, 48, says: “My dad Luigi was such a wonderful man. He was born in Italy in 1941 and was married to my mum for 57 years.
“My father loved his garden, so to be able to plant a tree for him in the Forest of Memories – such a beautiful place of tranquillity and reflection – somehow takes away some of the trauma of Covid and replaces that pain with something that’ll grow and keep growing in nature where he loved to be.
“A forever memory for a beautiful soul. He would have loved that.”
Last week, Claire and Jean attended a socially distanced ceremony at the National Trust in Runnymede, where James and Salmaan plan to plant their first ‘Forest of Memories’ to commemorate the lives lost in the pandemic.
Together the mother and daughter tied a yellow ribbon with Roy’s name onto a tree branch alongside hundreds of other dedications from the Memory Trees platform.
Claire added: “The memory trees mean the world to mum.
“She felt that going to Runnymede last week gave her some closure.”
The Forest of Memories tied hundreds of yellow ribbons with the names of people who had lost their lives to Covid onto a tree at the National Trust’s site in Runnymede last weekCredit: Veronika Ward
Founders James and Salmaan hope the Forest of Memories will provide similar closure for families across the country who have been unable to mourn their loss due to the pandemic’s restrictions.
A new survey by charity Marie Curie has found that 56 per cent of grieving families have struggled to process their relative’s death in the last year.
James and Salmaan – who both lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic – want their network of forests to be a way to start that healing process.
Dad-of-two James Young, 40, says: “The grieving cycle for the last 12 months has been so broken, people have not been able to have any closure.
Orita Godoy, 75 – South London
Orita’s daughter Alejandra Godoy, 53, says: “The Forest of Memories is helping us as a family to know that mum lives on through this tree and that in some ways her legacy will continue.
“It is so important that she’s remembered as a person very much loved and not just a number or statistic.”
“Each of those numbers stands for a person who has a family who has friends and a community around them.
“So we wanted to create a community-based project to bring people together again.
“The people who have died have not been forgotten. The public needs to know that.”
Salmaan, who also has two young kids, agrees: “Every culture has a way of grieving, but the pandemic has stopped us from being able to use the mechanisms we normally use to try and move through the grief cycle.
Roy Weeks, 73 – Berrow, Somerset
Roy’s wife Shelly, 48, says: “It would have been my silver wedding anniversary on 6th April this year and Roy’s birthday on the 8th.
“Sadly it will be a year since his passing on the 11th April.
“We were together for 30 years.”
“We wanted to provide that mechanism, however small it may be.”
With guidance from the Woodland Trust, the organisation will plant broadleaf trees, like oak, ash and beech trees, that are native to each local area, to create new spaces where people can visit and reflect.
Karren Fraser-Knight, 56, lost her twin sister Paula to coronavirus last year when she was just 55 years old.
Now she hopes dedicating a tree to her beloved sister will help her memory live on.
Karren Fraser-Knight lost her twin Paula Greenhough to the virus – she was just 55 years oldCredit: Supplied
Karen says: “Cemeteries can be quite sad places, especially for children, but a forest is a living place – it can be a place for children to share in.
“The forest will enable Paula’s memory to live on for future generations and for our family to have a beautiful place to visit.”
A National Day of Reflection
As today marks the first anniversary of lockdown, the Forest of Memories has partnered with Marie Curie to hold a National Day of Reflection to highlight the toll of the pandemic.
At noon, a minute’s silence was held for those lost.
This evening public buildings will be lit up to pay tribute to those who have died.
Forest of Memories founders James and Salmaan aim to start planting trees towards the end of this year.
Brian Mcfadden, 74 – London
Brian’s granddaughter Kelly Allbury, 37, says: “The Memory Trees and Forest are such a beautiful, inspiring and reflective place for everyone to plant memories and to try and heal.
“We lost a devoted, husband, dad, grandad, grandpa, son and friend to COVID-19.
“As a family, we are devastated like many others. I truly believe that people will be able to come and visit the tress to find some comfort – if only for a little bit.”
As the vaccine effort continues to lead Britain out of lockdown, and the planting season begins, they believe autumn will be a time for recovery.
James says: “We are at an important part of our nation’s recovery, and although the virus hasn’t completely been removed from our daily lives, offering something tangible – a tree – is a fitting tribute to impacted individuals, their families and communities.”
With support from numerous MPs and help from the National Trust and Woodland Trust, the Forest of Memories and its sister site Memory Trees will offer thousands of Brits a chance to reconnect in a small way with their loved ones.
Catherine Ann Carew, 76, known to loved ones as ‘Rene’ died of coronavirus last yearCredit: Supplied
Lynn Howe, 44, from Harlington in Bedfordshire, has dedicated a tree to her mum Catherine Ann Carew, 76, who she lost to the virus last year.
Lynn reflects: “It’s hard to put into words what the forest of memories means.
“How can you put into words the devastation you feel at losing a loved one in a pandemic?
“To be able to acknowledge my Mum as an individual, a person that left behind a family who loved her and friends that miss her means something.
“Unless you have walked in our shoes you will not know how much this means.”