"I held her hand through a plastic glove with a visor over my face and in full protective gear.
"I told her she was loved, that she touched many people’s lives. And I told her she had been a great mother. She said she loved me and she told me to ‘keep up the good work’.”
With a visor over his face and swaddled in full protective clothing and gloves, a son held his mother’s hand one last time as they said their final goodbyes in a care home.
And Dermot Sreenan says that, when it came to 88-year-old Brigid’s funeral, he was only allowed a 10-minute graveside service.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the burial service in Naas, Co Kildare, on Wednesday was private with just 11 people present.
In all, there was Dermot, his wife Aileen, some neighbours, friends of his mother, the priest, a gravedigger, and two undertakers.
But on the day, the funeral director drove Bridget’s hearse to the bottom of the estate where her family had all grown up.
He then drove slowly back up past all the neighbours standing respectfully in a guard of honour outside their front doors.
They bowed their heads and crossed themselves as it slowly passed them.
“It was incredibly difficult,” he recalled of the moment he last spoke to his mother. “I held her hand. I squeezed her hand. I held her hand through a plastic glove, with a visor over my face and in full protective gear. I told her she was loved, that she touched many people’s lives. And I told her she had been a great mother. She said she loved me and she told me to ‘keep up the good work’.”
His last image of his mother is of her in bed in the isolation wing of the care home looking out the window: “It was open and there was this lovely light shining into the room. She was looking out at the light. You could tell she had been so looking forward to another spring.”
Brigid, who tested positive for Covid-19 on April 2, had gone into the care home for respite after coming out of hospital in January. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.
Dermot said he asked friends and family who could not attend her burial to wear something purple to remember her, as it was her favourite colour.
“I’ve since received hundreds of photographs and messages coming in from all over the world, including places like Milan, UK, Nova Scotia, Canada, and California,” he said.
“As well as wearing purple, people also spontaneously decided to have ice cream in her memory. She loved eating ice cream.”
He said his mother used to refer to the isolation wing as ‘the conclave’ — a reference to the secluded gathering of cardinals electing a pope.
“On Skype calls, she used to joke: ‘I’m talking to you now from inside the conclave’. She’d have a bit of a laugh about that,” he said.
“There was another with a friend of hers who would be talking about how she had already started work on a tunnel to get out of the care home. They had this whole thing going on, joking around was like Colditz almost.”
In recent years, he had posted pictures of himself and Brigid enjoying coffee or icecream on Facebook.
The pictures were shared among hundreds of friends and relatives all over the world, and she had developed something of a cult following: “She had a big impact on people’s lives. My friends told me our pictures lit up their lives. They also said they reminded them to keep in touch with their own mothers and fathers.”
He said these memories will form the basis of a future celebration of her life.
Weeks before she died Brigid Sreenan’s family found it hard to reach her at the care home she was in for a Skype call.
This was because she was often too busy chatting to other residents.
But in the days before she died of Covid-19 in the care home she had been in since January, Skype would be one of her few links to the outside world.
Indeed, it would be the only way she would ever speak to her daughter Geraldine again.
Geraldine is currently in lockdown at her home in California and was unable to fly over and see Brigid before she died last Saturday night.
Instead, she was only able to say goodbye to the 88-year-old last Thursday via Skype.
Brigid’s son Dermot said he has nothing but praise for the nurses who looked after her. One of them ended up working 102 hours in one week.
“They couldn’t do enough,” he said.
“One of the most important things was the way they were able to facilitate me and give me all the protection equipment I needed.
“This let me be next to her to talk to her when she was conscious and to also go back to set up a Skype call so my sister could say her goodbyes from California.”
He said his mother knew what was going on and was worried.
“When it started she said, ‘Oh, look, I am really worried about this thing’,” he said. “She was worried about it and talking about it.
“When she went into the isolation wing of the home for the first time and we had a Skype call with her, that was the first time I ever saw her genuinely scared, like really fearful.
“And she said ‘I think this thing is going to finish me’.
“And I was telling her people have beaten it before and ‘I know you are old, and you’ve got pre-existing conditions but keep doing the right thing, and you just never know.’ So she was going into it knowing that she could come through it.
“Next time I was talking to her she was really tired but she did not have that same fear. It was like she knew she was in a battle with it and she was just going to get on with it.”
Dermot said that as he walked back towards his mother’s home after the burial service, his eye was drawn towards a purple burst of colour in the graveyard wall.
“Some wild flowers had grown amongst the grey rocks,” he said. “In loss, in grief, you imagine ghosts, and you hear voices.
“In this little purple patch, I read it as a sign from Mam.
“She was saying to me and asking me to pass it on, ‘You did well son, and thank them all for my send-off.’”