‘One of the hardest, bleakest days of my life’ – Letchworth family on their funeral with no mourners

PUBLISHED: 12:05 21 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:56 22 May 2020

Paul Sobek with his sister Elizabeth. Picture: Elizabeth Elliott

Paul Sobek with his sister Elizabeth. Picture: Elizabeth Elliott


When Paul Sobek died on March 27, aged just 63, there were no hugs, no mourners, no eulogies. Just ten members of his immediate family, standing two metres apart, not allowed to wipe the tears from each others’ eyes.

This is the grim reality of funerals in lockdown Britain, and Paul’s Letchworth-based family have shared their story of what it means to mourn death during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On New Years Eve 2019, Paul Sobek suffered a catastrophic stroke, leaving him 1mm away from brain stem death. Paul lived on for a further three months, and ending up spending his final moments in Garden House Hospice Care.

Paul’s sister Elizabeth Elliott said watching her brother’s sudden decline was “heartbreaking,” as Paul “lost his ability to walk and swallow, became incontinent, and had to be fed through his stomach.”

But when Paul finally slipped away at the end of March, coronavirus had taken hold, and the country was grinding to a standstill.

“I went to Stevenage registry office with the death certificate,” Elizabeth said. “And they couldn’t even pick it up because there had been an coronavirus outbreak in the office itself. I had to have an online consultation to clarify the death.

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Elizabeth, who lives in Norfolk but moved back to Letchworth after Paul became seriously ill, said her brother’s funeral was “one of the hardest, bleakest days” of her life.

“It was particularly painful for Mum, who is 87. She is a devout Catholc, and was distraught we couldn’t have a church service. She needed to be held, to be comforted, but there was nothing we could do. Burying your son – and in these circumstances – everything about it is wrong.”

Elizabeth said they were lucky to even have flowers, after the funeral directors said florists weren’t working. In a last-ditch attempt, Elizabeth contacted catering company Booker, who stepped in to provide flowers at the last moment.

“There were just obstacles in the way at every turn. The service was so hurried and rushed, all of us were standing two metres apart at the graveside. We couldn’t organise a wake, or have a eulogy. It was just so bleak, so impersonal.”

Elizabeth said her family are experiencing “profound sadness” that Paul’s death was mourned in this way, but when the time comes, she said, “we will be giving him the send-off he deserves.”

Elizabeth is also fundraising for Garden House Hospice Care, a charity close to her heart, having provided end of life care for Paul, but also her father.

Visit their website ghhospicecare.org.uk/support-us/events/detail/garden-design-raffle-in-aid-of-ghhc for details on how to donate.

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