Navigating grief and loss during the pandemic and beyond – Featured in Prima Magazine

‘I sit here quietly and remember Dad’s love’ 

Losing her beloved father to Covid-19 was heartbreaking for 44-year-old mum of two Dipti Solanki, so she came up with a special way to remember him

When I think about my garden, I think about my dad, Pravin Nagla. We spent hours outdoors and Dad always taught us to appreciate Nature. One of my favourite memories is of the two of us planting the apple tree that still remains in the garden of the family home. Dad had green fingers, and I loved watching the flowers bloom in our garden. His favourites were always red roses. 

On Sunday’s when we were younger, Dad would take us to feed the ducks in the park. He sang ‘que sera sera’; what will be will be. ‘You can’t ever control what happens,’ he’d say. ‘But you can control your reactions. You must look to the beauty in life, because it is always there.’ 

Dad left Uganda when he was 24 after the expulsion of Asians. A barber by trade, he was also a singer, part of a religious choir called KSMY. He spearheaded raising thousands of pounds funds for charities and supported the local community through acts of kindness & generosity. He was a deeply caring, compassionate man who always led with love – if I had a headache, he’d be on my doorstep to give me one of his famous head massages. 

When my mum, Jyoti died in 1990, my siblings Amit , Dimple myself and Dad became even closer. Dad and my family – my husband, Sanjay and sons Hiran, now 20 and Dhru, 16 – lived just a few miles away and saw each other several times a week.

When lockdown happened in March 2020, Dad and I would FaceTime almost every day. It was hard not seeing each other, but our priority was to keep him safe. 

It was terrifying when in December that year, Dad started showing symptoms of Covid-19. He deteriorated and was taken to hospital. In January 2021, just a month after contracting the virus, he died. We were all heartbroken. 

Death during the pandemic has been very different – and very traumatic. It’s customary in my culture when someone dies to have 12 days of prayer, which we couldn’t do in person. However, over 500 families joined us on Zoom daily which meant a lot and was testament to the incredible legacy of love he leaves behind.

When I went back to work as a grief & loss coach, I wondered if it might be tough helping people through loss while grieving myself, but it feels like the biggest privilege that my clients trust me with their own emotions, and was actually very healing.

The most important thing when it comes to processing grief is being open with how you feel. You don’t have to be strong, or to pretend everything is okay. I have allowed myself to cry, and I often talk to Dad. I wanted a place where I could sit quietly and remember him, and so I decided to create a memorial bench in my garden surrounded by red and yellow roses, a fitting tribute for Dad. 

The bench takes pride of place in our London garden; Dad would love it, especially as it gets the sun through most of the day. While we will never forget those we’ve lost, we can slowly learn to heal by holding on to the love and the memories and building a life around them.

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