WHEN Annemarie Hunt returns home from a gruelling 12-hour shift as a senior carer, she’s confronted by an empty, silent home.
Upstairs, her unworn wedding dress hangs in the closet – alongside it sits a hospital bag of her late fiancé Neil Shaw’s belongings. She can’t bring herself to open it.
Annemarie Hunt, 50, from Manchester, lost her fiance Neil Shaw to Covid-19 in AprilCredit: Supplied
Annemarie, 50, from Manchester, who lost her beloved Neil to Covid-19 seven months ago says the isolation and loneliness she now feels is all-consuming.
Speaking for The Sun’s Christmas Together campaign, Annemarie bravely recalls: “When Neil went into hospital on March 31, I thought ‘he’ll be back soon’.
“I didn’t think he was going to die, even when I was called into hospital on April 21 because they had to take him off his oxygen.”
Annemarie was by 58-year-old photographer Neil’s side in full PPE when he passed away in Salford Royal Hospital on April 22.
Neil came down with a cough in March and was dead a month laterCredit: Supplied
She says: “One of the last things he said to me, on the Saturday before he passed away, was, ‘I just want to hold your hand and go to the beach’.
“I said, ‘we will and you’re going to take thousands of pictures’. He had a big smile on his face, but he didn’t comment on that. Looking back now, I think he knew he was going to pass away.
“Neil and I were inseparable, I was with him 24/7. Now I’m lonely all the time and it’s the worst thing imaginable.”
I feel lonely all the time. I feel like a part of me’s gone, because I was always with Neil. Night time is the worst. I don’t sleep very well because I miss him so much
Neil began suffering with a cough and was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 a week later, on March 31.
He had suffered a stroke in 2016 but had recovered well and was otherwise healthy.
Annemarie, who never caught the virus, called an ambulance when Neil started complaining of an excruciating headache – which she didn’t realise could be a symptom of low oxygen levels.
She says: “He wasn’t breathless or struggling to speak, he was laughing and joking with the ambulance crew, that’s what’s so unbelievable about all this.
“But they put him straight on oxygen and he never came off that until he died. An ultrasound just before he passed showed his lungs were badly scarred.
“Eventually we were told they had to take him off the oxygen to prevent organ failure. He died the next day.”
Annemarie and Neil were planning to wed this year, she had already bought her wedding dressCredit: Supplied
The Sun’s Christmas Together campaign
THIS Christmas we are teaming up with the Together Campaign, a coalition of community groups and organisations, and Royal Voluntary Service to combat loneliness.
And we want to recruit an army of volunteers to support those feeling cut off, anxious and isolated, this Christmas.
Could YOU reach out to someone who might be struggling and alone?
It might be someone you know in your own life or community who needs support.
Or we can connect you with someone in need through the NHS Volunteer responder programme run by the NHS, Royal Voluntary Service and the GoodSAM app.
Could you give up half an hour to make a call and chat with someone feeling isolated? Or could you volunteer to deliver essential shopping or festive treats?
Go to nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk/christmastogether to sign up as a volunteer.
You will then receive an email taking you through the sign up process and be asked to download the responder app which will match you to those in need in your area.
Don’t worry if you don’t get a job straight away, because jobs are matched according to the need local to you. Being ready to help is what really matters.
The couple, who have six adult kids between them from previous relationships, started dating in February 2014, after dad-of-four Neil spotted Annemarie in a local pub.
They immediately hit it off after being set up by a mutual friend and Neil popped the question in 2017, at the top of Conwy Castle, north Wales.
Mum-of-two Annemarie fondly recalls: “Neil was right at the top of the castle and I was stood a couple of steps below, he pulled the ring out and asked me to marry him. It was so lovely.
“I still wear my rings now, I have an eternity ring from him too and I never take them off.
“I’d even bought my wedding dress, I’ve got that hung up upstairs because we were going to get married this year.
“We hadn’t booked a date but we were talking about it just before he went into hospital.”
Annemarie never believed she would actually lose Neil to coronavirus, even at the endCredit: Supplied
For the past six years, Annemarie has spent Christmas Day with Neil. She says: “Last year Neil got a real Christmas tree and I was so chuffed. I worked 8am-2pm and we spent the rest of the day together.
“Now I wish I’d spent the whole day with him last year – as it was probably the nicest Christmas we’ve had together.
“I’m still going to decorate this year, it might sound silly but I’m going to try and put the tree up on the same day we did last year, it’s something to remember him by.”
Annemarie added: “A friend who lost her husband a year before Neil died bought me a lovely heart to go on the tree with Neil’s name and angel wings.
“My daughter bought me a robin because since Neil passed away, I keep seeing a robin sat on my fence, which I think is a sign he’s watching over me.”
Annemarie worked half a day in the care home last Christmas – and says she wishes she’d spent the whole day with Neil nowCredit: Supplied
Annemarie is working 2pm-8pm on Christmas Day at the Moorfield House care home, where she’s worked for 20 years.
She said: “I’ll be on my own before that, which will be so hard. My daughter said she’ll come round after I finish.
“It’s my birthday Boxing Day but I want to work it because I’m dreading being on my own, I’m doing the full 12-hour day, which was my choice.
“I just want to get it over and done with because I’ve got really nice memories from last year, I want to block Christmas out.”
Annemarie has chosen to work Christmas and her birthday – Boxing Day – because she’s dreading them without NeilCredit: Supplied
Annemarie lives alone and feels even more isolated because of lockdownCredit: Supplied
Although Annemarie has formed a bubble with her daughter Jade Foreman, 25, who lives down the road, she only sees her occasionally and feels horribly isolated.
She said: “My daughter’s been brilliant but I don’t want to burden her, she has her own life.
“I feel lonely all the time. I feel like a part of me’s gone, because I was always with Neil. Night time is the worst. I don’t sleep very well because I miss him so much.
“I just wish he was here still. I can’t believe I’m not going to see him again. The last thing he said to me was, ‘you might not be able to see me but I’ll always be with you’.”
I’m going to work Christmas, I’m dreading being on my own. I just want to get it over and done with because I’ve got really nice memories from last year, I want to block Christmas out
Annemarie hates the sound of silence and spends her days sifting through old photos. She says: “I listen to Heart radio all day, so I’ve always got some noise in the background. I can’t bear the silence, it makes me think more.
“My daughter made me a beautiful picture frame which I’ve got at the top of my fireplace with all different photos of me and Neil, saying ‘Neil and Annemarie’s love story’.
“Sometimes when I sit down to watch TV that frame sets me off crying, but it is lovely.
Annemarie hasn’t been able to go through Neil’s bag of possessions from the hospital yetCredit: Supplied
Loneliness by numbers
1 in 5 people who live alone will spend Christmas on their own
60% said they had felt more lonely during the pandemic
37% people know someone who will be spending Christmas alone
16% Brits said they were ‘dreading’ Christmas
52% said they have helped a vulnerable person during the pandemic
4.2 million adults always or often felt lonely during the second national lockdown
16 to 29-year-olds are twice as likely as the over-70s to be experiencing loneliness in the pandemic
£5.9m marked by Government pilot to tackle loneliness
“My son and his wife bought a star in Neil’s name, so I’ve got a certificate for that on my mantelpiece, with lots of photos of Neil, an angel and a red heart in roses, because that’s his favourite colour.
“It’s all to remind me of him. Upstairs I’ve got a bag of Neil’s belongings which he took into hospital, which I’ve not been able to look at.
“Picking that up was so hard, I’ve got lots of memories of him, I’ve just not been able to bring myself to go in that bag yet.”
Although Annemarie is kept busy by work, she struggles to fill her free time.
She says: “It’s even harder at the moment because you can’t go anywhere.
“In normal times, Neil and I would go out for meals, to the shopping centre or to the pictures – but I don’t want to do any of that alone, not that I can at the moment.
“Neil was the best guy. He was so thoughtful, he loved his family and he was so good to my daughter, he bought her her first car when she passed her test. He was just brilliant.”
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