Skip to content
13 November 2020

COVID stories: Sarah and her father

COVID stories: Sarah and her father

Meet a Hospice Bereavement Officer who lost her dad to COVID, caught the virus herself, then launched a counselling service for those experiencing pandemic-related grief.

For Sarah Jenkins, 2020 began full of optimism.

The Bereavement Services Development Officer continued to help grow a successful and expanding bereavement service based here at St Michael’s Hospice.

Her work provided solace and comfort to those in the community facing up to life without a loved one, or coming to terms with a terminal condition themselves.

Alongside the first signs of Spring, news trickled through of a virus sweeping South-East Asia and making waves across the globe.

At the Hospice, the Counselling and Bereavement Team started to plan how best to respond. 

‘We didn’t fully understand what this would mean for any of us, only that flexibility would be key,’ she said.

‘Little did I know then that my world would soon turn upside-down.’

Around the middle of March, her father, 78-year-old Keith Fortey, began to show symptoms of COVID. Medical advice was to manage the virus at home with paracetamol and prescribed medication. On the guidance of the NHS 111 service, paramedics were called three times over the following ten days as his condition continued to deteriorate. On the third occasion, Keith’s oxygen levels were so low he was admitted to Hereford County Hospital.

‘Despite the efforts of Frome Ward at the hospital, Dad became much less well and was transferred to ITU to be ventilated,’ Sarah added. 

‘Sadly, the virus had taken its toll and he died two days later.’

Strict visitor restrictions meant Sarah and her family weren’t able to be with Keith towards the end.

‘The pain of losing him was intense and we would have given anything to have been able to visit him in those last few days.

‘Many emotions and questions followed for us as a family.

‘We wondered where he had contracted it – he only really ever went to the supermarket and spent many hours at his allotment.

‘Soon afterwards I become ill with COVID myself. It left our family reeling. Fortunately though, I recovered in time for Dad’s funeral. Just five of us were able to attend.’

At work, the bereavement team was becoming more aware of challenges brought about by the lockdown in the community.

Medical advice and treatment was often difficult for people to access. Families were unable to see loved ones, and, as Sarah found out herself, funerals were very different with restrictions on numbers, with some families even having to source their own flowers, cars and service sheets.

‘At St Michael’s we felt strongly that we needed to respond to those who were negatively impacted by the pandemic,’ said Sarah.

What followed was a new St Michael’s Hospice Community Counselling Service offering support to those experiencing loss, in any form, through COVID.  

‘It’s gone very well. Thanks to the power of social media the service has even spread across the UK. One of our clients is in Bexhill-on-Sea, some 160 miles from Hereford.

‘As for many of us, it’s been a year I’ll never forget. But it’s important that some good has come out of it, and helping people at a time they need it most is what St Michael’s is all about. I think dad would be proud.’

The new counselling service will run for 12 months. Staff and volunteers have been trained up to offer phone support. 

‘It’s a privilege to have Sarah on our team,’ said Karen Evans, the Hospice’s Counselling and Bereavement Lead.

‘She makes such a difference.

‘The service has gone from strength to strength, and we would encourage anyone who thinks they might benefit, or knows somebody who might benefit, to get in touch.’ 

For more information or to make a referral please email

Sign up now to hear about how we care for families across Herefordshire and beyond and how you can help