Jewish Telegraph - 18th March 2021
THE sister of one of British Jewry’s first coronavirus victims has called on the Government to introduce a national memorial day for all those who have died during the pandemic.
Lucy Collins, her twin Sian Levy and older sister Sami Manning lost their 53-year-old brother Stephen Okrent in March, 2020, to Covid-19.
And now, during the week of his first yahrzeit, she has opened up to the Jewish Telegraph about the effects of being unable to mourn his death as a family at the time due to pandemic restrictions — and how the London-based family, originally from Southport, is raising money in Mr Okrent’s name.
The 49-year-old said: “It has been a traumatic experience for us. We, like so many, couldn’t go to the funeral.
“I had Covid at the time and we were too scared to let our parents leave the house to attend.
“We never mourned as a family, and as family of a lost one, we are more than just a number or a statistic.”
The Jewish Telegraph asked Boris Johnson’s spokesman whether they were plans for a memorial day for victims of the pandemic.
He replied: “The Prime Minister has paid tribute to those who have lost their lives, and he believes people should reflect however they feel is right for them.”
But he would not say whether plans were afoot for a national memorial day to take place.
Mr Okrent, who was a Manchester United fan, is also survived by wife Laura, who he married in 2019, daughter Alex, stepchildren Ed and Katy, and parents Suzie and Philip.
In May, former Bnai Brith Youth Organisation member Mr Okrent’s Manchester-born friend Mark Weingard dedicated the Malta Together Festival of Gratitude and Inspiration in his name.
Mr Okrent’s family has now raised more than £100,000 of a £150,000 target in the first two days of an appeal.
The money will go to a special project run by charity Grief Encounter, which provides support for bereaved children, young people and their families across the UK.
It will be donated via the Stephen Okrent Shared Grief Foundation.
Mrs Collins said: “We just wanted to do something in his name to keep it alive.
“We felt that while we were going through this process, we had nowhere to turn for help, and we felt like there was something missing.
“In a normal situation, you’d have the funeral with friends and family, and then sit shiva. I now realise how important shiva is.
“Can you imagine losing a family member and not being able to hug your parents and mourn?
“We realised two weeks ago, when we had an armed robbery, it was the first time all five of us had been in a room on our own.”
Earlier this week, the entire family visited Mr Okrent’s grave together — for the first time since his death.
“We all stood around the grave,” she recalled “and it was hard to fathom what had happened.
“This finally allowed us to stop the grieving and start the healing.
“It’s always going to sit there as trauma for all of us, especially for my parents — the fact that they never went to their son’s funeral is something they will never get over.
“Nobody should ever have to bury a child.”