"It killed me inside" - Sheffield man describes heartbreaking moment he said goodbye to dying twin brother on FaceTime
“I’ve never been through anything like that, it killed me inside.”
This is Dale Robinson talking about the moment he had to say goodbye to his dying twin brother Jonathan via an iPad.
The emotion is still raw and understandably Dale struggles as he describes the agony of those final moments on FaceTime for his Sheffield family.
Jonathan had Type 1 diabetes from being a young man. He had gone into hospital to have foot surgery, but within days was critically ill with Covid. His organs failed. He died.
Those are the stark facts for Dale, director of business development at city training provider The Source.
Those facts don’t begin to describe the turmoil the 49-year-old has been through, but they do explain why he is passionate about employers ensuring there are people trained in mental health First Aid for their workforces.
This is the turmoil.
Jonathan died aged 48 in April 2020, just four months after mum Ann had died aged 82. Jonathan had lived with his mum in the Ecclesfield house built by the boys’ bricklayer dad John.
“After she died, Jonny dropped his head and said I don’t know if I can carry on, on my own. I’m not saying he gave up, but he became robotic,” says Dale, 49.
He had taken his brother to hospital in March after Jonathan suffered foot pain due to being a diabetic. He developed problems in his other leg and the family were then devastated to learn their brother was ill with Covid.
The virus seemed to be under control in early April but Jonathan’s health deteriorated and on April 18 his sister Debbie went to the Northern General Hospital after doctors told the family they were concerned.
She made it to her brother’s bed and FaceTimed Dale.
“We were FaceTiming to say goodbye to our brother. I’ll never forget it. He’d gone in for his foot, caught Covid and we had to say goodbye.
“I said I’ll always love you. It will live with me forever.”
One of five children, family is hugely important to Dale and he found it difficult to come to terms with what had happened. “I had always been strong and resilient, but I was struggling. Struggling to sleep, I dreamt my brother was at the end of the bed.”
He told his boss and was able to get counselling via an insurance policy. “I did six weeks and as soon as that had passed I felt I had offloaded.
“Nobody was judging me, the counsellor was perfect. Her support was amazing because I had been crumbling.
“She told me I would wrap things around the pain I had, good things which would make me pull through.
“I understood that my mind had slipped, I was on a journey, but had side-stepped it. I got back on the road thanks to the support.”
“There’s never a day I don’t think about him but I’m wrapping good things around the pain and I’ve got a smile on my face.
“The memories of him are the driver for my passion about mental health wellbeing.
“I want an environment so employers can open up and educate people, so we can understand and support them.”
The Source, based in Meadowhall Way, is urging businesses to focus on the fact that many employees returning to work - either from long periods on furlough or working from home - are likely to be coming back with mental health issues.
Dale, who lives in Kiveton Park with his wife Clare and two children, Jake 19 and Chloe, 10, says: “Mental health is always on my radar now. It had been a taboo subject but celebrities have come forward to talk about it. Celebrities have died because of mental health issues, so it has an increased profile.
“But although mental health is important, I still think it has second class status.
“I went through a situation and realise businesses are not as prepared as they should be.
“The simple solution is to train and educate people to deliver support to their colleagues, friends and family so there’s a better world we’re going to live in.
“If you haven’t got the experience and you get a shock - like me losing my mum and brother in the space of a few months - that can change you.
“If I hadn’t approached my employers and spoken to people, I don’t think I would have got through it - I was in a bad place this time last year.
“It was difficult for me to go to the business and say I’m struggling because I’m a director and need to drive the business forward, I’m no good to anybody if I can’t do that.
“It’s about a healthy body and a healthy mind. Everyone is thinking about being Covid safe, but what about those who’ve lost people to Covid?”
He says companies need to have the right skills to support the mental health of workers returning from furlough, advises a leading Sheffield training academy.
“Bosses need to be able to spot when workers are struggling with depression and anxiety.
“The pandemic has had a big impact on people’s mental wellbeing and the effects could be with us for a long time.
“Employers have a legal responsibility to have trained First Aiders in their teams in case their workers become ill or are injured. But they also have a moral duty to care for their mental wellness.”
Since 2003 the Skills Academy, a not-for-profit charity, has upskilled thousands of local people, helping many into work and others to boost their careers.
It aims to have a trained wellness advocate in each department so staff can look after each other and learners on apprenticeships and training courses. The Source now has 95 per cent of its workforce of 66 back out of furlough. Staff are mainly office-based with a number home-working.
“The long term effects of furlough, feeling isolated, may be never ending,” says Dale.
“We are still living it and don’t know what to expect but I would imagine look on the surface like they are doing something but they need to drill down into issues or sickness will increase. We want people fighting fit but we have to support them.”
This can also be done by giving them hope, which is why Dale is keen to push apprenticeships. No surprise, as at 16 he did a Youth Training Scheme and never looked back.
“Apprenticeships are always around because they provide opportunities for everyone. We do management apprenticeships for people aged 50 or 60, but the people who left school last year could become a lost year.
“They need guidance and access to the right mental health support. We can’t do this alone so we’re working with Sheffield Futures and Jobcentre plus.”
The Source will hold a Super Recruitment Event on June 2 in its community learning zone. There will be 70 vacancies available and 200 kickstart vacancies.
“We need to have this kind of event to ignite people to come and talk to us,” says Dale.
“Recruitment and apprenticeships are important but there are a lot of barriers for young people to go through to get to work and we need to combat those. If we don’t, we’ll lose that generation."
For information go to www.thesourceacademy.co.uk