Life

Grief in the time of Covid

It was a two bottle of Gavi kind of evening. That is two bottles between two of us, in case you’re counting.

Yesterday morning we sent Anne’s brother Mark off to the ‘inn at the end of the world’ (G.K. Chesterton – The Feast of the Snow).  Where, under normal circumstances, the church would be filled to the rafters, there could only be 30, and instead people gathered a safe distance apart in the carpark and outside The Crows Nest in Crosby, Mark’s ‘inn’ of choice, as the hearse drove by.

I have been to just a few funerals but this one reminded me of my mum’s, over 15 years ago, when Covid was not even a twinkle in a bat’s eye (allegedly). That hall WAS packed to the rafters but the words spoken were the same. That sense of family, and love. For Mark, his son Patrick talked so eloquently about a father who would do anything for his four children, as my sister once talked of our mum. There was a little laughter and some tears and actually, despite the restrictions, it was beautiful. To have such a testimony read out of a life well lived although much, much too short.

I think I was worried, before the service, that there weren’t the usual avenues to start the grieving process in this crazy time we’re in. No wake, no hugs, no real together time. In the Hindu culture, (pre-pandemic) there is a period of time (sort of like a long wake without the alcohol) where the family sits in mourning and relations and friends come to the house to sit, sing hymns, talk and share memories about the person who has gone, and to cry. In fact, I remember when I was a child, older women used to say that they were going to the house of mourning in order to ‘cry’ with the family. As if this was the main purpose.

It was a caterwaul sometimes, and the buttoned down, western part of my psyche baulked and was embarrassed by the effluent sounds, wondering what the neighbours would be thinking. It also got my waterworks going and half the time I didn’t really know the person who had gone, so it must have done something to the actual bereaved.  Irish people may recognise these old ladies as ‘keeners’ in their own traditions, and I’m sure there are many other variations in other cultures, but it is, ironically, a dying art, because it seems I wasn’t the only person who felt uncomfortable by such public displays of emotion.

Mark was, according to his family, a reserved quiet man. He would have hated such histrionics and probably preferred the more intimate service that he had. The priest was a family friend who had married Mark and Carole over forty years ago. His homily was personal and delivered with a lovely gentleness that was never grave or sombre, but thoughtful and uplifting. As we sat listening, separated into bubbles and not all squashed up, Anne told me later, that this gave her the space to go into herself a little bit and listen feelingly to the words. He spoke directly to Mark’s mum and acknowledged her own personal loss, so similar to my grandma’s. And gave his final thoughts to Carole, who’d done the lion’s share of caring for him as the Motor Neuron’s Disease took more of a hold. We followed his coffin out to the theme of Z-cars for his beloved Everton Football Club.

Although Mark was quiet, he enjoyed a good time and would definitely have liked his wake in the Crows Nest and as soon as it is possible we will be there, raising pints of Theakstons (or something more palatable) to remember him. In the meantime, Anne and I did a little zoom call with the family in the evening to raise a glass or three and then had our own personal wake for her brother.

The poem below is by Rabindranath Tagore and was read out at his cremation.

 Farewell My Friends
 Farewell My Friends
 It was beautiful
 As long as it lasted
 The journey of my life.
 I have no regrets
 Whatsoever said
 The pain I’ll leave behind.
 Those dear hearts
 Who love and care...
 And the strings pulling
 At the heart and soul...
 The strong arms
 That held me up
 When my own strength
 Let me down.
 At the turning of my life
 I came across
 Good friends,
 Friends who stood by me
 Even when time raced me by.
 Farewell, farewell My friends
 I smile and
 Bid you goodbye.
 No, shed no tears
 For I need them not
 All I need is your smile.
 If you feel sad
 Do think of me
 For that’s what I’ll like
 When you live in the hearts
 Of those you love
 Remember then
 You never die.