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. 

How’s that New Year Resolutions thing going?

My previous blog was a little side track into the real world out there where the crazy nonsense is going on. That may happen from time to time when I crane my neck from beneath my shell, peer around, and then shudder back into my cave of safety.

This time I’m concentrating on the non-dramatic mundanities of my personal life which I prefer.

We are now on January 17th and over the halfway mark of the month and I’ve completed 57 miles of my hoped for 100, so I’m still on track to put a fat tick against this one.

Mornings like this reminds me why I love to run!

Have you ever run to the top of a hill and then felt like barfing? No? Me neither. I ask the question because it happened to my frequent running buddy neighbour, Bev. One of the times we went out and slogged our way up Rest Hill Road (nothing restful about this road – unless you’re going the other way perhaps), she got to the top so much quicker than me. Then, when I eventually crawled up those last few steps, I found her leaning against a wall and colour slowly coming back into her cheeks.

Rest Hill Road … from somewhere near the top

‘I nearly threw up then’, she said cheerfully, as we carried on along a nice flat bit. And she was completely fine after. She just had pushed herself on that hill to a serious level.

This got me thinking, as being a bit of a nerd I like to read articles about running a lot, and that feeling isn’t uncommon. Pushing your body so hard that you nearly spew or you go past the nearly and actually do. I am not sure if it is a good thing or not, but I’ve never felt that because I would have given up and walked well before I got to that stage. Despite the icky, I am a little in awe of people who have the drive and will to keep going, right into the nausea and get to the top of the hill, or the end of the race. I wish I had a small amount of that.

It is an enormous benefit to me to be able to run sometimes with another person. Ideally someone, who is faster than me but thoughtful enough to accompany me at my pace. It makes me up my game just a little bit. Bev is someone who kindly kicks me up the proverbial when I’m feeling lazy and comes out with me a lot, which is phenomenal considering she’s got four kids, a job and in the middle of a degree course! She’s bloody amazing.

On our little three miler today I was discussing my progress. I have noticed that my calves aren’t anywhere near as tight with the amount I’m running and that must be because I’m still on top of my yoga. It’s only about half an hour a day but it is definitely doing something to me as I’m nearly able to touch my toes whereas before I couldn’t get past my knees!

In fact the only big resolution that looks like being broken any time soon is the story writing one. Which is ironic as the reason I started this blog lark was to get me practising putting pen to paper in order to write my magnum opus. I have sat several times, and stared at the empty page. I’ve started several somethings and then tossed them aside. I can’t seem to get my imagination fired up so far. Is it because I don’t have one or because the real world is just too crazy to make stuff up? I don’t know.  I’m not calling it as a fail yet as we’re only just over two weeks into the year. But we shall see.

Even when we are in a safe space, sometimes sad things happen. My wife Anne lost her brother last weekend very suddenly. Mark had, in his last few years, suffered from Motor Neurone’s Disease and perhaps his passing has prevented more indignities and physical debilities than he was able to suffer. Yet to lose a brother, a son, a friend so quickly like that is difficult to come to terms with. Especially now when we can’t even get together. Anne is one of six and has been Zooming with the rest of her siblings and mum a lot this week. They’ve shared memories and photos and thoughts but they won’t be able to see each other for real until the funeral. We can’t even give his wife a hug. That crazy world out there has ways of permeating ours, however much we try and hide in shells.