Saying goodbye during Covid-19 crisis

Saying goodbye during Covid-19 crisis
A parent’s perspective


My husband’s uncle died yesterday. He had Down’s syndrome and spent his life surrounded by love, a valuable and cherished member of his family. He enjoyed his simple pleasures like his soft toys, his Star War figures and his cartoons.

When my husband and I visited him some weeks ago in hospital, a big tear rolled down his cheek as he sat, propped up in his ICU hospital bed, one of his favourite toys under his arm. He was soon giving us a few broad smiles and pretending to play his imaginary guitar.

I brought him a little St Martin de Porres prayer card and he raised his hand and pointed intently at the image of the kindly saint. I’d like to think that St Martin was close to Uncle Ed in his last hours. Sadly, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, we didn’t see him again.

The arrangements for the funeral won’t include the usual Irish wake, celebration of Mass and what’s termed ‘the good send-off’. That will have to wait for later.

Ed came from a big family and they’ll be deprived of the usual comforts that would help them to deal with this tragic loss of a brother, an uncle, a friend. The death notice stated simply that the funeral would be private, not the family’s choice, but because of the constraints of the coronavirus outbreak.

The shared stories of Ed’s life, that should be shared in intimate conversation with family, friends and neighbours, will have to wait too. That’s one of the most difficult things of all during these changed times: not being able to say goodbye in the way that is so much part of who we are. Even a hug among siblings and dear friends is out of the question. My husband, normally so stoical, was upset and sad that he couldn’t even give his own mother a hug to support and comfort her on losing her younger brother. A few feet can seem like an unbearable boundary when it separates you from those you love during the very time they need you most.

One of my nieces, a charming young woman who’s training to be a nurse, took up the call to work during this crisis to add another pair of arms to what is regularly referred to as ‘the war’. In many ways, it is a war. The efforts of so many are reminiscent of World War II, when British women were desperately needed to take up roles traditionally occupied by men, from the tough job of farming the land to working in factory production lines.

Those on frontline duties are called upon to be modern day heroes, sometimes putting their very lives at risk. While working with vulnerable Covid-19 patients, my courageous niece won’t have the simple, reassuring comfort of a hug or kiss, even from her own family members.

Social distancing is even more of a cross for the elderly and those who live alone. It struck me recently that this is not just some strange dream where we consume our stocks of rapidly bought food, compare bread recipes online and adjust to children being under our feet, morning, noon and night. This is deadly serious.

Many have already lost loved ones, this awful virus cruelly stealing away any last moments they should have had together. It’s not all about illness and death, how I miss visiting my four beautiful grandchildren who live in Co. Armagh. We could all manage for a few weeks but it just dawned on me in recent days that I won’t see their sweet faces anytime soon except through a computer or phone screen.

We all have the aching desire for human interaction and comfort. When that is taken away from us, we start to really focus on the only true source of unfailing comfort and joy, the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Spring is here, the Lord has truly risen as he said he would; green leaves have appeared on the trees, and everywhere there are signs of new life and growth.

Life has changed, changed utterly, but the eternal love of God for each and every one of us can never change. God will never abandon us. My sister sent me a beautiful picture of Jesus carrying a woman along a lonely beach. It reminded me of how a father carries a sick or weary child. Our hearts are aching but we are not alone. St Josemaría, the founder of Opus Dei in one of his books wrote: “We’ve got to be convinced that God is always near us. We live as though he were far away in the heavens high above, and we forget that he is also continually by our side.”

The Leaving Certificate won’t be starting in June; those tickets to sunny summer destinations won’t be used this year; even a beach, river or forest on our own lovely island is out of bounds if more than a few miles down the road.

Our world has got smaller as we all adjust to this global house arrest. And yet, as the recent Feast of Divine Mercy reminds us all, God loves us, all of us. The love of our dearest friend is greater than any hardships we may have to endure. If we call on God with faith and trust, there will be no end to our joy. May that knowledge sustain us in the months ahead.