200 days of emptiness, waiting and yearning: a reflection

On Monday it will be 200 days since March 12th/13th when the majority of Scotland’s care homes shut down in order to protect residents from the emerging threat of coronavirus. It is a point in time which comes as the seasons change from a late summer into the shortened days of autumn beckoning in the coldness of winter. Spring and summer have been and gone and the world as we knew it at the start of the year is unrecognisable. These have been days of real pain and emptiness for thousands, and of waiting and yearning for countless more.

I feel it is an anniversary of time which needs to be marked and which should cause us to pause and reflect on how we should be planning and preparing, both practically and psychologically, for the seasons and days to come.

Since the first days of spring when Coronavirus started to reap its harvest, we have lost countless thousands across the country to this virus. We have learnt many lessons taught us in a school of pain and cruelty, sadly some have come too late for the knowing and others have been appreciated too slowly. The daily statistics have become like an inexorable tick of a clock with numbers increasing every day, yet their regular recounting hiding the true story of thousands whose lives have been changed for ever.

As we remember 200 days, we know that there are too many who have lost their lives before their time, too early for parting, too soon for absence. We know that there are thousands who have not been able to be present, to sit alongside loved ones to say goodbye, to hold a hand and caress a face, to wipe a tear and simply to be silent before endings. We know that there are thousands who have not been able to celebrate lives well lived, to spark memories with others and laugh and cry together in funeral and farewell. This has been the unbearable cost of these days.

During those 200 days there have also been those struck down by the virus who have recovered, both in care home and community, but who are marked by the legacy of the disease in a way that has forever altered their living. What has become known as ‘long Covid’ is a set of conditions and a legacy of illness, that we are only now beginning to appreciate, and which will result in extensive need for rehabilitation and recovery for countless years.

So, there has been no shortage of emptiness drained from life and community in the last 200 days. The emptiness of grieving, of lostness and aloneness. There has been the emptiness felt by those who have struggled with the full reality of lockdown, whose mental health and self-esteem have been shattered and diminished; whose hopes and aspirations for their lives have been set aside; whose businesses and careers have been wrecked or abandoned. This has been six-months of real desolation for too many – and yet for so many it has been pain endured in silence, in absence, in hiddenness and on the edge of noticing.

These have also been days of waiting. Waiting to return to normal only to learn the language of a new normal; waiting for life to re-start and living to re-open only to discover a reality unfamiliar and unrecognisable; waiting for exam results and university to start only to experience the pain of anxiety and a strange new beginning; waiting for furlough to end only to be told of redundancy and loss of role; waiting to be re-connected, for shielding to end and encounter to start; waiting for a tomorrow which feels more like our past.

200 days which have changed us all. 200 days which have brought out the best of humanity, have shone a light on the exhaustion of love and giving, but have also witnessed the predictability of ambition, selfishness and frustration.

So, what of the future. As we sense a slipping back into the inevitability of more restrictions, the fear of a return to a pain which is now one that we know all too well, a diminishing of the loss of hope – what now?

I have held many conversations over the last 200 days and in the midst of sadness and emptiness, the characteristics and emotions that have struck me the most, whether on the part of carer, manager, family member, supported person or care home resident, has been a sense of determination and hope, of energy and commitment of care to the other given to the point of exhaustion, of a deep yearning to survive and do better in the midst of the waiting and the absence.

So, the next 200 days can and must be better even though they may be harder – for if we do not believe that, then the sacrifices and loss of the former would be too much to bear.

We need to plan and prepare to a degree and extent which we have never before attempted. Of course, I am not naïve. I do not imagine that even with the best precaution and best planning that we can prevent yet more pain and yet more damage from this virus. But whether it be by getting a testing system that really works rather than promises and fails to deliver, whether it be through robust practice in terms of infection control in our communities and care homes, whether it be through supporting those on the edge of despair and hopelessness in our communities, whether it be through simple acts of neighbourly kindness,  then we can build on what we have done to prepare better for tomorrow.

And some of my personal hope would be:

That we recognise that we have to create opportunities for family members to better re-connect with their loved ones in care homes. We know the desolation and emptiness; we have heard the cries of lostness and have seen the signs of deterioration and decline caused by enforced absence and the loss of touch and contact. Whether it be through extending the time for visits, better resourcing care homes to have additional staff and volunteers to support visiting, by the use of testing to protect visitor and resident, we are all of us determined to learn and improve. We all of us need to make the next 200 days better and more connected.

That we really accept that we need to start to prioritise what happens in our communities as much as in our care homes. There is a growing awareness of all those who have lost their lives in our communities both to Covid and more significantly to other conditions in the last 200 days. We need to make sure we do not remove the homecare and supports which are the lifeline of so many as we face challenge of resource and workforce into the winter. We need to recognise that we have depended on family carers who are now exhausted and drained and cannot face the future without respite and recovery.

That we recognise that just as it was in March, so it is in October, that the first line of defence against this virus is the individual action and responsibility of every citizen. We need to rediscover a collective solidarity which strengthens us to sacrifice our freedom and intention in the service of and for the protection of others who need our loving and caring to be seen in our actions.

That we develop a testing system to protect all whether young person or old, whether care home resident or worker, whether schoolteacher or student, homecare worker or NHS staff member. The imperative of using testing as a protection has never been louder but so too is the importance of recognising that it is not a panacea merely a critical tool in the battle we are engaged in.

That all who can will take up the opportunity to be vaccinated for the flu recognising the real risks of overwhelming care and health systems in the weeks ahead.

That we recognise that there are thousands of staff in care home, community and hospital who are not simply weary but drained and exhausted, and that we do not just speak of support but show it in actions both large and small to alleviate, recognise and reward.

That we do not lose hope and that we continue to feed and foster our yearning for a better tomorrow, a brighter spring and a healed summer.

For even in the last 200 days life has won through against all the death and destruction. At 103 John fought off this pernicious disease and now sits laughing and story-telling with his fellow care home residents. At 38 Jane was able to come through weeks of intensive care and rehabilitation and is now able to hold her child and laugh at the small things of unimportance. At 17 and in a strange university experience there are students falling in and out of love with equal measure in the predictable rhythm of life; that in ceremonies across the country there are lovers committing to a future of togetherness; that in creative ingenuity ideas are being born out of hard work and reflection; that there are artists painting a future of purpose and poets ploughing the depths of emotion; that there is even in the midst of autumn a renewal which overcomes the decay and despair.

The next 200 days will undoubtedly be hard and there will be times of barren emptiness and pain but one lesson the last 200 has taught me is that we cannot make the journey onwards alone, but must all walk through into our future together, without casting casual blame, scoring points, asserting ego but upholding one another and speaking love into emptiness.

We pull ourselves forward together through our yearning. In the words of Seamus Heaney in ‘The Cure at Troy.’

“No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.…

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.”


Donald Macaskill

Last Updated on 10th October 2020 by Shanice