In this last blog of 2020, I find it difficult to do anything other than reflect on the events of the last ten months.
Throughout my childhood I was brought up with an awareness that remembering the past in all its joy and pain, putting together the stories of sadness alongside memories of happiness, was not escapism and delusion, but rather essential and intrinsic to living life to the full. Indeed, failing to do so prevented you from moving forward into both a personal and a collective future. Remembrance is essential for a person and a people to be and become whole.
In my upbringing I was reminded of the truth of this reality every time I looked out of the window of my mother’s croft house in Glendale, Skye, towards the distant hill on the other side of the glen beyond which was the small township of Borreraig. In that clachan of crofts, the great MacCrimmon family had for generations lived and held sway. They were the exemplars of the great tradition of piobaireachd music for the Scottish bagpipes. “MacCrimmon’s Lament” is perhaps the most famous and is often played at Highland funerals, dating back to the Jacobite uprising of 1745. Within piobrocheead the classic theme of the music is one of lament, which itself is a form in literature, art and music that constitutes some of the oldest creativity in the world.
Lament is not a wallowing in the pain and distress of the past, but rather a gathering up of the threads of brokenness until they are woven into a rhythm of resonant recollecting. To lament is to mouth or sound out one’s pain, to seek to make sense and to simply be present in grief. Its insight is that the act of grieving and remembering are woven into our humanity. We cannot have hope unless we remember.
At the start of the year when in February along with colleagues I was writing a Guidance document for Coronavirus for the care sector, few of us could have imagined the nightmare which would begin to unfold both across the world and in Scotland. Most of us thought that as we went into lockdown that we would be talking a few weeks at most – never many months. None of us could have fathomed the depths of loss and desolation that would become the experience of thousands especially in our care homes.
There will be time for examination and investigation, for Inquiry and Review, but as this year comes to its closing, I earnestly believe that it is more important than ever that we take time to remember every single individual who has lost their lives both directly to the virus and as a consequence of the pandemic and our precautions.
Throughout this year and in this blog I have shared stories of dozens of folks, some I have known, others who started as strangers, but mostly of those who have struggled with grieving and loss, with absence and loneliness in these Covid times. I have never been so privileged as to have become the companion of such lives.
The daily arithmetic of statistics on TV or media can sometimes deaden our appreciation of the truth that behind every single number there is a story of a man, woman and child; a mother, father and brother; a lover, husband and wife. Each one known to someone or maybe to too few, some sadly known to me personally but most of them people whose parting and death have brought aching emptiness and sorrow.
Behind every number there is a face which will never again break into a smile of recognition or with glinting eye welcome family and share laughter.
Behind every number there is a life cut short, stories and tales untold, ambitions and dreams unfulfilled.
Behind every number there was someone who mattered, who lived and breathed, who left a mark on the earth they were bound to and to which they will return.
Behind every number, there was someone who was the whole of life, the totality of everything, the purpose of someone’s loving.
Behind every number was someone who still had laughter to share, forgiveness to offer, and a future to unfold.
Behind every number was someone who was birthed into being through pain and love and now is no more.
And therefore, we must never forget or be allowed to simply grow accustomed to the numbering of loss and the predicability of this pandemic.
I lament not just for those who have died from Covid but all who have died in a year unlike any other without the assurance and strength, without love and family.
I lament for those who have been unable to celebrate the lives of those they have lost and be together in love through ritual and recollection.
I lament for those who have lived their lives cocooned in protection but hidden from love, absent from the touch of family, distant from the reach of embrace.
I lament for those who have struggled with the anguish of losing their jobs, of disappearing self-worth, whose sense of self and purpose has disintegrated.
I lament for those who have been confronted by the demons of addiction and the anguish of their inner self, wracked by mental distress and trauma of memory.
I lament for those frightened by the fear of this pandemic to a point that they have lost their joy and hidden themselves away from hope.
I lament for those who are simply tired and weary of worrying and protecting, of masking and distancing, of working and encouraging, of being there, and being present for others.
There is much to lament for and there is necessity to do such.
2020 demands from us the spirit of lament, not one that settles in the distress of days gone by but one that seeks through that recollection to give energy to a determination to do things differently, to be better, and to change our future.
In my mother’s tongue December which is bringing this awful year to its end is called an Dùbhlachd, which means literally ‘blackness.’ But in the oral tradition of my grandmother, it is also a word which has within itself the sense that December is a time which also brings us the stirring of the seeds of hope and renewal. This last week I have watched the winter solstice and the slow turning of the seasons towards the lengthening of days. There is within an Dùbhlachd a sense of renewal and turning. Nothing stays dark forever. There is nothing more powerful than the flicker of light in the deepest darkness.
So, the day after we have celebrated Christmas, which for many was the strangest and saddest of days, and in the between time of our festive celebrations, I will lament and mourn, I will remember and grieve … but over time the words and the music of such sadness and loss which 2020 has given will become distant and disappear into silence. Tomorrow and the next day I know that I will need – as all who grieve – to turn my face to the dawn, to rise up and to face that future. The lament will become an echo, a memory, but one whose sound will remain inside for ever.
Being old did not define them
the lives they lived
the lives they gave and made
through hardship and hard work
with few if any luxuries.
The loves they loved and gave,
the hugs, the smiles,
some tears, much laughter.
They were our mums and dads.
We gave them the joy of our children
to make them great and grand for another generation.
This is who they were.
They were not expendable.
We are not the herd.
In memoriam for Pat Cooper b 14.09.1925 d 28.03.2020
Deputy Chair, Relatives & Residents Association