We need a National Day of Mourning and Remembrance – a personal reflection

Today is the 4th July and memories of a few years ago when I was in Boston where events changed the history of the United States of America live on in my mind. It is a special day for many citizens of the United States and later today I will no doubt chat to American family as they celebrate the 4th. Closer to home it is a day which in the past week has built in the public consciousness with a growing clamour in England around the opening of pubs! And that’s been hard for so many.

As I have mentioned over the last few months I receive a lot of correspondence from folks who have kept in touch with me during the pandemic. One of those wrote to me this week about how hard it has been reading the newspapers and seeing the news on TV in the build-up to what has become this self-styled ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Super Saturday.’ For her it is a day of real insensitivity because like countless thousands she is one of those who have lost her husband to Covid19, her husband being one of the people who died as a result of the virus in a care home.

She is not alone. Many have spoken, written or messaged me from their places of hurt. They have found it hard to reconcile a return to ‘normal’ with the loss and emptiness which is a constant ache in their waking moments and restless nights. They have spoken of the way in which they feel as if they have been put to the side in their grieving as the world rushes by in its race back to normality. They have spoken about becoming the invisible grieving, those whose story is an uncomfortable and constant reminder of the vicious pain and raw absence that this virus has and is causing.

Mourning is an essential part of the rhythm of life – it’s moves are individual and it’s actions are determined by our own character. For some there is a desire to be busy and active, using routine and familiarity to contain our lostness;  for others a need to withdraw and hold pain close; for yet others there is consolation and comfort in the presence of family and friends. But the problem has been that we have been prevented or blocked in so much of the ways in which we traditionally mourn and grieve. Mourning has become unnatural and painfully hard during the pandemic with all the restrictions on funerals, on being together, or on simply being free to wander in our hurt.

As things begin to ease through lockdown then it will undoubtedly become easier for people to reconnect and nurture their own grieving. But I think we all of us have to recognise that those who have lost someone to Covid19 need to be supported and upheld by the wider community. There is something painfully distinctive about losing someone in and to the pandemic and we need to acknowledge that and take action to address these issues. This in part has started already through the resourcing of more focussed grief and bereavement support. But increasingly I feel that this support and recognition needs to be broader and wider.

The messages I have been getting are from people who feel as if society is in danger of creating a stigma around Covid19 and especially around dying from Covid19. We saw a similar trend after the Spanish Flu in the 1920s. They speak of the bereaved unable or unwilling to say to others that their relative has died from the virus. I very much hope that those are a minority, but I also fear that we need to recognise better  the reality of these feelings than we are doing.

Whether you have been bereaved because of Covid19 or someone has died during the lockdown period I believe that there needs to be not solely a restoration of personal grieving support but that we now need to do something at a community and national level. My concern is that if we do not do so there will be far too many with unresolved and blocked grieving which will only serve to cause hurt and harbour pain into the future.

So today I am calling for a National Day of Mourning and Remembrance  for all those impacted by Covid19 in Scotland. I am asking all Members of the Scottish Parliament to agree in principle to the idea of such a day.

  • A day to mourn all those who have died in care homes, in hospital and in community
  • A day to mourn all those who have died during Lockdown for whom we have been unable to grieve and remember as we might have done
  • A day to remember all those who have worked tirelessly in the care of others sharing compassion, giving professionalism and sacrificial service.
  • A day to remember all those who have had their lives changed and turned upside down by this virus.

I am not naming a day, but I think we need to as a community identify the need to have such a day in the future when we can be together to focus on those we need to remember. We need to create a point in the horizon ahead to which those who are lost in their grief can find the energy to pull themselves toward in the hope that society will hear their story, will listen to their loss and will be silent in remembrance.

We need to have a day when in silence and in action, in country and in city, in streets and in homes people have the opportunity to pause and reflect for from such comes healing and renewal both individually and as a community.

Above the din and noise of rushing back to a normal future we must give space and place for people to remember, to picture their loved ones and to cradle a moment in time which is theirs to grieve. We owe them no less.

After the silence of loss, the memories come, the tears fall, the sadness echoes and  mourning and remembrance sounds.

Donald Macaskill