I have nothing but time. And time is such an intangible, nebulous thing, that sometimes it feels as though I have nothing at all.
I’m better off than most. A perpetual student, I still live at home with my mother, which, up until the start of this whole crisis, had always seemed embarrassing and shameful. Now, I’m glad of it. I don’t have the threat of being made homeless because I don’t have a job; I cook and clean for my mum when she’s at work in the hospital, and that’s enough. I’m not on my own. I have human contact every day, albeit with only one person, and we get on well. I have someone I can physically touch (not that I do; we’re not that kind of family, but I could, and that’s enough) and talk to in person. I have the most excellent group of friends that anyone could wish for. If ever this whole situation gets too much, I only have to call someone, and someone will answer and commiserate with me, and I don’t bear the burden alone. I’m relatively healthy, at 27 and with no serious underlying health conditions, and I have access to most of the food I want – although my mother did have to buy some flour for £2 from someone at work (“on the black market,” we joked) because we didn’t have any for a fortnight and had resorted to freezing hot dog buns and defrosting them when we needed bread. But still. We had bread. I’m lucky, relatively, and that really does mean a lot. There are people with so much less than me. People whose landlords have told them to move out if they can’t pay their rent without a job. People who won’t see their partners for months and months. People who won’t see another living soul.
And the greatest silver lining of all, bizarrely, is that 2019 summarily killed off half my family members, including all but one of those who would now be in the ‘vulnerable’ category for coronavirus. I have so many fewer people to worry about than my friends, who fret about and phone their grandparents every day. I simply don’t have those people to worry about any more. For me, the biggest worry is that my mother will contract it at work, and none of us really knows how anyone will respond to an unknown virus. So, worry is not such a stranger after all, but it takes a greyer shape for me. Something less dark and fearsome than it appears to those with more to lose. And it’s the strangest thing, of course it is, to think about my Year Of Grief as a good thing. At the time, it was the end of my world. Only now, the whole world seems to have ended, and mine might well be the only one still sort of moving along, albeit slowly, emptily, pointlessly for now.
So, things to be grateful for: that I could attend the funerals of all my loved ones last year. That I held their hand as they died. That I was the last thing they saw.
I cannot even fathom the grief that the whole world will wake up to when all this is over. In medical terms, it’s going to be a crisis of mental health that I’m not sure we can handle as a country. In human terms, we are all going to need each other in ways that I only hope we’ll be able to give. There are so many things we will all have to come to terms with. The things unseen. Funerals in empty chapels, gravesites unvisited. The knowledge that their loved ones’ hands were held by strangers; strangers who cared immensely, who risked their own lives to hold those hands, but strangers nonetheless. People who were simply here one day and not the next, and in death they become a number, coalesced into a death toll. Their relatives are victims in a way mine were not. More than simply someone who has died, and somehow so much less for it. But they are not less. They were people, and they were loved, and it is unfathomable that they are not here any more. They should be here.
I was allowed the space to grieve when my loved ones died. I was allowed to mourn them because the whole world around me was going on without me, and everyone recognised this as something wrong, something terrible, something unfair. I got phone calls and commiserations and messages and cards. I’m sorry for your loss. Do you need anything? Now, who has anything left to give? Is there anyone who hasn’t lost someone? Who hasn’t, in a way, lost everything? What kind of support is available now for those who lose someone?
It’s so hard to articulate what I want to say. Words haven’t come easy since this all started. Perhaps because they feel futile in a way they never have before. Words are all the times politicians promised to keep the virus at bay, to uphold the NHS, to look after us. To do what was right. And they didn’t. There are those who disagree with me, and they’re allowed to. We’ve all seen the arguments on Twitter and Facebook about whether we should be ‘politicising this crisis’ now by criticising the government’s response, or lack thereof. It’s an invalid argument. The crisis was politicised for us when the government initially opted to let the virus move through the population and kill ‘only’ the most vulnerable. ‘Herd immunity,’ they said; they didn’t say it would be at the expense of so many of the herd. Words failed us all.