(When it is 4 degrees C outside and blowing a gale, these seeds are an act of faith that things will get better)
Over the last week, what we think of as our normal life has come to a halt due to coronavirus. As things changed at an accelerated pace, I had a sick, dislocated feeling which was horribly familiar.
The first time I had it was when I took my daughter for a medical appointment and I was told that she was so ill she would have to be admitted to hospital as an emergency. I stayed with her during the long wait for a hospital bed in a calm state which I now recognise as shock.
The sick feeling only hit me when a nurse ordered me home and I had to leave my daughter crying in a ward with strangers. I passed familiar things, a fast food place, a group of houses, but nothing looked right. People were laughing together outside cafés and I wondered how they could chat and laugh when the bottom had quite simply fallen out of my life.
The odds of my daughter dying from her illness were higher than the death rate for Covid-19. She pulled through after 2 months in hospital although she was still struggling with health problems eighteen months on when I received other news which changed life as I knew it.
The day started off like any other day. I got up, had breakfast, made sandwiches for the kids and switched on the radio a little after eight o’ clock. Fortunately, I didn’t catch the start of the news, because if I had, I would have heard a news item about my sister’s death. Even though she wasn’t named, there would have been enough details for me to know that it was her.
I was spared for another few minutes until I went upstairs, checked my mobile, which had been switched off at night, and found eight missed calls. I called back, hoping it was hospital, hoping there was a chance, and my mother told me my sister had taken her life.
It was all over, the terrible struggle with mental illness. I sat in the living room, terribly calm, but the dog knew I wasn’t okay. She came over and pressed herself against me and stayed like that until my husband told me I would have to pack to go to my parents.
When you get bad news, shock helps you cope in the short term. You do things you wouldn’t have though possible given the burden you are carrying, but in the long term, unless you take great care of yourself, it takes its toll.
This week, I felt shock again. Here is how it went:
Friday 13th March – We went to the meeting point early in the morning to discover that my son’s school trip had been cancelled due to concerns about coronavirus.
Sunday 15th March – I went to church, nodded to others instead of giving the sign of peace. Many older people were already staying away due to concerns about the virus.
Monday 16th March – I sent my children to school as normal, not knowing it would be the last day.
Tuesday 17th March – St. Patrick’s Day. Increasingly concerned about the coronavirus, we kept the kids off school and worked from home (we are fortunate we can do this).
Wednesday 18th March – frantically booked my daughter a flight home as her college was closing. Received news that the Catholic Church was suspending Masses whilst the Free Church of Scotland and Church of Scotland were also stopping church services.
Thursday 19th March – St. Joseph’s Day. I got up early to shop and found almost no fresh vegetables, very little bread, no toilet paper and very little canned and dried food. This was the last day of public Masses although I couldn’t go as I was looking after kids at home.
Friday 20th March – Schools across Scotland closed today. I made a long journey to meet my daughter at the airport and bring her home.
This weekend – All non-essential travel is banned. Tourists are told to stay away from the Scottish Highlands which normally relies on the tourist industry.
Monday 23rd – we are effectively in lockdown, only allowed to leave the house for essential groceries or to get exercise.
We are all suffering
This time, we’re all suffering. I can’t go out and look at other people and think, ‘They’re okay.’ Nor can I read about others’ suffering on the other side of the world and allow myself the guilty thought, ‘At least that’s not us.’
We’re all in this together. Whatever we decided to give up for Lent pales in comparison with all the things we have to give up: freedom to go out, meet others, stop in a coffee shop, go to the library or the gym, shop for anything but food.
In his letter announcing the suspension of Masses, the Bishop asked us to say the Our Father often and meditate on what it means to say, ‘Give us our daily bread.’
I eat my food with genuine thankfulness and try not to worry about the shortages in the supermarket.
What has helped me when normal stops
I think back to what helped when I experienced sudden and difficult changes in my life before and what I hope will help again.
- I learnt that I am not big enough to control circumstances. I can only take one day at a time, do my wee bit and leave the rest to God..
- When my daughter got ill, it was an absolute necessity to find some way to switch off my mind (otherwise I was always tense and worrying). I found peace through praying the rosary, as well as through meditation exercises (becoming aware of my body and my breath)
- Doing ordinary things, such as cooking, hoovering or walking the dog, helped me feel grounded.
- When I’m under strain and nothing feels right, I have learnt that it’s important to look after myself. Sometimes I need to do something to relax such as read a novel, watch a film, have a bath, even when it’s hard with kids to look after and a new situation to adjust to.
- I have found out that we don’t always see God healing someone. Sometimes we are asked to be like the royal official who begged Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son. Instead of going to the official’s house, Jesus sent him on the long journey home, telling him that his son would live. The official had to leave Jesus in faith. I recognise myself in this story. I prayed many times that my sister would be healed and now I have to believe that she is being healed even though I will never be able to see her healed in this life.
The last thought are words from Hosea (Mass reading on Saturday 21st March).
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord; that he will come is as certain as the dawn, his judgement will rise like the light, he will come to us as showers come, like spring rains watering the earth.