Missed Chances, Absent Goodbyes

a man holds his head while sitting on a sofa
a man holds his head while sitting on a sofa
Photo by Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash

With a lockdown anniversary that no one wanted to celebrate like this, it’s a time of reflection for many of us. Looking back on the weddings that have been missed, birthdays, holidays, and celebrations, it’s a strange time. It’s also a time that brings us all closer through our shared but separate experiences. Same storm, different boats.

This time last year, I sat in the living room of our first house together, surrounded by boxes upon boxes of CD’s and vinyl moved in just weeks earlier, my boyfriend and I anxiously waited for Boris’ announcement. We all know what came next, not unexpected but totally unknown. I immediately began to worry about money. I work from home anyway, but he doesn’t and now can’t work. Do I make enough to support us both? How many hours can I pick up from a country also severely affected by this? What if we get kicked out?

The first lockdown ultimately ended up assuaging a lot of my fears, I was making enough to support us (which made me feel like a boss!) and then government assistance was rolled out for the self-employed. I’d never spent so much time with my boyfriend and without sounding saccharine it was bliss! I’d work my shifts in our spare room, he’d game, then we’d spend our time going for walks around our new neighbourhood and doing our once-weekly food shop (who knew they were so hard to do?). 

I was also doing weekly shops for my (adopted) Grandma, she was 90, turned 91 during the pandemic and she lived by herself in a somewhat remote village. Around June time, the shopping lists she sent me were becoming shorter and shorter. She had never been a big woman, but she always had a big appetite. In hindsight, I wish more than anything that I’d asked her about it sooner, that I’d have addressed why she didn’t want the food. She’d told me that she had pain in her back, and the thing she always wanted me to get her was painkillers, every week, the strongest pain killers. When it got to the point where she didn’t want me to buy her anything, I knew something wasn’t right, but she wouldn’t go to the doctors. She hadn’t left her house since the start of the pandemic and she didn’t want to take up resources or risk catching COVID-19.

A neighbour that I had known since I was a child, knocked on her door one morning to see if she needed anything and she was almost incoherent. She was taken to hospital that morning and she would never come home. She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a few days later, and I wouldn’t see her again. Over the next couple of weeks, I went back and forth to the hospital with clean clothes for her, did her washing, topped-up her phone so she could stay in contact, I organised a visit inline with the hospital’s visiting regulations, I turned up and was told that I couldn’t see her. They’d effectively changed their minds; I was heartbroken because I knew that it would be my only chance. What upset me the most though was that I’d messaged her telling her that I was coming to see her, and I felt that I’d let her down for a second time. 

That day broke me. I’d been handling pandemic life so well, following all the guidelines, doing everything I could to speed up a return to normality and for what? Since then, I’ve struggled. It has felt incredibly isolating to grieve alone, to have no sense of normality in the rituals that usually surround death. It has also magnified the distance between myself and my mother who I know must also be struggling like me, but I can’t be there for her either, it almost magnified the guilt I felt over not being there for my Grandma. 

I mostly have struggled with the huge guilt that I’ve felt that I didn’t do more and that I – in my mind at least – lied to her about visiting her in her last days. I’ll often think about signs that I brushed off or that I missed completely, I think about her having to be alone or with strangers at the end and it makes me feel like I let her down. She did so much for me throughout my life and I couldn’t even be there with her at the end. She deserved more than I gave her and that’s something that I will have to carry with me forever.

The main thing I’ll take away from this pandemic isn’t the kindness shown by many or the selfishness shown by several, not the clapping for the NHS or the relentless weekly zoom quizzes. It’s that my only chance to say goodbye to someone I loved so dearly was stolen from me. I can always make up for lost time at house parties, festivals, or travelling, but I will never be able to change this, and it devastates me. This year of relentless lockdowns has not only left me with guilt that I cannot allay but with grief that I cannot begin to process properly because it doesn’t seem real. It will take far too long to leave this year behind.

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