Thursday 18 February 2021

Death in the new normal - by Lu Hersey

We're all used to only seeing people on zoom, or other chat forums. We have no choice. Not in real life.  Work meetings, friend meetings, family groups - if we don't meet virtually, we can't meet at all. Sometimes it's a good thing - we don't have to travel miles, and ironically we can attend more events in far flung geographical locations than we possibly could in reality. It saves time and money. It's become the new normal. It's been a year already and despite the fantastic vaccine roll out, there's still no real end in sight.

Zoom isn't so bad most of the time. Introverted writers sometimes relish not having to be sociable. Those events you know you'd have had to attend, but you can't. Because rules. 

But at other times, you desperately WANT to be there. For me, it really hit home at my cousin's funeral. We'd had a long facebook chat the day before she died, while she was in hospital with Covid, getting oxygen, wired up to various drips. She was in good spirits despite the breathlessness and pain. We talked of summer and going to the beach. Of families. Of the past. 

The next morning, one of her sons (who's nearly my age) messaged to say she had passed. I was shocked and very upset - she'd seemed so feisty, so upbeat, less than 12 hours earlier. And of course I couldn't go to the funeral in lockdown. 

That's when I found out it's not just writer conferences and online learning platforms that can be viewed virtually. Funerals can be too. With so many deaths from Covid, it's standard practice, everything arranged by the funeral directors so you can be there, and yet not be there. 

If you've watched a funeral recently, you'll know how it goes. The master of ceremonies (funeral director, priest, whoever is leading the service), who almost certainly didn't know the deceased, introduces the order of service. Unlike the immediate family who are actually present in the room, they're aware of the camera and the remote viewers and make every effort to include you, even if you can't be seen and can't say anything. In fact, they have no idea who you are, or whether you're there or not. 

Funerals are no fun, and this was no exception. I watched most of it through a wall of tears...yet there was that other part of me that found it really interesting to be an observer and not being able to interact. What is it about the writer brain? Why was some other part of my mind thinking of all the possibilities of including online funerals in a novel? It's as though I'd become detached from reality, watching TV... but the players were people I know in real life, even if I haven't seen them in years. 

There's something very strange about observing a large family gathering when no one's aware you're watching them. I mean, you can really stare without being rude (though only from one point of view because the camera doesn't move) - you can marvel that someone you last saw when they were 14 is now over 50 and balding. Where did the time go? And your sweet little second cousin, who you'd swear was only about ten - somehow has four grown up children with her. Another second cousin, so very like his mother - keeping an eye on everyone to make sure they're okay, lifting his mask to mouth I love you to his sister when she found it hard to give her speech, so caring for everyone - yet I know he was devastated, and still only just recovering from covid himself.

My father had written a letter of condolence to the family which was read out at the service, and I'd sent him the link before the funeral so he could watch if wished. Being 93, he's a bit forgetful, and called me the day after the funeral to ask when the service was starting. That's when I found out you can actually watch the service online as many times you like (once was enough for me, but a fictional YA goth character could watch on tape-loop... I felt bad even thinking that, but on the plus side, I know my cousin would have thought it was hilarious...)

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I got to be present in some way at her funeral. And I cried buckets. But the virtual experience, however interesting to the writer brain, doesn't begin to compensate for reality. There was no chance to hug people, talk to them (however awkwardly), try to comfort them. I just wanted to be there. 

Sod the new normal. I want normal back. To be able to repeat Victoria Wood's immortal lines at the wake. '72 baps, Connie. You slice, I'll spread.' My cousin would have loved that.

Lu Hersey

twitter: @LuWrites


Test said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. May her memory be a blessing. I lost my mother last April, and I was actually greatly relieved that we weren't able to have a service. Maybe the pandemic will also cut down on the number of weddings that require attendance. Glad that you are able to see the story potential in the situation.

Andrew Preston said...

I want normal back too.

In my opinion, though, the behaviour of the government has been utterly reckless.

In addition the behaviours of the medical and scientific advisers, Whitty, Vallance,
plus the assorted no-names that stand up beside the prime minister at briefings do not remotely compare with the integrity of the US chief medical person, Dr Fauci, when it comes to facing up to politicians.

I'm sorry for your loss.