It is a process that I am not sure if I have fully processed. Three months into Coronavirus lockdown and I found myself in hospital. It was sudden. A painful night between June 3rd and 4th I had put down to heart burn and a very bad choice of film in the family’s Movie A Night In Lockdown. Blame the boredom of Queen Of The Desert.
It was not funny though. What I thought was heartburn was excruciatingly painful. A night of no sleep whatever and Janice had me off to the doctor who sent me to A & E. This was an A & E with seats X-ed out. Social distant queues to get into wards. 24 hours of tests and I was now in a side ward having antibiotics pumped through and the mention of a gallbladder removal, maybe the first gallbladder operation since theatre started opening up again. That was the blessing.
It was a short sharp shock of a process. Yet so much of the year was tied up in those days.
The afternoon before my gallbladder started giving me pain we had sat through the online funeral of our dearest friend Lucia Quinney Mee. Lucia was a gifted and inspirational young woman who left us just a few days before her 21st birthday. Here and her sister Alice were soul mates with our girls. The first half of our year was praying and being touch with Lucia's family. She had had her fourth liver transplant in the last hours of 2019 and we were aware that recovery could be long.
Janice and Jasmine had gotten in to Kings Hospital to see her at the end of February and I read her dad David’s diaries from the ICU like daily devotions. Lucia and her family were in prime location to watch Covid-19 take hold. Being the Quinney Mees we sensed them being a vital quiet contribution to that community at a crucial time.
By mid May we sensed that all was not well and were devastated when Lucia made the brave move to not put her weary body through any more. Our grief was only more acute by the distance and not being able to be with them all and that there was no funeral in Ballycastle. Without doubt when we look back at 2020 it will be Lucia and not Coronavirus that will hold our memory. We continue to grieve.
It was Lucia’s father David that I looked to in my own early fears in A & E. His advice about befriending the doctors and nurses and letting them hunt for me was my mantra all the way through.
There was more. In my first few hours in A & E, as I struggled to stay awake, a text came in from Fr Martin Magill to tell me that our friend Glenn Jordan had passed away. Glenn was younger than me and much fitter. This was a stunning shock. Glenn was a founding member of the 4 Corners Festival and a week before lockdown we had chatted in the street about a coffee after all this was over. Every time I hear the new Springsteen album or watch Leeds United in the Premiership…
As I sat there I realised that as I suffered through the night in pain, Glenn was dying suddenly in bed. I thought about Glenn’s family now devastated in grief. Mine were worried at home unable to visit but they knew I was in good hands with a solution imminent.
Glenn’s death in June was followed later in the year by Jay Swartzendruber and Derek Hall’s. Both were younger still. Snuffed out suddenly. Jay was a musical loving buddy and Derek and I had worked on various TEAR Fund campaigns. We schemed to bring the Kingdom and laughed a lot as we did. Never mind Coronavirus, 2020 was a bleak year even without it. My own mortality started having conversations with me.
In those few days in hospital I feel I got a snap shot of the medical challenges of 2020. Watching the extra vigilance, commitments and compassion of the staff. Seeing long term patients struggle without the visits of loved ones. One man in my ward had to make a tough decision as to whether to go to a side ward so that he would be isolated enough to see his wife once a week or forsake seeing his wife to have the every day company of the ward.
For me there was added stress in my awareness of the virus. I knew there was an added risk to having the operation. Tougher was that isolation from family. I had a minor operation in 2019 and Janice was the rock before it and right there after the operation to see me out of it. This time it was a solo run and dependence on face time, phone calls, texts and social media. All such communications of course found a little more respect in 2020.
I believe that the sickness and grief is where Coronavirus hit us hardest. What are always tough times in life suddenly were made even tougher. Not being able to be beside loved ones in their sickness or even as they pass away and not having support there as you grieve loved ones. That is the real hurt of this virus.
Into such I have attempted to suggest one word. Emmanuel. Praying for friends and Fitzroy that they would know in those moments when isolated kept people apart a God who is always there. Emmanuel - God with us. And with those we loved and love.