By Sarah J Bryson
We Are All in This Together
the children at home, taught – or not by parents
on Google and Zoom while missing their friends
the homeowners furloughed, plagued by the weight
of mortgages their own – plus those of off-spring
whose lives are on hold, their jobs insecure, the fear
of the future a looming unknown unknown
while the front-line workers spend their lives gowned
and masked with new rules, new ways of working.
Look, here is the nurse-turned-gatekeeper, hands in blue gloves
her eyes trying to compensate for her hidden face
telling the woman that she can’t come back
to see her dad, that she can’t bring in the children
to say their final goodbyes
At least it’s not raining as his family and friends coagulate
in loose groups, faces masked and solemn, dressed not-in-black
as requested. He had died, I heard, knowing his heart was failing, again.
I watch his cousins and best mates of varying heights pull on gloves,
step forward to bear his weight, to shoulder him into the chapel.
As the service starts a woman at the back is turned away
discreetly, as they are ‘not permitted to exceed the 30
already seated.’ I turn to face the front, to listen and learn
about the person we are here to mourn: he was the son of Mum’s
second partner, and now I realise, my almost step-brother.
He was much younger than me, not yet 50. Anecdotes
and eulogies are related by the stoical celebrant. Each song
is a recording, not sung by us. Two tracks, then Heaney’s poem,
‘Follower’. Lastly, ‘Sinnerman’ by Nina Simone, before we walk out
through a different door, around the back to where the flowers are.
I watch, on the periphery, my tongue in check as my mother
talks to different groups, finds herself wrapped in hugs
not resisting, her tears wetting the mask she wears.
I will have to wait a while, until we are back at her place
to make sure she washes her hands and face –
my sadness dislodged by the hope she will be safe.
Sarah is a writer, nurse and amateur photographer. She is interested in words, words for wellbeing, people and nature – and the connections between these aspects of her life.
I am a nurse, and during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic up until a few weeks ago the hospice where I work became a Covid-19 admission unit. We extended what we could offer, turning office spaces and the chapel into nursing areas with beds and lockers brought in my the army… this entailed some massive reorganisations of rooms, equipment and ways of working. Then nurses from other walks of life were drafted in to help us while their own areas of work were temporarily halted.
The experience was all at once surreal and real. Many of the rules and regulations we were asked to enforce at work went against the grain of what our usual philosophy would be, and this was difficult at times. Also many of us were simultaneously trying to do what we could at work, doing more hours than usual in these unusual circumstances, for example, while also trying to protect our home life and families from the impact of the infection. The poem is based on several experiences, rolled into one.