I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:Marie Howell
I am living. I remember you.
I was too raw to write before now, of that COVID night, that came last week, and stole away my sleep and left me ragged for days.
It seems wrong to admit it – that I was left in pieces.
It did not happen to me, these things, this illness that visited itself upon members of my community, people on the other side of the world to my safe little farm, down here in Australia. But I felt that dark bird on my shoulder all the same.
I spoke with a mother and daughter who had both been diagnosed with COVID-19 and who had been instructed to only go to hospital if their conditions worsened and they had trouble breathing. The daughter is immuno-compromised and in her twenties, and her mum contacted me to see if she was over-reacting or whether they really did need to go to hospital. I could see how ill they both were, and that they needed immediate attention. I also saw that the daughter was gravely ill, but her body was unable to spike a fever, so she appeared less unwell than she actually was. I was so worried for them both, but the daughter most of all. And of course, the mother knew, deep down, how bad it was. The mother is now in ICU. Her daughter passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on Sunday.
On that same night I also spoke via Facetime with another member of our community who was already in intensive care. Margaret was a nurse, who contracted COVID-19 through her work. She had only one family member, a much older sister with advanced dementia. Margaret had asked that her attending nurse contact me so that I could speak with her and talk to her about dying, and so she could have someone to say goodbye to. And I did that, via Margaret’s iPad, trying my best to ignore the sounds of the machines and of everything else happening around her. I talked with Margaret about life and love and dying and helped her to find a place of calm. We thought she had more time, but she went downhill rapidly, soon after our call. The nurse messaged me two hours later to let me know that Margaret had passed away. I was so profoundly grateful that the nurse had made time to let me know, in the midst of all that she was already doing.
Today I’m honouring Margaret – a middle-aged nurse who loved chocolate cake and hiking and rose quartz and who passed otherwise unremarked amid the chaos and carnage of the hospital where she had worked. I’m also honouring Tabitha – a young woman with chronic fatigue who had never been able to achieve her dreams of travel or finishing study or living independently and who died alone while her mum was in another ward. Hold her mum Jenny in your thoughts, and Margaret’s sister Roslyn, who has lost her advocate and the only person to whom she mattered outside the walls of her nursing home.
I’m still here, for all of you, and I will continue to be, to the best of my ability. Take care of yourselves, and each other. We still have far to walk under the shadow of this pandemic.
With love, Nicole xx