It seems to me that a great deal of stories being told at the moment, by the press, are words of doom and gloom. We’re being given numbers, of new Covid cases, deaths, vaccinated, percentage points of vaccine working or not working. We’re being given dates, of shops opening, restaurants taking reservations and potential travel allowance. We’re being told our politicians aren’t working for us or if they are it isn’t fast enough or good enough for all parties involved. We’re watching as a spotlight is shone on racism and how, despite the fact that we live in 2021 where we’d like to imagine a world where all races, genders and sexualities are equal, it’s the exact opposite and it’s result is devastating and all too often life threatening. The news is, at present, a panic attack waiting to happen. It’s why I’ve mainly shut myself off from it all. It’s why I find it hard to talk about. I want to talk about it all, but then I become the news. I become the person bringing the panic attack I can’t take on myself right now.
Today, I want to be the opposite of that. I want to talk about something hard, but equally heartwarming. It’s about death in the time of Covid. Depending on where you live on this earth right now, you will have different restrictions for what is allowed. In the UK, at a funeral, you are allowed 30 guests. No more. Imagine that. Imagine having to limit the number of people that can come and show their respects, to mourn a family member or dear friend. That restriction has most likely been one of the hardest here for people to come to terms with. Many of my friends in the UK have been forced to attend funerals by Zoom, to cry at their kitchen tables, alone, as they say goodbye to their loved ones without having had a chance to hug them one last time or stroke their hand and make final promises. That, I simply cannot imagine having to deal with. It is a possibility, I’m sure, that has haunted all us with parents over the age of 65.
A couple of weeks ago, Steve’s best friend lost his father suddenly (because I have not asked permission to write about this, I will not share any specifics).
I have only lived in this village one year, but I already felt the love of this family, from his friend and his friend’s family. When his father died, a ripple of pain ran through the village. Steve sat in disbelief as he got the text. I too sat in shock. This would be our third funeral at the local church in under 18 months. Only, we weren’t able to attend this funeral. Restrictions meant that we couldn’t go and support the family that Steve had grown up with and one that I’ve grown to love.
So, Steve and I decided to do something else instead. The church is a short walk from our house. We would go and wait outside as the casket arrived in the hearse to show the family that while we couldn’t be there, in the church with them, we were there to show our love.
My friend Rebecca had told me that at weddings, before the days of Covid, people from the village would often wait outside when weddings took place. The church can only hold so many so the overflow would sit on the stone walls and antique benches, line the sidewalks and wait on the cricket field, for the couple to make their appearance as man and wife. It made sense that the same could be done in this instance.
Walking up to the church, we stopped to pick up another one of Steve’s childhood friends. Socially distanced, we meandered towards the church, which has sat atop this hill since the year 1180. As we rounded the corner, over the bridge, where the large clock tower comes into full view, we saw something that I know will stick with me until the day I depart this earth. We thought we would be alone, quite naively, or maybe with a few people outside the church.
On a day where only 30 people could show their respects in a church for a beloved man, more than 100 people from the village came and lined the sidewalk to say goodbye, on both sides of the street. We joined the line of people, all socially distanced along the pavement and waited as the family greeted the hearse in front of the church, our heads all bowed. The wife of the departed, a beautifully elegant woman that is petite, but one of the most compassionate and vivacious women I’ve ever come into contact with, was making her way down the line of people waiting, thanking, from a distance, each and every person that stood there on this day, to say goodbye to her husband. As the funeral attendants started the procession, she made her way back to the church to lead her family inside. The equal parts strength, love and venerability shown by this woman is something I only hope I one day possess.
On a day that could have been simply sadness, something else was presented here. There was a sense of community, something stronger than any virus could destroy or threaten. Love won. And in case you may have forgotten, it does every single time. Every single darn time.
So, I wanted to share that. I wanted to tell you that on a day when the news was reporting gloom and doom, a small village in Hampshire saw something else that was hopeful and beautiful and proof that the power of community should never be underestimated.
Note: The picture used above is not from yesterday. I took a picture to share with the family so that they could see, from another perspective, just how many people came to show their respects, but again, the bigger story here, one of a man’s incredible life, is not mine to share. Thank you for understanding.