Since the moment of the earth shattering news a soft mist descended. It seemed impossible to grasp hold of anything. To gain purchase on anything. Even a thought. This was compounded by the departure to a foreign land of the significant other. Footsteps became uncertain slippery things. Remembering the steps to plough on through the day eluded me. I’d hover in the kitchen in the mist with many tasks to be completed and no skills left in the well. Waves of children descended with unmet needs and questioning eyes. The shock was to the core. The sadness I felt for those closest to him, robbed of him, enveloped me. The unfairness of it was unshakeable. The sight of the mass-vaccination of GPs mere days after his funeral, a tough pill to swallow. So close.

Silent observers were taking note. There was a fast approaching birthday to be celebrated in this mother of all Januarys and the observers seemed to suggest that I ought to access a quiet determination to ace it. I stood idly by, swaying in the mist, wondering if it was possible at all. Something I taught myself years ago during a tough time seemed to dangle in front of me, just out of reach. Act as if everything is fine and it will be. Eventually. Perhaps. It didn’t fast forward the process then. The process catches you in the most unexpected moments. For the most unexpected length of time. A life-time, the truth be told. There’s no stepping over it. No side-stepping it. But it did give me flashes of the future, this acting. I summoned it again. Come a little closer. Let me catch hold of you.

‘What will we get him for his main gift?’ Marque 2 enquired two days before it. Dead worried about marque 3’s birthday which looked all set to be a wash out. January birthdays can be tricky enough. But in the height of the third wave of the pandemic with soaring numbers and scary variants, with no visitors allowed and the father back working abroad, with the limited shopping and the mother a mere shadow figure – he was right to be worried.

‘Oh that. Yes. I got that. Didn’t I tell you?’

‘No you didn’t Mum’. I squint my eyes at him trying to remember how I forgot to tell him. He’s been sweating away about this silently, trying not to bother me.

‘Sorry. I thought I had. I was sure I had. I think I must’ve had a nervous breakdown on one of the days there’, I say laughing. He laughs too.

‘Yes, it was yesterday’, he offers assuredly.

‘It was?’

‘Yes. I’ve never seen you looking so pale in my whole life. And so silent’. Uh oh. Time to do a better acting job.

The acting skills disappear wholesale during the home-schooling hours. A sort of Tourette’s kicks in instead. Thoughts flash across my addled brain and grunt out all by themselves. One must not be spoken out loud. And certainly not to the youngest who sits at the table with me. With a mountain of subjects to plough through and a hill of instructions with no teacher in the room. With him flicking at the baubles on the Christmas tree beside him that should be long gone. I jump up from my chair for the umpteenth time to prod, instruct and cajole. Out it comes anyway.

‘I’m going to be fired’.

The words sizzle in the cold air like spitting embers. I try to grasp them. To pull them back. But they’ve landed on the top of his head, singeing him.

‘Well not fired exactly and not your fault of course. It’s just that I really need to get this document off in the next 5 minutes and it’s very difficult trying to concentrate on it while home-schooling too.’

A moment of parenting glory. I should write a book with my top positive motivational tips. As guilt riven compensation I select him to accompany me on the trip to get the final bits for the birthday. He has excellent ideas and great taste. We excel.

Marque 3 has his 16th birthday on the 16th. Sweet. The sun shines strongly in the morning as it did on the day he was born. The father drops in on the Alexa on the mantle-piece for the present giving ritual and later for the cake and the toast. It’s as if he’s here. Almost. We video call my sister for the takeaway. Marque 1 sends a takeaway to her house also. The birthday exceeds all marque 3’s expectations. He declares himself to be ‘chuffed’. We’ve aced it. A light frisson of joy pulses through me.

Back in the post-birthday mist we chug on with another week of work, college and home-schooling. The Tourette’s has been brought under control. Instead I hear myself declaring, a little too loudly, that I’m really enjoying the opportunity of working so closely with marque 5. A super rare time to be savoured I tell everyone down the phone, strictly for his ears.

‘We’re having fun’, I boom.

‘Are you sure about that?’ he asks and he laughs.

There’s pranking and merry banter in the house and I immerse myself in it. Plonk myself right in the middle of it and imbibe. A spectator looking for signs of a way back in.

I write today in the light of a massive shift. Perhaps it was the snow yesterday that did it. To begin with it was the same. We sat in front of the fire with our coats and hats on and watched a ridiculous amount of re-runs of Friends. I was chief watcher. Rocking with zombiefied laughter. Then we had a movie night – lest any brain cells be given a chance to kick back in. The shift came in the early hours of this morning. I was awake at six, brimming with energy out of nowhere. I could’ve stayed in bed for another two hours but I ran with it. Got up, showered, cleared up, breakfasted, and opened my laptop. I went not to work files but to writing. I had an idea for another book over Christmas and had begun the outline process. I clicked on the last document I had worked on and up it sprang. All that I didn’t remember doing. Clean, clear, crisp ideas from what seems like a lifetime ago. The opening scene even. It was last saved on the afternoon of the day of the bad news. Three weeks ago. It didn’t cross my mind once in the interim. There was no appetite for anything much, least of all creativity and making up worlds for pleasure. But today, for no known good reason, the mist has burnt away entirely, magically. It’s as if someone has a hand in it.

Life sparkles as loss is carried high. In hearts and minds forever.

Old Pal

In the build up I wondered if it was possible at all. The whole Christmas thing. How do people string this together in the middle of a pandemic? I hovered, masked up, in early morning aisles watching stretched and stressed people grabbing things. Little out of body moments, worried for those around me. Complete strangers. How do you do this? I was struck by the red raw hands of a woman in Penny’s. On bended knees. Grabbing at something as if her life depended on it. Ah god I thought. This is nuts. Dangerous and nuts. Someone give her a pass. Someone give us all a pass.

It was not without a dollop of guilt then that I discovered we had the best Christmas ever. Simplified. Pared back. No socialising. No expectations. The significant other person had sailed home to join us. Anything after that was a bonus. Excellent news, as it happens, accompanied him in the door. I was taking a phone call that could prove to be a life changer. A long term project is finished and set to fly. There was a dream like quality to his return. Even if a wave from the corner of the sitting room wasn’t quite what we had envisaged as the moment of his homecoming greeting.

Champagne. Long cold walks holding warm hands.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely fulfilled on Christmas day’, marque 3 told me.

‘All of my wishes came true’, marque 4 chimed in. So it wasn’t just me imagining it. Simple wishes. Less is more. There was a touch of magic to it all. When it came to New Year’s Day it didn’t even strike me to make a resolution. This is it. The appreciating of the here and now. The not looking ahead at all. It’s a gift of the pandemic. One day at a time. With the people you love held close and tight. If you’re lucky.


The numbers soar. The daily guesses we make could be out by thousands. The dread seeps in as the danger all around us grows. We come to a rational decision. Leave the emotions aside. He should head back a week early. Get the hell out of here. Get the vaccine. He can get it almost immediately where he works. It’s a no-brainer. When you park the emotions.


We arrive back after an evening walk a couple of days before he’s due to go. There’s a phone call from my sister. We are catapulted into another realm.

Her best friend, long term loyal companion, soul mate and our dear brother-like family friend has died suddenly. It’s gut wrenchingly shocking. He’s a GP. He’s always looking after everyone else. He’s worried sick about the pandemic. What he’s seeing. What he’s hearing on the phone. What he’s referring. It’s a lot worse than we think. He’s very critical of the Government’s moves. He was saying all along that there should not be an opening up for Christmas. That nothing along those lines should even be looked at until February. They had a two hour chat on the Saturday night. A great chat, full of laughter and love. Her birthday was in a few days. He counselled her to do nothing. To just relax. To stay indoors and see no one at all. This thing is rampaging out there. If you stay in for the next couple of weeks, let no-one into your home, go to no-one’s home, you’ll be fine. He was desperate to keep everyone safe. On the Sunday night he wasn’t feeling well. He phoned his receptionist to say he wouldn’t be in the next day. He was coughing. He said he thought he might have Covid. He died a few hours later. At home, alone. A swab test confirmed he had Covid. He was a-symptomatic until a few hours before his death. He was not in an at risk category. He was healthy. He was a front line worker. He is a casualty of this war. Systemic errors cannot be discounted in his shocking and untimely loss.

A few things about him, our brotherly old pal. He was fiercely loyal, kind, generous and caring – to his family, many friends, classmates, patients, our family and beyond. He was quick witted with an easy ready smile, a great laugh, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He always wanted to hear the latest. He was always highly amused by whatever the latest was. He was great fun. He wanted the best for the people he cared about and delighted in their small wins. He had pet names for everyone. He swept the streets of London with my sister when they were medical students. He saved her life when she had bacterial meningitis. In the 90s we travelled with a group to Cuba. Out on a rooftop in Havana we shot the breeze about what life had in store for us. He guessed for me. I guessed for him. We were bang on, give or take. He had a great Christmas Day. He kept saying how lucky he felt he was. He was warm, funny, solid, determined, dependable, resolute and yet vulnerable in a way too. He brought out a protective streak in the people who cared about him as he was too kind for his own good at times. There was a selflessness to him. His needs were simple, straightforward, sidelined. It was the needs of others that interested him. He was noble.

If he could see us now, all so deeply upset at his passing he would tilt his head to the side in the way that he does, and nod and smile, eyes twinkling, amused. There’s one hell of a conversation to be had about the latest.

Rest in Peace