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