May 4. All of us, especially those in complete lockdown, spend quality time wondering what we might have done when we had the chance to do it.
In Britain we had perhaps six to eight weeks when we knew that coronavirus was not something that just happened in far away countries. We had a week to ten days when it was clear that an imposed lockdown was coming. What use did we make of this precious time?
Visiting the hairdresser is so obvious and so universal (except for those no longer burdened with a thatch) that it is not worth mentioning. A friend sent us a cartoon. A sex worker is leaning through a car window. ‘I’ll do anything you want for £50.’ A voice from inside the car: ‘Do you cut hair?’
For us the major regret was not attending a family celebration of my wife’s birthday in London. As it happened this was arranged for March 14, just over a week before the closure. My wife and I were still considering that we might travel when we received fierce instruction from each of our children. They addressed us much as we did them in the most irresponsible phase of their adolescence: ‘What you are proposing to do represents an unnecessary threat to your health and wellbeing. We have a duty of care towards you, and you will do as we say.’ Thus, the tables were turned, perhaps for good.
Since then, the risk register has evolved. Dying has become one of the activities to get through before the shut-down. On Sunday we had a grocery delivery, and fell to talking (at a safe distance) to the man who had pushed the trolley up the drive. He said that he had lately lost his father. We sympathised with his coronavirus suffering, but he explained that his father had died, much to his relief, just before the outbreak. He had been in and out of hospital for a year and would have hated to have his treatment sidelined by the pandemic. His family had been with him during his final hours. And they had a good funeral (he also explained the difficulty of arranging it in the midst of severe flooding in our area, but that is now a forgotten story).
The last funeral that I attended myself before the crisis was of a cousin. He too had been undergoing hospital treatment for a year. He too died in the company of his wife and children. He too had a great send-off, at which his grandchildren and a university colleague spoke movingly of his life.
The widespread stories of final hours being spent only in the company of medical staff, of tight restrictions on attendance at funerals, of cancer appointments falling by three quarters, of cancelled treatments for a host of serious conditions, reinforce the tale told by the delivery man. For those who still have time ahead of us, better of course to stand and take our chance. But for those for whom the grim reaper was already at the door, better he entered before all this happened.