Living in self-isolation under lockdown feels like living in a fragile protective bubble, a somewhat larger version of the huge soap bubbles I watched a busker producing on a still autumn day in New York’s Central Park some years ago. As long as one is very careful, the bubble won’t burst, and provided the families of those one loves are safe in their own protective bubbles, one can get on with life with reasonable equanimity, even if the constraints become irksome from time to time. The separate bubbles preclude physical contact but are uplifted by the virtual contact enabled by the likes, appropriately enough, of Zoom. If we are lucky, they also insulate us to a significant extent from the agonies of the now more than 40,000 people in UK who have died of Covid-19, and the searing grief of the very many more partners, children, parents, and siblings who have been left behind.
One needs to be insulated. The pain of all those deaths doesn’t bear too much thinking about. ‘Human kind cannot bear very much reality’, as T.S.Eliot said. The bubble bursts, a partner or a parent gets infected, goes to hospital and ends up in another kind of bubble, this time more like a steel-walled bathysphere that might as well be 10,000 feet under the sea in the Mariana Trench for all the chance anyone has of seeing or touching their loved one. No visiting, no holding hands, no opportunity for any kind of proper closure, no saying goodbye, and at the end of it all no proper funeral. Their loved ones have no option but to leave the dying quite literally in the hands of, and to the seemingly infinite, but desperately weary, compassion of the nurses. Nurses who carry the burden of that love and compassion while, in all too many cases, also carrying the burden of knowing that the government of the people they are caring for, led by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, would like nothing better than to kick them back to wherever it was they came from to care for our dying here.
It isn’t only the process of dying that enforces separate bubbles under lockdown. To take just one of what must be hundreds of thousands of examples, there’s a letter in today’s Independent written by a 77 year old man, married for 56 years, whose wife has extreme Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home. Whereas he used to visit and sit with her four or five times a week, he hasn’t been able to see her for eight weeks and, being vulnerable himself, has been in total isolation. He feels ‘neglected, ignored, lonely and cast to one side’ and says that the pressure on mental health must be a major issue for many people like himself. He concludes his letter by saying: ‘We cannot drive to Durham and choose whether we follow instructions and advice. Grief, loss and depression are being dismissed by the authorities as unimportant.’ Whatever Boris Johnson may choose to say from behind his podium, we are not all in this together.