It’s not what is left, it is what is lost that is important
After the lockdown, we need to mourn our losses – deaths, jobs and society, as we know it
When will Dublin streets be bustling with crowds of many nationalities again? Photograph: Alan Betson
“The ice is thawing,” a man declared to me from across the road on a blazing hot day last week. He marched on in the direction of the Phoenix Park. I was going the same way but I postponed crossing the road. I have no interest in conversations with strangers who expect me to know by telepathy what it is they are talking about.
Perhaps he was referring to the slight thaw in the lockdown. Even 5km is a thaw, I suppose. His remark brought to mind a picture of people emerging into a landscape after a winter’s ice has melted and looking around them to see what is left.
From an emotional perspective, what will be more important when that day dawns is not what is left but what is lost.
Losses have to be acknowledged to be dealt with and not just acknowledged by ourselves but by others who know the loss matters to us. Most of those who go to a funeral are acknowledging the loss felt by the principal mourners. The absence of this possibility is what makes funerals so bleak at the moment.
Nobody knows what we are eventually going to emerge into or when but losses will be of a strange variety of types and importance.
Leaving Cert students who have been told for five or six years that they are working towards the moment they turn the first page in a series of examination papers must feel a sense of loss or at least bewilderment. But I think they will get past it so long as they acknowledge how they feel and so long as other people display some empathy with how they feel.
Change has come suddenly, for some brutally.
Emotionally, that is hard to just accept
They will also feel, in most cases, some sense of loss at not being able to say goodbye to their fellow students and teachers at the end of their schooldays. They will get past that too, I think.
What of those who have lost a job, or work, or a business? We focus on the financial supports which are hugely important. But the change has come suddenly, for some brutally. Emotionally, that is hard to just accept. And when the roads fill again in the mornings with cars of people returning to work in actual buildings, the feeling of being left behind could be intense. People need to talk about this and to be listened to by people who won’t minimise their loss but who will also encourage them to move forward again.
The loss of those who have died might also hit us again when we emerge from lockdown or its softer follow-on restrictions. Human beings ritually acknowledge death. That has been, you could almost say, bred into us. That we have not been able to do this will, I think, leave a gap of its own. Should we have some sort of memorial event, perhaps a year’s mind instead of the traditional month’s mind?
I fear we will also face, for some time, not so much the loss of people as the loss of the close presence of people. My favourite part of Dublin is a small area bounded by College Green, Wicklow Street and George’s Street. What I like about it is the bustle and closeness of crowds of many nationalities. When will that come back?
These days, I sometimes walk around there in my head. On a recent imaginary walk I spotted the statue of Con Houlihan in a pub entrance and I remembered his descriptions of Kerry supporters leaving farms and bungalows to travel to Dublin for All-Ireland day. What would a Kerry All-Ireland be without them? What would be the point?
They also serve who only stand and wait, John Milton wrote. They matter more than that. Without the ones who stand, wait, run, jump, argue, cheer, groan, laugh and cry we are, quite simply, at a loss.
(Con Houlihan sometimes added a “fógra” to the end of his articles, so here’s mine: To those readers who have asked, this column will appear fortnightly from now on. Keep reading.)
Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email