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Here Without You

Write hard and clear about what hurts”Ernest Hemingway

Why have we stopped talking about people dying of Covid?

It has been a truly unprecedented year. No one could have expected a global pandemic to bring society to its knees and alter almost ever interaction we have had in 2020. COVID-19 has halted the economy, cost millions their jobs but let’s not forget the lives that have been lost too.

Losing someone you love causes such unimaginable pain. With this pandemic, the grief is coupled with anger. Families who have lost loved ones are grieving their loss but also dealt with the body blow of gross negligence from their government. A government who have continued to adhere to the, “keep calm and carry on” herd immunity public message. Although I am not a political commentator as such, I still believe we need to be honouring those who have lost their lives to COVID. We also need some sort of analysis for the question, why have we stopped talking about people dying of Covid?

Before we begin, on Thursday I was leaving my house ready to teach. As I placed my bags in my car, my neighbour, who has been shielding since March walked passed and said, “Hello, you alright?” Inevitable, we exchanged greetings and he went on to say, “your Grandad, I can’t believe it’s been five years since he passed away. I remember seeing him walk up and down the street all the time. He is missed.” November 15th marked five years since we lost Grandad and I still feel the weight of loss, everyday. My neighbour went on to say, “It’s been a tough year hasn’t it” The drive work was longer than usual. My neighbour remembered my Grandad and I just felt like this was a sign to write something, in a year where so many of us are finding the courage to write hard and passionately about things that hurt.

I look out for this Tweet everyday. “Normality” may never be the same again after this pandemic but we are still very much amidst it. Source: @UKCovid19Stats

  1. “It’s only a cold.”

  2. “More people die from the flu.”

  3. “I don’t know anyone who has had COVID.”

  4. “It’s ok, there’s a vaccine coming.”

  5. “I’ve stopped watching the news.”

These are all comments I have heard over few months. I won’t spend time debunking them as they all have a profound lack of sense, empathy and rationality to them. They are all also very dangerous comments. I find myself, almost every evening, waiting for Tweets from @UKCovid19Stats and @LawrenceGilder relating to the number of COVID-19 deaths. I’m still angry about how this pandemic has been handled, frustrated with the lack of support for my fellow teachers and beyond disillusioned by policy makers who hold the interests of their corporate donors at heart. Public health, the wellbeing of the nation, even feeding the most disadvantaged children over half term, all seem to take a backseat as ideological zealousness proceeds. It is capitalism on steroids where the global financial market seems to have stranglehold over us all. In and amidst this, one of the cruelest realities of this pandemic has been the unwillingness to converse in dialogue about those who have tragically lost their lives to this awful virus. As the media and politicians trivialise the matter, frequently with 30 second segments during prime time news, our grief-illiterate culture comes to the surface, thus creating such callous emotional distancing from the true victims of this pandemic. Namely, those who have sadly lost their lives, the grieving families and the BAME community who are disproportionately more likely to contract COVID.

Why have we stopped talking about people dying of Covid?

So, why have we stopped talking about people dying of Covid? From my own analysis, I have three answers to this question. Albeit non-exhaustive, I just hope they provide us with an opportunity to reflect.

Depoliticisation of COVID-19 deaths

The depoliticising of COVID deaths as they are seen as inevitable. What is inevitable about 58,000+ dying, zero willingness to follow the science, schools remaining unsafely open, billions handed out to corporate lobbyists and cronies, an ineffective “world-beating” track and trace and a PM that makes as much sense as jam sandwich on a gourmet menu? Whenever we see #COVIDIOTS trending or leading behaviour scientists on TV telling us that lockdowns are ineffective because of the selfish use of individual free will, this implicitly allows the government to avoid all accountability. The pandemic has been repeatedly depoliticised through misleading guidelines, a lack of clarity and gaslighting. We have stopped talking about COVID deaths because we feel as though there is no one left to blame. We are tired, desperately seeking some form of normality but within this, thousands are still dying. The wall of silence and lack of empathy is a damning indictment of the very culture of our country.

Christmas is coming

It’s clear, when the PM announced that restrictions would be eased between December 23rd to 27th, Boris wanted to be the man who “saves Christmas.” The press had their field day, lapping up commentary on seeing loved ones and forming “Xmas bubbles.” Christmas is a beautiful occasion but this year is like no other in our lifetime. No one would want to cause a loved on harm, especially without knowing. COVID-19 does not discriminate. It can be contracted by anyone at any given time. Although Christmas and all it’s festivities get us excited, this virus does not disappear at the sight of eggnog, the sound of Rudolph landing on our roof or underneath mistletoe. One thing I have learnt from my own personal journey of grief is perspective. This “lost Christmas” narrative is painfully short-sighted. If we consider those who have already lost so much this year, even those who have lost their lives to this pandemic, we would realise that life is fragile but also so sacred.

The vaccine dawns upon us

News of a vaccine was music to my ears. In a year where we have all learnt to be sceptical, critical and more self-aware, knowing there is a vaccine should be applauded. Let’s get this clear, it’s a vaccine and not a cure. I think the most dangerous press leak was to give the public a sniff of a vaccine. Of course, celebrating a scientific breakthrough would improve the morale of the nation but is it dangerous to announce something before rigorous scientific evidence is presented? Does providing the public a false sense of hope empower us to relax, take, as the PM himself said, “our foot off the throat of the beast”? One of the major issues surrounding lockdowns and tiers is that people don’t know whether to stick or to twist. There remains an uneasy precedence and a vaccine remains hearsay until it becomes available to the already very disillusioned and exhausted general public. The proverbial and inevitable shit storm that will follow the vaccine needs to be relegated for now. As hundreds still die everyday, we seem to be thinking that a vaccine will compensate for Britain having the highest death toll in Europe.

We live in a grief-illiterate culture

We most certainly do. Growing up in this country, before Dad died, I was arrogant and oblivious to loss. It never registered with me and if I wasn’t sharing a clichéd quote or rather cold words of “wisdom”, I would avoid the topic. An inevitable part of life is loss. Those who love, and I mean love with our hearts and more than ourselves, losing them creates such unimaginable pain. Yet, as a society we remain detached from loss. It is the elephant in the room but one we don’t wish to awake. Our grief-illiteracy can be some will illustrated when, say, Dominic Cummings or Rishi Sunak get a full 20 minute segment in the news but the number of COVID deaths are covered in mere seconds. Imagine being a loved one of someone who has died from COVID. The disrespect is astounding. These are people, they aren’t numbers or statistics. Not everyone has the competence to understand loss and it’s beyond saddening at time where we continue to brush death under the carpet. Just the thought of fiddling with data and continuing to leave schools unsafely open, it demonstrates the lack of regard society places on human life. We have stopped talking about COVID deaths because it doesn’t fit our narrative, it isn’t something we have the competence or emotional intelligence to discuss. We have stopped talking about COVID deaths because we see them as “inevitable” and our grief-illiterate culture has desensitised us from the pain and hurt of the of others. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ve stopped watching the news.” Being informed and aware of the pain and loss of others only brings us all closer.

In Summary

This has been the most unprecedented year but we have hit a real wall of silence when it comes to those who have tragically lost their lives to COVID. No matter the pain, strain, societal taboo or lack of personal lived experience, these are 58,245 people, including the 215 announced today. 58,245 families will never be the same again. We must honour them and their loved ones, as well as take the precautions to safeguard and protect ourselves and those dear to us too. Many of us will be ending this year without the company of those we love. Here without them, we can still remember the warmth and love they brought to this world.

When we stop talking about COVID, we distance ourselves from the plight of our front line services that have kept this country afloat. We fail to understand the challenges our Doctors, Nurses and Teachers face on a daily basis. We also trivialise their sacrifices to protect, help, educate and safeguard society. Let’s have a silent round of applause for these incredible people. Acknowledging their sacrifice doesn’t have to be broadcasted, just wear a face mask and socially distance. That will make our lives so much easier, oh and yours too.

We must remember those who have left us as the proverb goes, “If you don’t remember somebody out loud, they die twice”. Ameen

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan.

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