In the news each day, we see a number—a huge number, but nevertheless, it’s a number—and it’s easy to just see that it’s dropping and how great that is.
I, however, work with the people who loved those numbers.
I know the names and histories and lives unfairly ended of those numbers.
I get to hear, first-hand and vividly, the grief and pain of those who loved those who make up that number.
My job is hard, heartbreaking, and scary, and can leave me feeling helpless in the face of such immense grief. But it’s also so incredibly inspiring and beautiful. I see the pain, I feel the suffering, but I also see such bravery and courage, such beauty in those who now face a life without their loved one in it. These courageous souls have no choice but to be brave and strong, as there will be no return to normal for them, ever again.
For those I speak to each day, their lives will be forever changed by this pandemic; they will forever carry that loss with them. Because that number is not just a number—it’s a symbol of heartbreak, loneliness, and loss. It’s a vaccine that came too late, or personal protective equipment (PPE) not used in time, or a return to normal that they dread because it means a return to life for everyone but those they loved.
With this comes a sense of not being acknowledged or seen; they grieve alone—so very alone—in a world that through fear and hope does not want to hear their stories. Because to hear of the horror they have walked through is to realise that this pandemic is no joke. That there but for the grace of god, goes I. That COVID-19, suicide, illness, and accidents can take any of us at any time. But that right now, it’s taken more than is right. That the decision to go for herd immunity cost lives.
To many of us, those lives are just a number, but to each person I talk to, those lives are their world, their loved one, their everything—and immunity for many was a price far, far too high for them to pay.
If I told you we could all have a great life, but at random would have to cull some of the population, would you take the risk that your loved one would go—your husband, your mother, your child? That their death would not be easy, it would be traumatic and lonely? Because without exception, every person I’ve spoken to has told me of deaths I would not wish on my worst enemy, of stories that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
It angers me that our politicians and leaders can stand there and say some will die but that is the price we pay. And that they will mostly be the vulnerable and old, and yet, we stand by and say that is how it has to be and seem to think that’s okay. Really?
But when that vulnerable person is your child, your parent, your sibling, or you, well I bet that would change our tune. When you’re told that if your loved one hadn’t gotten sick during a pandemic they would’ve survived. When their care is barely care because those looking after them are stretched too thin, are exhausted, and are traumatised themselves by what they see and do. Then maybe you’ll see that none of this is okay, that the price for “normality” is way too high.
Those who pay this price are also expected to do so alone, to deal with their pain and then get on with life, because the services that can help them have not had funding renewed. I work for a specialist trauma service, set up to deal with just this pandemic, and funding ends this month—right when many need it most, so we tell them it’s just the price you pay to get through this.
So many are living their normal lives while others had to pay for that with the life of the person they loved the most in the world, or not just one, but many of those they love, because once COVID entered their home, it took no prisoners. And we leave these folks to do so with no support or help from anyone. They are left to pay the price and then pick up what’s left of their world—alone and in isolation—with nobody to help them make sense of what just happened.
We then go on to tell them that it’s safe: their schools are safe, their loved ones are safe, whilst the numbers of dead and the stories I hear tell a different story. When those impacted protest, we tell them they are anxious or silly or overreacting, herd immunity will be here soon, it’s the price we pay, and besides, they were vulnerable…
I feel sadness and anger in the pit of my stomach, and my heart hurts for this world we live in now—one where a life is a number and the grief and trauma of those left behind is just a price to be paid. As long as it’s not us; as long as we are okay.