I wasn’t sure when I sat down to write this what I wanted it to be, or where to start. One of the best pieces of advice I was given about writing is come to the introduction at the end, as it will all make sense by then ! Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis doesn’t lend itself to certainty or sense. It’s been just over a week since I lost one of my best friends Becca, to the virus. The last time I saw her was before lockdown. We argued about which dress would be ‘glam’ enough for her 30th birthday party, and which moisturiser best combats dry skin in NHS facilities. This had become a pressing issue since she had taken up her post with NHS 111 as a nurse. There was nothing to suggest that this would be the last time we would meet. Neither of us were naïve to the reality of COVID-19. We were both worried for those who were vulnerable and knew lots of people would struggle with the social implications. We didn’t really even contemplate how it would affect us.
I’ve not had much experience of grief, certainly not for a friend. Oddly though, whenever I’ve talked about Becca this past week to my friends, I have always ended up being left with a feeling of fondness and have laughed about experiences we all shared together. I’m not sure if this is right, or how I should feel, but (and this is hopefully the only cliché of the article) Becca brought joy to her family, friends and her patients. Fortunately, it’s that spirit which makes me optimistic, determined and hopeful. So, here are some of my reflections about COVID-19, my friend and the future.
For me, contradictions have defined the COVID-19 crisis from the beginning. Never did I imagine that I would find reassurance at being essentially confined to my own home by the government. Many I spoke to in the first week of lockdown felt the same. There’s nothing like social isolation for keeping in touch and catching up with friends. Certainly, amongst the people I know, there was a heightened sense of collective community responsibility, now that we had been forced apart. Then came the clap for carers. I couldn’t help thinking that it was a shame that it had taken a pandemic to value the people who literally dedicate their lives both to us, and more recently, for us. Nonetheless, I was delighted to hear the shouts of gratitude out of my window as I clapped, thinking of my friends across the caring professions, and how proud I am of them.
I didn’t know anyone remotely like my friend Becca and I very much doubt I will be lucky enough to again. I’m not sure I will come to terms with losing her for a long time, but what will always remain constant, is that I loved her totally and sincerely. I should probably romanticise the friendship at this point, but the reason I cherished her as much as I did was because our friendship was remarkably unremarkable. We could be at our absolute worst, daft selves around each other. It just worked. We watched Harry Potter, bought too many clothes, drank cocktails and ate lots and lots of Italian food. We particularly enjoyed potato skins (which I think are American) with sweet chilli sauce and aioli. The sauces in particular caused contention as I was quite comfortable to, as Becca would say, ‘double dip’. Being a nurse, this was unquestionably unacceptable to Becca which led me to effectively overcompensate on my first dip. A race would then ensue to see who could eat the most.
We also talked about work- ground-breaking! Yet it was never mundane. I think anyone who works with or around people will understand the absolute necessity of being able to talk, laugh, cry and vent about their experiences. I will never stop being thankful for her ability throughout my social work training and PhD to take my mind off things when they got difficult. This was usually because my experiences were often negated by some self-inflicted make-up disaster, or hair dye mishap that she had experienced that week, which equally warranted my emotional support. I only hope she felt that I was as much there for her, as she was for me.
While our friendship was daft, Becca was not. Well, she was … but not always. Whether Becca was working as a Children’s Cancer nurse or for the NHS 111 Service, she was unequivocally dedicated to those she worked with. It has been wonderful, if surreal to see the outpouring of appreciation for her on the news and on the internet. I’m so glad her loving nature and kindness were treasured by so many. Becca also saw the bigger picture and recognised the often difficult circumstances those she worked with were facing. She would talk at length about how social injustice and inequality fuelled her passion to make a difference in her work, though she didn’t use those words. To me, her humanity is what defined her and what I respected most. I feel aggrieved in many ways that she is gone, both as a friend, and as someone who wants society to be a better place, which she undoubtedly would have continued to do.
Despite this, I also hold a tremendous sense of hope. I am hopeful because there are millions, if not billions of people like Becca all over the world, quite simply doing whatever they can for people, as that is what will get us through this. Paradoxically perhaps, I also hope we don’t forget this difficult time. We can’t forget what is happening. The cautious optimist in me also sees the potential for change. I truly believe that as a society we need to take a step back and rethink how much we value love, community, kindness and compassion, of which we are all capable, if with a bit of encouragement and help.
Alice Park. The Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York, PhD candidate.