Wednesday 2 December 2020

Covid isolation and a lesson in friendship

 On Sunday, I had a bit of a wake up call. You think you are doing the right things, then you get a rude awakening and you realise that you've been living in a happy bubble and that many people, some good friends, are in a very different bubble, a bubble that is neither happy or easy. 

Let me explain. I am the deputy group leader of a group which operates under the auspices of a charity, which most years takes a group of people with disabilities to Lourdes in France. Most of the people who need assistance are what we designate for the purposes of covid "vulnerable". This year, as luck would have it, we were not going. We normally have a break every third or fourth year and this was our break year. This spared us a lot of wasted work. The whole idea of such a trip is simply unfeasible in the current circumstances. In a normal break year we may have one or two group reunions. These, too have been impossible. About a month ago, I suggested a virtual get together, using Zoom. I offered to host the get together. The invites were sent and last Sunday was the day. 

If I am being 100% honest, I wasn't looking forward to it. I have always disliked 'virtual meetings'. I understand the necessity, but my experiences of them over the years has been one that has lead me to develop an aversion to the process. In the business environment, I always felt that it offered far too much scope for people to hide, who did not wish to be productive. I was also concerned about people not being able to join, given the issues some of the group face. It was important to me to ensure that the people who most needed the get together were not excluded. The group leader made a lot of efforts to ensure that this happened. 

Much as I had feared, when the meeting started, some key players had issues joining. But all in all, 28 of the group participated and we did iron out the problems, so everyone got on in the end.  About half way through the get together, it hit me that for some of the group, it wasn't just a nice little get together. They had been looking forward to this for weeks, and even in the difficult medium of Zoom, it was something that they not only enjoyed, but needed. People shielding as they are at high risk have had virtually no social contact outside family members for the best part of nine months. Just the act of seeing friendly faces on a screen and having a bit of banter etc gave them a massive lift. I've been working since the end of the first lockdown. My business is allowed to operate and I've seen the friendly faces of customers  old and new on a daily basis. Some of the people in our group are confined to wheelchairs and have only seen carers for the whole period. The meeting gave them a little glimpse of normality and it was also a demonstration that we cared. 

In normal years, people in such a position still have a social life. They get out, they go to the pubs, see friends, etc. This year none of that has been possible. When I'd been discussing the meeting, I'd envisaged it as I envisage the normal reunion in a year off. But this year, it had a very different significance for many in the group.  For some, it was perhaps the first tenuous link with normality for almost nine months, beyond the mundane rituals of daily life. It was a reminder that we will get away, we will see each other and we, as a group, haven't forgotten anyone.

One helper, who's mum has been a very long time group member, was telling us of his mums struggles. She has dementia and is currently in hospital (non covid related) awaiting a care plan to return home. He told us that whilst coming to terms with her dementia has been difficult, he has come to realise that their relationship now has no side, no edge. All of the silly things we bicker about no longer matter and everything he takes from the relationship is good. They just laugh, joke, watch films and listen to music. He told us that once you can reconcile to the fact that you are living entirely in the present, it is something that you can take enormous positives from. 

It was suggested that we have another pre Christmas get together, to sing some carols etc before Christmas. It was clear that there were people who this really would make a difference for. 

The reason I chose to write a blog about this is because I am sure we all have friends and family who at the moment are feeling forgotten. We have the technology in this day and age to address this. The meeting gave me a lesson in friendship. It is a two way thing. We put our efforts in, but we also get much out of it. When the meeting finished, I felt uplifted. I got several messages after to tell me that people were extremely grateful that we'd put the effort into pulling the whole thing together. 

We really all should think about whether there are any friends who would benefit from a phone call or friendship groups where a member might enjoy a bit of banter and a Zoom call. I'm glad I had a reminder of what we should all be doing. 

One final thought. One of the key members reminded us that the people we help are looked after by professional carers. Back in Lockdown one,  we were out clapping them every Thursday. Now, in the second lockdown, the government have told many they don't deserve a pay rise. That can't be right, can it?

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