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Opinion

Isolating the dying from their loved ones was a cruel mistake we must not repeat

How a chance encounter in a park brought home the sacrifice made by so many during those long months of lockdown.

On Christmas Eve I was out for a walk. It was a wet morning in a little park up above the library near where I live. At the top of the hill I noticed two women standing in front of a bench. There was something immediately different in how they stood. They looked very contained. As I passed them, I noticed the bench had been changed and there was a plaque on it. At some point in the previous day or so this new memorial bench had replaced an older, tired one.

My dog went sniffing around.

The bench was for a man called Joe Hoy. He was 67 when he died. 

One of the women was Joe’s wife. She told me that it had taken a year to get the bench in place. The council had been helpful, she said, but there were a lot of hoops to get through. 

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Joe had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when he was just 60. Walking in the park had been calming for him as the fog of dementia fell. It was familiar. The family wanted a place where the grandchildren could feel their grandfather was near.

It is a great view from up there. You can see the land spread westward, beyond Paisley. On a clear day you feel you could reach out and touch the hills on Arran; switching north the Trossachs come into view. It’s not hard to understand why Joe Hoy liked that spot. 

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It was Covid that took him in the end. He was moved onto a ward and died last January. The final days were hard for the family. Joe didn’t understand what was happening and, due to restrictions, the family were not allowed in.

This is not an uncommon story. Every person in Britain, and probably many beyond, knows of a heartbreaking parting, of a final goodbye over an iPad screen. Those images of funerals held with people sitting, atomised and distanced, remain haunting.

When the pandemic fallout is measured, this must be seen as one of the failings. The desire to do the right thing and stop the spread of Covid allowed humanity to be chiselled out. At moments of the most telling in life, whether that is death or when people were at their most vulnerable and in need of a loved one just to hold, separation was enforced. 

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There is nobody to blame for this. This is not a call for a heavily lawyered non-apology from those in charge. In the body of the beast, people on the ground were doing their best and following guidance they felt was the right thing to do. But we need to find a better way so that if in future this sort of terror grips again, we allow the right moment to happen. It may not stop the spread, but it will bring some peace.

I didn’t know Joe Hoy. But I told his wife that every day I pass that bench I’d think of him, if only for a moment. 

And I do.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big IssueRead more of his columns here.

paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com

@PauldMcNamee

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