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“We were all experiencing that same loss… we walked this pandemic journey together”

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8 min read

“We were all experiencing that same loss… we walked this pandemic journey together”

8 min read

11/10/21

“We were all experiencing that same loss… we walked this pandemic journey together”

Part of the Irish Hospice Foundation’s framework of Reflection, Remembrance and Renewal, the organisation has begun to process our experiences of loss during the pandemic. Supported by the Creative Ireland Programme, in the Irish Hospice Foundation’s newly-published book, ‘Reflection’, journalist Róisín Ingle interviews care workers and the staff of bereavement-focused charities.

With a particular focus on the health and wellbeing of carers, these compelling interviews detail just how people on the frontline coped during the pandemic’s early stages and the impact that dying, death, grief and loss had on them. 

These poignant stories are interspersed with the works of seven Irish poets. The works by Christie Kandiwa; Martin Dyar; Ann Leahy; Catriona Clutterbuck; Lani O’Hanlon; Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan; and Vincent Woods; arose from their own particular experiences of living through the pandemic.

In the following extract from ‘Reflection’, Róisín Ingle interviews Mairin Cronin, Day Activities Nurse Manager Service for Older People, Marymount Hospice, Cork.

 

Mairin Cronin | Day Activities Nurse Manager Service for Older People, Marymount Hospice, Cork

As Day Activities Nurse Manager Service for Older People at Marymount Hospital and Hospice in Co Cork, Mairin Cronin and staff ensure all residents are given opportunities for what she calls “meaningful engagement.” The philosophical goal at Marymount is to ensure the richest quality of life for everyone. In the ‘before times’ she describes a place brimming over with life and activity. There were regular activities, mass, visiting musicians and choirs and schools and volunteers. Residents could take part in a wide variety of hobbies. There was respectful time alone for individuals and joyful visits from family and friends. “Residents here are active participants in society, that is hugely important, it’s at the heart of everything we do,” Mairin says.

When the pandemic happened, all of this activity was restricted overnight along with all regular routines and diversions. With residents no longer able to mix casually over activities or meals or cups of tea, Mairin and her colleagues reached for more creative ways to keep the engagement going.

"They told us of all they’d experienced in their lifetimes. They told us what it was like during the second world war and afterwards, or about surviving the polio epidemic"

There were al fresco afternoon teas and magical music concerts in the garden watched safely by residents from their balconies. And as cases rose and uncertainty prevailed, a rich seam of solidarity emerged between staff and residents surviving the pandemic together.

Explaining this more positive development, Mairin apologises for being “too flowery” but she believes the bleaker side of the pandemic in care settings has already been well documented. She wants to talk about this lesser-acknowledged phenomenon. “At this time, staff and residents were sharing the same experience, so our lives became aligned in a profound way,” she explains. “We were all experiencing that same loss of structure, loss of routine, loss of family engagement. So we walked this pandemic journey together. All of society took a step back and slowed down and so did the residents here. We experienced the same things, the shock at the beginning, the loneliness, the fear, the loss of freedom. So while barriers came up between us, the PPE gear being one very physical example, other barriers were broken down.”

“More than ever this time gave us an even deeper understanding of the importance of being in the moment,” says Mairin.

Mairin also talks about the privilege of being around the older residents at this time and how their response to the pandemic put a lot into perspective. “What really stood out to me is older people’s resilience and the breadth of their lives and struggles. As we were chatting, they told us of all they’d experienced in their lifetimes. They told us what it was like during the second world war and afterwards, or about surviving the polio epidemic.”

“Life was hard, in some ways the restrictions of the pandemic reminded residents of normal life in 1950s, 1960s and 1970s Ireland. They’ve lived through extreme poverty, unemployment, whole families emigrating. So while this kind of pandemic hardship was a first for many of our generation, it wasn’t a first for the older generation. And we got to witness that sheer resilience. It was a privilege to listen to their stories. It gave us the sense that we would get through this because they had travelled this journey before.”

There was loss. Of course there was. There were unprecedented acts of kindness seen, staff doing anything they could to comfort and support residents in their grief. There was loss of connection but also innovation as some residents overcame fears of technology to embrace Facetime and WhatsApp. Mairin remembers a lady standing on her balcony, on a phone and waving, connecting with relatives standing in a field half an acre in distance away.

Nature offered everyone solace. Flowers were brought in from outside, the changing seasons carefully observed. News was exchanged about the family of rabbits on the grounds, baby balls of fluff running around the magnificent beech and oak trees. Bird watching became a welcome pastime. After the last lockdown, the tulips and daffodils lining the drive to the hospital offered everyone cheer, keeping that precious hope alive.

The Emily Dickinson poem “Hope Is The Thing With Feathers” was printed out and displayed in Marymount as a literary talisman. “That sense of hope was so important, as were all the small moments of joy and togetherness against what was a backdrop of huge loss for people. That’s what we strived to provide, Hope,” says Mairin.

Read ‘Reflection’ in full online here.

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