REFLECTIONS ON A PANDEMIC - LETTER BY PADDY PALMERPaddy Palmer and Hugh Palmer - January 18, 2022
The freedom restrictions laid upon the world’s inhabitants during the first year of the pandemic have been extremely harsh and cruel in many countries. In hind sight, you’d rather expect to see such (mental) cruelty in war times than during a pandemic. As time progresses we start reflecting on the inhumane suffering inflicted upon us by the measures our governments made. It’s often merely enriching us with heartbreaking stories.
In honour of the late Ms. Paddy Palmer we extend the words she wrote to her son, Hugh, during the first lockdown. Which separated the elderly from the outside world. Ms. Palmer (91) lived in a care home in England, UK. Her letter is followed by Hugh’s (Specialist Systemic Psychotherapist) perspective from the outside world.
One side of the glass
April 16, 2020 by Paddy Palmer
Three weeks ago, I gave my son a big hug before he left me here in my residential care home. I thought I would see him the next day but it wasn’t to be. Lockdown arrived. Suddenly I found myself wondering if I would ever touch his lovely face again or give him a hug. I still wonder. Realistically, at ninety-one, I don’t stand much chance if the virus comes here, and it is so vicious that it could unfortunately attack Hugh too.
During the last three weeks I have watched the sparrows enjoying the freedom of coming and going to the hedge where they are building their home. I have watched the cherry blossom (flourishing when I last hugged Hugh) depart from the tree and blow wherever the wind would take it, and I have watched the daffodils come and go as nature intended. I saw how all nature is interdependent and lives according to the seasons. Freedom. But now, as Saint Paul says, “I see through a glass of darkly”, for I’m blessed so much that Hugh can come to my window, that I can see his smile, know he is alright. But we can’t touch, we can’t hug. We can only wave and blow kisses to one another.
Oh! The cruelty of this virus! That actually we may never touch one another again! It seems he lives in another world, walking from his house to here and I feel like an animal he can look at but not touch.
This virus has cast people off from their loved ones in life and death, and the people in this home wonder “How long?”.
The carers are wonderful, keeping the spirits up, though each one of them is left wondering, each has a house, children, husband, elderly relatives, yet they tried to keep us cheerful.
So I am isolated. We are all isolated if we are to help the NHS, but the biggest cruelty for me is to be able to touch the cold windowpane, but not touch my son on the other side of it. I’m looking forward to seeing him this morning and thank God it is possible, but it is agony not to be able to hold his hand.
The other side of the glass
June 10, 2020 by Hugh Palmer
Reading what my mother has written is hard. All the more so as my mother’s health has deteriorated since she wrote it. She has consciously made the decision not to have further blood transfusions which had helped prolong her life.
Only being able to see my mother through a window, knowing that these are the last weeks of her life, is incredibly painful.
I can’t hug her, hold her hand. It is so hard.
And yet knowing that so many other people have already lost loved ones during this pandemic without even being able to see them at all is sobering. Maybe we are lucky to have the contact we have.
When I discussed her contributing some thoughts about the pandemic and lockdown, she wrote these reflections. I find them so poignant. Her appreciation of the interconnectedness of life as she observes the cycle of the natural world outside. Her use of the expression “Through a glass darkly” resonates strongly for me, as it has many layers of meaning, not least the act of struggling to see her face in the glare of light reflected in the glass of her window. Other meanings relate to SARS-CoV-2 itself, but also broader systemic thinking.
Through a glass, darkly
As a health professional and systemic practitioner, I have been shocked and horrified by the UK government’s response to the pandemic as it has unfolded.
In the 1990s, I ran courses for nurses on HIV and Infection Control and also taught public health and epidemiology. This gave me a basic understanding of virology and knew enough to know that “herd immunity” is an expression that relates to having a significant proportion of a population vaccinated, not exposed to a virus and “taking it on the chin” as promoted here in the UK.
When I began to feel unsafe and untrusting of the government in early March, I decided to stop seeing clients face to face. Since then, I have been working with very few clients, using videoconferencing or the telephone, but I find not being “in the room” exhausting. I guess I am the sort of therapist who needs lots of non-verbal cues from clients, unlike some colleagues who appear to be flourishing during these difficult times with online therapy.
I do not want a thriving practice at this time. I do not have the emotional capacity to work with other’s trauma and distress right now.
I need to acknowledge my own needs and those of the immediate people around me. My daughter, heavily pregnant with twins, my key-worker wife, and not least, my dying mother.
I want to retract and reflect, to experience and honour my feelings of anger, rage, impotence, vulnerability, and betrayal.
I want time and space.
Despite being a well-known expression in popular culture, “Through a glass, darkly” is only found in one version of the Bible, the King James Version, and is taken from 1 Corinthians 13 is the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians and the full quote is:
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known”.
Unlike my mother, I am not a Christian, but she tells me her understanding of this is that our perception of God is limited, but ultimately we will all be able to perceive His glory.
For me, this resonates with my understanding of systemic thinking and practice. We can never truly see the whole; we work with parts of the whole, and sometimes it is easy to forget that we too, see through a glass, darkly.
The same is true of SARS-CoV-2. This is a novel virus, new to humans, and while much has already been learnt about its structure and transmission, there is still a lot we don’t understand about it, nor the disease, COVID-19, the virus causes.
January 11, 2022 - Hugh Palmer tweeted
"May 2020. I had to talk to my mum through a window. She had cut her own hair as she couldn't even see a hairdresser.
She died that August. Meanwhile, they were having a party for 100 people at 10 Downing Street.
She was a good person. Shame on you @BorisJohnson"
Note from the Editor
Paddy Palmer passed away in the evening of August 18, 2020. The silver lining of her last moments, Hugh was by her side. May she rest in peace.
We are painfully aware that Paddy’s story is hardly the only one out there. Hugh’s tweet allowed others to share their heartbreaking stories.
The reality of what governments imposed on their citizens is devastating. Especially knowing that the rules were bent on several occasions for the ones imposing them. Nations have a lot of healing to do in the years to come.
Paddy Palmer gives the silent suffering a face.
No matter how dire the situation seems to be, we must never again allow such inhumane restrictions to happen.
For the harsh reality teaches us that our existence is fragile and vulnerable, but it cannot be manufactured. Death is an inevitable part of life and can only be accepted by those who are left behind.
It will forever be better to spend the limited time any of us have close to the ones we love instead of being protected by loneliness.
The full and original article was first published on System Flux