ISOLATION, lockdown — and all that these two words entail — have brought with them many difficulties, but one of the most heart-breaking is surely the fact that funerals have been unlike any seen in Irish society in living memory.
It says a lot about Irish people that funerals are one of our strengths. They are a time when everyone, no matter if there have been previous differences, just comes together.
We are there for each other, we bring around food, we serve drinks, we stand together hugging people, passing tissues for endless streams of tears, squeezing shoulders and giving firm emotion-filled handshakes.
We reminisce as a community about the person who is gone, we spend days mourning the loss publicly and as a unit — family, neighbours, friends and acquaintances.
We are there for each other at a time when someone we love dearly cannot be with us.
However, funerals in the times of Covid-19 restrictions have been very different, limited to small numbers of people, with mourners socially distanced, and many having to pay their respects outside churches, their own homes or as the hearse passes them on the street.
People have stayed at home, watching live streams of funeral masses, as they look on through a screen at the pews they would have filled.
There are no handshakes in the funeral home, no sandwich platters being passed around the house, no emergency trips to the shop to replenish supplies, or standing in the graveyard after the burial for hours as mourner after mourner comes up to the family to offer solace.
Mindfulness and meditation teacher, writer and actor, Kevin McCormack who is based near Fermoy, has been producing beautiful and inspiring poems during lockdown to capture the emotions of these strange times.
Last week, he released a poem, Today We Mourned You Differently, a raw, honest, touching and beautiful tribute to those who are being laid to rest during a global pandemic.
He said he was inspired to write the piece in his head while he stood on the streets of Fermoy waiting for a funeral cortège to pass.
“The hearse rolled slowly by, as the man’s family walked in procession behind it. They were broken and dignified and while people came out in their hundreds to support the bereaved, it was still possibly the most lonesome sight I had seen in years.
“As soon as I got home, I set to writing the piece, thinking as well about friends of mine who had lost elderly parents over the last couple of months, and how they were all denied the usual ritual that is so much a part of who we, the Irish, are as a people.
“If I want anyone who has been bereaved in these strange times to take anything from this particular poem, it is this; that distance and regulations aside, we mourn with you, we mourn for you, and we acknowledge how your loss and distress have been amplified by this most strange set of circumstances.”
Since Kevin published his first poem on YouTube on May 15, the works have been viewed more than 100,000 times on various social media channels.
“I wasn’t expecting any reaction at all and I certainly couldn’t have anticipated the reaction that it has gotten,” he said.
“I wrote the first one, If This Time, almost as though it was a journal entry — just a gathering of my own personal thoughts and feelings on what this time in ‘lockdown’ has taught me, what it has affirmed of what I already knew, and what shifts in my own thinking it brought about.
“I decided to record myself reading the piece, stick it in a video with the beautiful images that had been sent to me, and post it on Facebook.
“I honestly thought that maybe a couple of hundred people would see it and enjoy it for what it is. Then it all went a bit crazy — I started receiving and still continue to get emails, messages, letters and cards quite literally from all over the world — the whole experience in terms of the response to my work is both rewarding and humbling.”
At the moment, so many of us are outside our comfort zones, isolated from routine, work and loved ones, and in many ways, Kevin’s poems and videos have never been more necessary for anyone who feels adrift and a bit lost.
“I know this sounds very cliched, but it’s true — all real change and true personal growth only happens outside of your comfort zone,” said Kevin, “There’s nothing to be learned from what you already know and I try to make this message part of what I write.
“Listen, there are far greater writers than me around and an even greater number gone before me, and if what I write can make a difference to any few people in any small way, I’ll be thrilled and honoured in equal measure.”
Like many others, Kevin came to mindfulness at a time of personal hurt and conflict in his life, and while he initially turned to it as a coping tool, it is now very much a part of who he is and how he lives. He described it as a “habit of mental and emotional wellbeing”.
“What people do need to do now more than ever though, is remember that the mind is like tofu, it tastes of whatever you marinade it in.
“We are constantly bombarded in the digital age by people and entities who are shelling us from above with all kinds of stuff and nonsense —much of it harmful and all of it useless.
“Choose what you consume. Make healthy consumption choices for your mind and your soul.
“My aim is to create work that inspires, re-assures, comforts and delights. I write pieces that are reflective, pieces that are humorous, pieces that are melancholic and some that are downright hilarious.”
Kevin plans to continue writing and publishing the poems on his YouTube channel, ‘Kevin McCormack Now and Zen Mindfulness’, and has hopes to publish a book of poetry and prose in the autumn.
Today We Mourned You Differently
Today, we mourned you differently — not in the way we would have
liked to or felt you deserved. A fettered celebration, not enough to
even begin to pay tribute to the life you’ve lived.
Today, we mourned you differently. The pageantry was sparse, we
had no singer to sing your songs, and the shoulders of the fine men
you reared were bare — they would have gladly, though sadly taken
your weight with pride, and carried you to where you now sleep.
Today, we mourned you differently — your friends and neighbours
lined the street — a noble gesture, but poor substitute for the squeeze
of a shoulder, an embrace, and the vice-grip handshakes full of grief,
solidarity and questions.
Today we mourned you differently — the bare handful of us, the
chosen few, stood around you, while broad-backed men from the old
days trembled in the distance, and from a parked car your brother
looked on with pursed lips through the condensation.
Today, we mourned you differently. Sad eyes looked up from where
big hands were holding little hands that didn’t understand — not that
the big hands understood much better.
Today, we mourned you differently, but this much is true — you are
gone, but not without a trace, as you are in every face you leave
behind, in every imprint of your foot on the path you so diligently
wore from the rose bushes to the kitchen door.
Today, we mourned you differently.