Sister Lena Deevy's reflections on coping with COVID-19 "cocconing"

With the easing of some COVID restrictions this week, I'be felt a new sense of freedom and relief. The lockdown here in Ireland started shortly after an unusual St Patrick's Day – no celebrations, churches closed, no sports, and over 70s could not leave their homes. What a shock to realise this 'cocooning' applied to me! As a very active senior, the thought of being a 'vulnerable elder' never occurred to me. However, my birth certificate confirms 1942 as the year of my birth! So, I took on board seriously the constraints; knowing they protect both myself and others.

Cocooning has its challenges – but we do adapt! Our social lives have moved to the virtual world. We're not out and about so we don't bump into people and stop for a chat. We can't pop into neighbours to say hello. An important part of my day is keeping in touch with loved ones by phone, mail  and online, supporting one another in this difficult time. I'be replaced my gym visits with a 15-minute video for seniors! And I'm also tackling a 'major' job forever on my 'to do' list of downsizing old files and shredding what's no longer of use. It's boring but it's great!

 Indeed, cocooning is a very small 'price' to pay when I think of our most vulnerable, who may not have the resources to apply the COVID prevention rules... and I'm haunted by the scenes I witnessed on my recent visit to Chios, Greece. Thousands of men, women and children, including babies, huddled together in makeshift tents due to extreme overcrowding in the camps. A camp built to house 1,000 had approximately 7,000 residents. I was so grateful I got home in time before COVID emerged – but I just can't imagine what will happen as the virus spreads... The courage, compassion and perseverance of the volunteers there continues to inspire me.

 I think of all who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. A friend of mine, Brendan, lost his battle with COVID-19 in April. Bernie, his wife of 56 years, was utterly devastated.  When Brendan contracted COVID and had to enter isolation, Bernie and their children could no longer sit with him. Not only were they broken-hearted that they could not be with him in his last days, but they suffered the further pain and loneliness of not being able to gather with friends and family to grieve their loss. 

Each of us has experienced a loss of some kind in this time – some more than others. Many of us have lost the rituals, routines, hobbies and habits that bring meaning to our lives, and that we often take for granted. My neighbour John is a typical example – an active, resourceful man in his early seventies. GAA is his passion – his second family! His year is usually punctuated by sports events – weekly matches and trainings, enjoying the 'banter' with the other lads. And now, the whole structure of his social life is gone.

But amidst all the loss and upheaval of this pandemic, I'm inspired by the revival of a spirit of generosity, sharing, innovation, care, and concern; not to mention the incredible work and dedication of our first responders and frontline staff. And now that I can return to my morning walks in my local park, I'm inspired by the cycles of nature, especially spring with its new beginnings. On this May morning, the park is at its best: the sun is shining, the air is fresh and warm, the wetlands and beautiful wildflowers are thriving. The lines by W.H. Davis come to me:  'What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare...' Wandering through each section of the park, I notice so many signs of new life and growth – fresh green leaves on the trees; the swans and ducks protecting their young.

As we deal with the isolation, uncertainty, and grief of this pandemic;  our connection as a global society;  the increasing destruction of eco-systems  leading to conflict, famine, displacement of peoples in the world's most vulnerable societies leaves me with many questions.   I've joined an online group to reflect on Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si, on caring for our common home.   A new insight came to me – if the air feels so fresh after 8 weeks, how would it be if we decided to cut emissions.  What a change it would make to the health of planet earth with its amazing eco-systems, and millions of our suffering global family.   

 Special Note from Lena 

Sent from Sister Lena Deevy LSA in solidarity and friendship to the readers of BIR.   We are truly all in this together and I pray for protection from the virus for all of us and send greetings and good wishes   Sister Lena is formerly CEO of Boston's Irish Immigration Center, now Rian. She is living in Dublin, and volunteers with a humanitarian refugee program in Greece.  She retired from the IIC in March 2013.