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In many ways this year has stripped us, however temporarily, of ourselves. Without the anchors of our normality – of friends, jobs, hobbies, of travel, of our wider families, of human touch and physical closeness – we have been forced to reconsider our places in a world we are unable fully to access. Some anchors, we have learned, we can readily do without; some we have longed to return for so long that in an instant we can be back to taking them for granted. I long to complain about the lack of legroom at a concert or the theatre, and am desperate to feel sick at the cost of a meal for a family of four in a restaurant. I viscerally pine for the frustration of waiting 10 minutes at a bar to be served. I’m counting the days until I can unthinkingly kiss my mum hello.
When my sister, Karina, died in May from coronavirus, I knew I had lost one of the anchors of my life for ever. But I was unsure how I would process it. How would her loss, in these unworldly circumstances, affect me?
I have always thought of the agony of grief as the love for that person not knowing where to put itself. But in the maelstrom of the early months of the pandemic, I wasn’t sure where anything belonged. Too many of the anchors of my life had been lifted already. Upon what, upon whom, was I to hang this new loss?
Not having been physically able to say goodbye to her in the hospital, or see her body in the funeral parlour; not able to collect her things from the home in which she had lived out of concern for the other residents, who were restricted from coming en masse to celebrate her life, to hug and to cry together – how was I to be certain that death had started? These rituals exist for a reason: to help us feel connected, consoled, to begin to confront death’s reality head on. Without them, what did death mean? I wasn’t scared of grief. I was scared that, without its worldly markers, grief might pass me by. That Karina’s death, despite her undoubted significance in my life, would not be allowed to have the impact I wanted it to.
In some ways, it has been a new way of grieving – no less impactful, just different. It has leaked out, rather than gushed: less shared, more personal, forged for oneself rather than ushered on its way by tradition. Seven months since her death, I take solace in the collage of memories that has knitted itself around her name. Her whacking me with her right arm on the sofa when we were kids, gurgling with laughter as I’d say “doinnnnng” every time she’d land a blow. My other sister, Kirsty, leading the wheelchair conga at Karina’s birthday parties. Karina’s excited anticipation as we approached the downhill stretch of path in Richmond park, knowing her wheelchair was about to pick up a more perilous level of speed. My dad doing the hokey-cokey with her. The way her face would erupt in joy whenever she heard my mum’s voice. Even the things I never thought I’d miss have become enveloped in a fondness: the smell of a hospital, the puffy hum of a nebuliser, the soft mechanical burr of a hoist.
And I have realised the privilege of growing up with these things as a norm, as an anchor. Because Karina required kindness to live. And such was her spirit, her sense of humour, her gentle strength, her singular passion to survive, that what she was given she returned with interest. It was a transaction of effort and reward I was fortunate to witness so often.
That anchor of kindness has been what many of us have held on to in this year of loss, restriction and renewal, even more so when we have felt its absence. We’ve seen it in the courage of our country’s medical and care staff, in the movements towards greater racial equality, in the campaigns to feed children in poverty: acts of kindness and courage from people who understand that those who need help are not obstacles, or drains on our pity or resources. They are repositories of as much knowledge and light as anyone else. Karina was sunshine. She just required you to engage, to pull back the curtains to see it: an act that rewarded far more than it asked. For her – for all she taught me and revealed – it’s the anchor of kindness I hope to hold on to tightest for the rest of my life.
• Rory Kinnear is an actor and playwright
• As a memorial to Karina, the garden at Roy Kinnear House, where she lived, is going to be transformed for the benefit of the other residents there. There is a Crowdfunder page for those interested in contributing
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Seven months after my sister’s death from Covid, her kindness remains my anchor | Coronavirus