The world in which we find ourselves today is a new and unsettling one. ‘Quarantine’ has become a throwaway term; face masks are commonplace and we’re all adapting to living without the close contact of our friends and loved ones.
Due to the new policies on social distancing, the death and funeral industry has had to adapt to ensure the safety of the living. Funerals are livestreamed, solitary or sparse affairs and for our own health, we can no longer visit the sick and rely on technology to preserve our relationships.
As we adapt to our new, restricted lifestyles, we find ourselves altering the way we connect with our wider community. In the UK, every Thursday, households who are able clap, cheer and make noise in thanks and celebration of the NHS and key workers across the country. Many neighbours have connected and helped one another with shopping trips and pharmacy runs, yet it seems that communities still yearn for something tangible. Online communication, text messages and distant clapping has left us unsatisfied.
In response to this, pockets within communities are creating their own memorials to a lost normality. Mourning has become a liminal space as communities mourn the loss of safety, stability, routine, connection and of course, loved ones.
In Louth, the tow path beside the canal that leads to the village of Keddington has become a place of growing communal ‘contact’; whether through expressions of grief, support or of thanks.
Beside the public pathway, by the back gates of a row of properties, a small, makeshift, wooden table appeared at the beginning of lockdown. Hanging from it were offcuts of planks – the likes one would use in decking or for garden fencing – covered in colourful, felt-tipped thanks for the NHS.
Looking a little like a prayer display from a Japanese temple, the new installation grew organically without any sense of singular ownership. Spare offcuts, string and wooden utensils were places on top of the table and would appear later, hung from the table, fresh with messages of support and solidarity.
What began as a place to give thanks and display the ever-popular varieties of community rainbows, the table and nearby tree were soon joined by memorials to the dead. Increasingly, colourfully painted spatulas were hanging between ‘RIP’ wood panels.
At a time when memorial gardens, many cemeteries and churches are closed to the public, home-made community spaces such as this are needed more than ever.
Those who lose loved ones in quarantine – either through COVID-19 or to other causes – may find themselves unable to grieve properly. Visiting loved ones, the dying or funerals are all similarly impossible and the heightened state of society’s emotions and awareness means that much of mourners’ grief is internalised. At times when we would entertain visitors in our grief, the world situation has resulted in intensified loneliness and a desperate need for one’s loss to seem valid and known. Somehow, hanging simple memorial plaques between messages of love and support from strangers, seems very appropriate.
As the memorial remains hidden away, known only to the closest local community and free from council intervention, it will undoubtedly continue to grow and change, as will the new world we find ourselves in.
As communities find new ways to interact with their grief and frustrations, we can only hope that many others find the solace and sense of belonging that they seek in these testing times.
All photos are my own.