Almost as soon as our own lockdown here in Herbert House had begun in the third week of March, we were struck with the sudden illness and tragic deaths of Fr. Owen Grant and Fr. John Sweeney from COVID-19. To make matters worse, I probably contracted the disease myself and was ‘hors de combat’ for a couple of weeks.
The simple funeral ceremonies for our two deceased brothers were dignified but quite sad because of the few members and relatives allowed to attend. We will have proper memorial Masses for them later.
It was a nervous time for everyone as we hoped and prayed that the virus would not take hold in such an enclosed community environment as Herbert House.
Our Care Staff and indeed most of our domestic and kitchen staff have been outstanding throughout this crisis, faithfully turning up for work, even at some risk to themselves.
For ourselves, not being able to come together for liturgy or meals was perhaps the hardest aspect of life over the last four months. We have also not yet been able to celebrate with our five jubilarians in a fitting manner, though this is something we hope to do later. One bright spot in all this has been the possibility of taking regular walks outdoors in the beautiful grounds of Herbert House for our daily exercise. A privilege indeed, considering that so many other people were confined in small apartments during this period.
We were also fortunate to have a small group of more active members – Tom O’Brien, Frank Downs, Joe Whelan, Stephen Giles, James Chambers and Emmanuel Mbeh who were willing to serve meals to the members in their rooms three times a day for almost four months. I am very grateful for their willing and generous service on behalf of their colleagues.
With the easing of lockdown restrictions in the wider UK society, it has now become possible for us to have two daily Masses where social-distancing can be observed. A few members who had been ‘shielding’ since March are now allowed to venture outside provided they wear a mask and observe strict social-distancing, though most of the residents are still advised to stay at home.
In the UK, as in some other countries, many of the COVID-19 fatalities have occurred in Care Homes. It should have been obvious that the people who needed to be protected most would be the elderly residents of nursing homes, but it took a long time for the authorities here to react to this by introducing testing in Care homes and getting the proper protective equipment to the care staff. For many care homes, it came too late.
In a strange way, the Coronavirus pandemic has brought us all a little closer together here at Herbert House. Members have always looked out for each other here, but this concern for one another has definitely deepened during this crisis.
We continue to follow events in the country as some kind of ‘new normal’ is cautiously restored, while looking forward to the day when we can welcome visitors to the house again, especially for the daily Mass.
For myself, as the ‘new’ Rector of Herbert House, the last few months have been something of a ‘baptism of fire’. It has been a steep ‘learning-curve’ indeed and definitely not one I would wish to repeat, but the quiet resilience and cheerfulness of both residents and staff has been a source of inspiration throughout.
Mark Connolly MHM