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As a minister, I have been deeply troubled by the failure of the UK to acknowledge and mourn the losses we have experienced in the COVID-19 pandemic. Every time someone is exposed for having breached lockdown rules, there is an outpouring of pain and grief at the suffering people lived through, that is all the more remarkable for our failure to talk about it any of the rest of the time.

When I made this observation on Facebook, a number of people suggested to me that the reason for this is because people don’t want to remember. Grief does not work that way. We have an entire political and religious caste whose function is to create structured forms and formal tributes to the significant moments of life. It is our role to ensure that we do not forget.

I ended up going down a rabbit hole surveying the efforts of civic groups and individuals to create memorials to the victims of COVID-19. It seems that most of the work at the moment is being conducted by the bereaved and people involved in end of life services – the campaign to mark March 23rd as a national day of commemoration is being led by Marie Curie. There are 34 memorials built in crematoria by a private owner. The COVID-19 National Memorial Wall in Lambeth was a guerrilla collaboration between COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice and Led by Donkeys.
By a massive coincidence, the Mayor of Waltham Forest Council, where I live, planted a tree in March 2021 to mark Marie Curie’s National Day of Reflection in memory of those who lost their lives. which appears to be one of the only public memorials in London. We resolved to visit the tree – but couldn’t find it. We rang the council: the switchboard didn’t know, and had never been asked. We rang the company that provided the plaque, and they didn’t know – but told us that they had made it in memory of their colleague Geoff, who had died of COVID-19.
I eventually got the details from the local neighbourhood Facebook group and was able to visit it with friends. We had a moment of reflection and laid stones. I later received a map from the Mayor’s Office and instructions for the location, which I enclose below. They have said they will put details on the council website for others.

We have an entire political and religious caste whose function is to create structured forms and formal tributes to the significant moments of life. It’s a very human impulse to try to turn away from trauma – the role of our society to acknowledge and remember it collectively for the sake of everyone. That process can’t wait until COVID-19 is fading from the rearview mirror.

 

 

To the memory of Geoff.

 

Location details:

Leyton Jubilee Park: If you enter the park via Marsh Lane, go past the café and then walk left through the car park. There are steps up to a raised area of the park known as the plateau. The tree is close to the path a few yards on to the plateau (the red mark on the attached).

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The Mourner’s Kaddish is the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead. This is mildly ironic, as it doesn’t mention death as all; instead it affirms the power and majesty of the divine. It is usually said by relatives in the presence of a public prayer service: as to stand in public and praise God as as God has taken away a loved one is a profoundly powerful spiritual act.

I was recently invited to say Kaddish at the memorial service of Reverend Donald Watson by his husband, Reverend Stevenson Graham. You can read a statement from Stevenson available on the One Spirit Foundation’s website about Donald.

It was an honour to do, but the traditional English translation would not have resonated with the people present, so I created an alternative translation that you can read below, taking inspiration from Reb Zalman’s alternative version. A copy of the sheet that I used with the transliteration, my translation and a traditional translation can be downloaded here.

 

Great and holy are the names of the One in this world created by divine love.

May that love transform our hearts in your lifetimes and in our days, in the lives of all who struggle, swiftly and soon. Let us love one another now.

May the blessings of that love flow forever into our world and worlds beyond.

And that divine love,
that sacred energy,
may we shape it
and bring it to life
so it may be truly seen
and given its time
and be seen as beautiful
and uplifting
and joyful, through our own being.

Beyond all prayers, and blessings, and healings and consolations that we can give, is the One from which we come. May we remember.

May a blanket of peace fall upon us from the heavens to comfort us and all who are struggling.

May the One who unites heaven and earth, bring compassion to us, to all who are struggling and to all sentient beings.

Amen.

 

Donald, you will be missed.

Watson, Donald with Toby.thumbnail

1946-2015

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