Suddenly and painfully aware: I am dying for a hug!

Climbing a ladder to the moon to seek the favor of heaven

Artwork by Marx Reinhart Fidel

LONDON — It’s Frank Sinatra time again. You know, the wee small hours of the morning, when the whole wide world is fast asleep. You lie awake and think about the boy…if only he would call; that’s the time you miss him most of all…guess I’ll hang my tears out to dry. But I get along without you very well, of course I do. Except when soft rains fall, and drip from leaves then I recall…

My mind is a dark continent buffeted by storms, sailing in a sea of sadness, and visited by grief, longing and intimations of mortality. Edvard Munch painted The Scream following a leisurely walk with friends when he was poleaxed by fear and anxiety exacerbated by the fiery glow of a setting sun; there’s a primal scream inside of us yearning to bellow right now. This isn’t about the periodic angst that assails us when we question the futility of life or of human existence. The year 2020 for me ended in early March when a new deadly coronavirus upended life with the ferocity and velocity of a flick knife, rendering all of us utterly defenseless.

Fearful, anxious and vulnerable (I have an underlying health condition which hasn’t hobbled me in any way, but is something I now have to be conscious of), I shut my door on a world that is suddenly full of visible and invisible peril. Suppressing frothing rage against widely suspected culprits who unleashed this new reign of terror upon the world, I started—unknowingly at first—grieving for my past life, for the abbreviated lives of people I don’t know; for spontaneity, the company of friends and social interaction over Aperol spritzes and vongole. Missing the spectacular Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the National Gallery; lunchtime concerts at the Wigmore Hall; shopping with sweet abandon; our vacation in Le Marches.

My arms ache to hold my darling son Luke, his girlfriend Heni, and Rambo, their French bulldog sweetheart. Suddenly and painfully aware: I am dying for a hug! According to a recent survey on touch and the lack of it during lockdown, aggravated by social distancing and self-isolating, I am palpably suffering from ‘skin hunger and affection deprivation’. “When people are having a hard time at the moment, it is being able to put a hand on their shoulder,” Michael Banissy, leading expert in the field of touch research, told The Times. “There is so much that words can’t convey.”

I was born to be mild. These days, left to my own devices I surprise myself with an uncharacteristic predilection for idleness; I could be a professional slacker. I have—if not always sunny, then a sanguine—disposition. I have gotten good at living alone, having wholeheartedly accepted that the only person I really require in my day-to-day life right now is myself. I really don’t mind; for I never feel alone, least of all when I am by myself.

But now, I fear the black dog has finally got me in its teeth. In the last seven months, I have been out of my house only three times: to have a socially distanced Frascati with my neighbor whose sumptuous garden was in indiscriminate pomp in summer; to lunch with my son and Heni, down from London for a visit, when the virus seemed to enjoy the hiatus of a siesta and refraining from killing huge numbers of people it would normally have done; and then to have my seasonal flu jab when a cold, hard rain poured all day, making me want to weep. My nerves shot to pieces, I hurried home again.

Almost everything I need—food supplies, punnets of fresh strawberries and pears, groceries, takeouts, medicines and supplements, newspapers and magazines —are delivered to my front door. Not yet a full-blown crazy hoarder, but I am eyeing lavatory paper, disinfectants, paracetamols; who knows when Armageddon arrives?

How hard and dispiriting can this lockdown malarkey be if I can find comfort in the new familiar? Days blur into one another; I find myself talking to empty rooms; tracking the economic death spiral, jobs carnage, business wipeouts around the world; doomscrolling depressing news at one in the morning. I keep abreast of increasingly drastic and baffling government guidelines even though they are totally lost on me because I and my now well-upholstered bottom are already burrowed deep in lockdown. Cicero wrote: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” And so I have.

Jorge Luis Borges once said he always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. My books call out to me to be read and I happily oblige. Amazon delivers new releases. Johnny Depp’s and his ex-wife Amber Heard’s graphic depositions in a London High Court about alleged libel and spousal abuse were supremely distracting and entertaining. I potter around my garden, so achingly green and fecund in summer and now turning to beatific calm and autumnal splendor. I sit on a garden bench, my cup of tea cooling and biscuits on a plate, entertained by birdsong, and I disappear into a book. I read to be reassured I am not alone. I realize that all the things I now really like are quite solitary—and fattening.

In Star Trek, Mr Spock remarks to Captain Kirk: “There will be life here. But not life as we know it”


Inclined to weary sighs, I fear the coming winter blues; already the night draws in at five in the afternoon. I feel somewhat prematurely exhausted, or it could just be maximum eye overload from watching too much television, food channels, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert. Hey, whatever gets you through the night that pierces your gloom. I am unduly downcast and careworn, because far, far more people out there have far, far greater reasons than I have for being depressed. Somebody’s time is always up; some people have become prisoners of their own disadvantage. My mind is flooded with the existential fret and fever of a discombobulating US presidential election. Please, God, grant several efficacious vaccines to come onstream, soon, and fairly distributed around the world. A drug to quiet all pain, to end strife and sorrow. We will be saved, but only if everyone is safe.

Covid-death is a brutal, swift sniper. In March, an ex-boyfriend—only 66 years old—died from Covid, in a foreign country far from home. In June, my first great love—only 65—shuffled off his mortal coil. Should I grieve for these men who, in a fury of love, once ensnared my heart? Attacked by a battalion of memories I might have even called their names, for they were once true loves of mine. Between us our separate years and our last goodbyes, and now their absence from this world has become permanent. Departed, and now full of eternal sleep. TS Eliot wrote: “Footfalls echo in the memory/Down the passage we did not take/Towards the door we never opened/Into the rose-garden.”

When people die, you lose corroboration of your life’s back story. Did I bank enough in the vaults of memory against the passage of time? When I see the few people that I now see at a safe distance—the postman, my newspaper-delivery guy, my neighbor—morbidly I wonder if or when I might see them again; I now look at them with a furtive eye to losing them. I vow that when I am to meet my friends and loved ones again, I will be kinder, more tender and loving when I bid them goodbye.


Spikes and surges in infection are harrowing much of Europe and the UK right now. Mental health problems are rising; psychiatrists are warning of an epidemic of acute loneliness arising from long and severe lockdowns, from uncertainty about the future; when or if we will ever get 100% cast-iron vaccines; how long before the economy recovers, and before we can enjoy the society of others once again. In The Lonely City, Olivia Laing wrote: “The lonelier a person gets the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them like a mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive; once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.”

In Star Trek, Mr. Spock remarks to Captain Kirk: “There will be life here. But not life as we know it.” Normal? What is that anyway? David Kessler, an expert on anticipatory grief, told the Harvard Business Review: “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary but it doesn’t feel that way. The loss of normalcy, the fear of economic toll, the loss of connection—this is hitting us and we’re grieving collectively…There’s something bad out there, but we can’t see it, and this breaks our sense of safety.”

The virus is no longer new; we now know a little more about it; we have a retroviral and a steroid that could shorten a hospital stay, but virus fatigue has well and truly set in. Wash hands! Keep space! Wear mask! (Retire the lipstick and make-up.) Mercifully I don’t have to tart myself up to look like a foxy vixen anymore.  Most days I pad about looking like something that’s been put together by the chief stylist of a thrift shop; call it slob chic. Of her signature get-up, Dolly Parton once remarked: “It’s very expensive to look this cheap!”

We have willingly surrendered some of our freedoms and civil liberties, and made sacrifices to protect other people, but we are just fed up! Tired and weary of the coronavirus specially as it runs ever more rampant. The dreaded second wave of Covid, attended by low-grade panic, is alarmingly upon us and governments are struggling to suppress the damn thing, while throwing Brobdingnagian fardels of money to protect economies and jobs. We seem to be a very long way from beating this pandemic, with vaccine trials temporarily paused. Jobs lost and companies shutting down are piling up. Deaths, infections, hospital admissions and demand for critical beds are exponentially going up. Stalin once said: “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths a statistic.”

Inured to the numbers, you could so easily forget that behind them are real human beings, curtailed lives, families and loved ones in mourning. Martin Hirsch, director of Paris’ hospital authority, warned over the weekend that the city’s doctors may soon have to choose which patients to treat and which to leave to die.

Sick and tired of delaying life, shunting it into an unknowable future, circling hell. Christmas may have to be rescheduled; 2021 too may be stopped in its tracks. How do we get that time back? I have a huge desire to be untethered from the briars and brambles of life right now; don’t you? I fear we have drawn the furious disfavor and disappointment of God, but hope burns in febrile hearts praying for solace, the favor of heaven and God’s mercy upon His suffering creatures, this troubled and tormented world.

Meanwhile, I guess, small treats will have to do for now. “Surviving the horribleness of life,” wrote literary editor Diana Athill. “I did it by relying on simple pleasures such as the taste of fruit, the delicious sensations of a hot bath or clean sheets, the way flowers tremble very slightly with life, the lilt of a bird’s flight.”

Everything is here only for a time. One day in the foothills of a ‘new’ world, a world that looks freshly washed, we will emerge into the light in the manner of sunflowers looking up to the sun. Is there a lesson to take from all this? Yes: we do not take anything for granted, specially our one and only world, nature, our loved ones, gifts and blessings. Right now, and when this is all over.

About author


She exiled herself from the Philippines to England, from where she hankers Filipino food, the friends and family she left behind. "Life amazes, but also baffles," she said. "I look at the world with amused detachment, like someone visiting from an alien planet."

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up for’s Weekly Digest and get the best of, tailored for you.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *