Although we have endured fraught times before, this feels different from any other Easter, partly due to our sense of powerlessness.
Previously we could publicly show our support for people in grief. If we knew them, we queued to shake hands and proffer inadequate words of comfort. With victims we didn't know, we could still express solidarity by gathering in public.
Following Diana Spencer's deat,h I watched thousands place flowers in her memory in Kensington Gardens. In their collective grief, Londoners become demonstratively tactile: anonymous hands resting on shoulders if a stranger was crying; spontaneous hugs as people found solace in being in a crowd.
While television cameras fuelled these theatrical scenes, few reporters stood on the pier in the Co Cork village of Union Hall in 2012 when Irish and Egyptian families awaited news of the crew of a sunken trawler. There was no practical help strangers could give, yet the people who arrived to stand in solidarity with those families subconsciously echoed John Donne's words: "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Many on the quay openly prayed, the Egyptians impeccably respecting Catholic prayers and Catholics showing equal respect when the small Muslim community prayed. And people of no faith probably searched for their words to express empathy towards those families.
Decades ago we knew what the socially acceptable words were, back when prayers were drilled into us at school and Ireland went into lockdown every Lent. The poet Seán Dunne recalled how to "an over-sensitive boy with a sense of ceremony… the drama at Easter was the greatest I encountered. Each day in Easter week had its own tragic script and I entered into it with fervour and anticipation… If Christmas was a teeming bush of gifts and celebration, then Easter was a bare tree in a cold landscape. It was bleak and empty, like a deserted tomb… the spell was broken on Easter Saturday night. Again it was dramatic… the church had a primal air when I knelt in darkness. I could smell my father's heavy overcoat beside me. It was the smell of safety."
This last sentence moves me to tears, because Dunne's sudden death in 1995, aged 39, was not only a devastating loss for his family and for poetry but a wake-up call for his contemporaries. It made us realise how precious life is, because it can be snatched away. Our enhanced sense of our mortality is now being replicated across Ireland as we endure a sort of permanent old-fashioned Lent, where none of us knows what the future holds.
Our sense of facing a common threat would once have brought us together, especially at Easter, whose symbols of death and resurrection are instilled into even those of us who lost our faith. Dunne wasn't blind to how religion could seem like "a world of threats and strictures, of regulations and warnings… driven by the worst aspects of the masculine element". Yet he recalled that during public ceremonies such as Easter "religion ceased to be centred in fear and it came into the street like a released kite".
I don't know how packed churches would have been this year, but I suspect they would have seen big crowds because we seek collective opportunities to stand together and express our feelings. Last week I lost a friend. It pained me not to be able to give him the send-off he deserved. Sadly this won't be the last time I pass Glasnevin Cemetery and feel not only locked down but locked out.
This will be my first Easter Sunday not to wrestle with the intricacies of carving a leg of lamb to share at a table of loved ones. The Easter Bunny will visit whatever homes he can. But this will be the first Easter when grandparents won't share in that excitement and an egg left on a doorway will be an object of suspicion rather than surprise. But it will still be Easter with its inbuilt sense of rebirth.
Perhaps it will be more memorable for being so simple by necessity: more the starkness of Union Hall pier than the orchestration of Kensington Gardens. Speeches by religious leaders may carry more weight for being enunciated across emptied squares. With the world's heartbeat so quiet, words uttered this Easter may resonate louder if uttered in stripped-down settings.
Just now life seems at its most stripped down. I currently only possess one clock. It belonged to an extraordinary old woman, Sheila Fitzgerald, whose life I described in my novel, 'An Ark of Light'. Despite having endured tragedy, Sheila wasn't trying to stop time when she stopped winding her clock. She wanted to immerse herself fully in the present.
In her small caravan, her arthritic fingers removed the clock's hands, covered its face with white paper and wrote across it one word to always signify the correct time: "NOW." It was part of how she peeled away the veneer of complexity in which we coat life, stripping it down to grasp its essential simplicity.
That is easier to do alone in a remote caravan than in a flat with cooped-up children. But this Easter must be about simplicity and staying safe. In lieu of the faces normally gracing my table, I'll raise a glass to absent friends such as Seán Dunne, who vividly recalled childhood Easters when his father's overcoat conveyed safety.
The words I'll recite come from no sermon or speech. They are by Brendan Kennelly, who composed what could be an anthem for this Easter; a poem about how our DNA contains an ability to refuse to surrender hope but to look ahead and seek - as Kennelly brilliantly wrote - ways to begin again: 'Though we live in a world that dreams of ending/ That always seems about to give in/ Something that will not acknowledge conclusion/ Insists that we forever begin.'