Earlier last week, I noticed some neighbours standing outside in a group. There was social distancing. They maintained the two metres. But five of them stood, chatting for a good while. The new normal I thought to myself.
Socialising on the street is a recent phenomenon and in a country with weather like ours it's still a slightly unusual sight. A man ran past my house with a camera on a tripod. He stopped at my gate, planted it and focused on the street. Curious, I realised up along both paths there were people standing. All keeping that now-familiar distance between themselves.
And then I saw why. Slowly proceeding up the road was a hearse. Mourners walking behind it. Some with heads bowed. Some were visibly upset. Some nodded and occasionally smiled to those lining the pavements to pay their last respects.
Some of the mourners clapped those, who'd come out to watch. And some of those watching this little procession clapped back. It was a sobering, but moving sight. People trying to find a way to express their support, solidarity, sympathy and gratitude to each other in new and unfamiliar ways - because the normal rituals around death have been suspended.
I cannot imagine what it is to lose someone at the moment. Losing a loved one is awful at the best of times. But losing someone now must surely be worse. Both my parents are dead. Their deaths were quite different - my father dropped dead from heart disease in his 60s. My mum slipped away slowly after a long battle with dementia at the age of 91. But, as a family, their funerals brought us great comfort. Friends came and offered their condolences. Stories were told. Memories shared. And they were both sent off in a way that felt fitting. One that celebrated their lives as well as mourned their deaths.
We didn't know my dad was going to die. But my mum was in a nursing home and had been in a slow decline for months. We were prepared. We spent time with her. We said our goodbyes. We held her hand and told her it was OK if she needed to go. That maybe she needed a rest and didn't need to keep fighting or hanging on. We sang songs softly and laughed wryly with each other as we sat around her bedside. Dying in bed, in your sleep with your family around you, is as good a death as there is.
And that's what people cannot have at the minute. That is the human cost of the lockdown. One brief visit towards the very end of a life. Masked and gowned. Holding hands through a latex glove. Part of me wonders - are we getting it right? None of us thought it was a tragedy that my mum died at 91. All we really wanted at that point was for her to have a peaceful death. One where she wasn't alone. Where she felt safe. Unafraid.
A huge proportion of those we have lost to Covid have been nursing home patients. People don't normally go into a nursing home and come out again. They go in towards the end of their lives. The average length of stay is two years and eight months. We have locked them away from their families, to protect them from what could kill them. Yet the truth is they will sadly likely die relatively soon, with or without Covid. Cutting them off from their family in their final months will possibly prolong their life by a bit, but is that more important than them being able to be with their loved ones at their end?
I don't know the answer but I suspect if it was me I would rather die a little sooner with my family around me regularly - than live a little longer without them. And if my mum was still with us, I think I'd feel the same. Length of life is not the only measure of a life. Quality of life is important, too. And when you die may not be as truly important as how you live. Bereaved families are missing all the supportive rituals that are usually there for them in grief. I'm not sure what that means for them after this is all over.
Children, too, are paying a high price. It looks like, in the end, they will miss six months of school here before they are allowed back to their classrooms - despite there being little evidence showing they are a significant source of transmission of the coronavirus. Remote learning is all very well and good, but an iPad will never replace the socialisation that kids get in school that's so important to their development. Again, sometimes I wonder if imposing the social-distancing message rigidly on children - who in the vast majority neither give nor get a serious version of the disease, will prove in time to have done more harm than good to their little minds?
We've talked a lot lately about the economic cost of lockdown - and it's true it has completely wrecked our economy - which will cause huge problems in the future. But there's a massive human cost, too. We're social animals. We are designed to interact, to touch. The social-distancing message has been so effective that people are now afraid to live their lives going forward in the normal way. When I hear people say things will never be the same again - and perhaps there will be no more restaurants, bars or other gathering places as we knew them - I wonder if that's a world I want to live, or indeed die in?
Lockdown was a short-term intervention, to slow down the march of Covid. It's not a long-term strategy. And what was right in the beginning; what we were able to do for six weeks may not be sustainable for six months or indeed six years.
Perhaps it's time for us as a society to start discussing what we actually want society to look like - should we have to live alongside Covid for a prolonged period of time. Perhaps some risks are worth taking - for life to still be worth living. We need at least to start discussing it.