My favourite poem is called 'The Waste Land' by T.S. Eliot. Since studying the poem for the Leaving Cert, I've grown to love it, often reading a few verses before bed and packing a battered copy in my suitcase every time I travelled home.
When the Covid-19 crisis began, I found myself reaching for 'The Waste Land', hopeful that it would offer some escape and distraction. Five weeks into quarantine and the volume on my bedside table remains untouched.
The first section begins 'April is the cruellest month'. Before Covid-19, I never really dwelt on this opening phrase, usually skipping past it in my eagerness to reach the knottier, more evocative parts of the poem. Now the line strikes an uncomfortable chord, forcing me to reflect upon the reality of our current situation.
It's predicted that April is the month in which Covid-19 will peak in Ireland. The Government announced last Friday that a nationwide lockdown shall extend until May. April is, indeed, "the cruellest month" and I think my sudden aversion to 'The Waste Land' affirms how little I'd like to believe the truth of its opening line.
For my family, April is always a time of celebration. Each of our birthdays take place - we have a cake nearly once a week - and Easter is usually celebrated too. It's a month we associate with tradition and togetherness. This year, however, April has taken a cruel turn and we find our family traditions turned on their heads, the hallmarks of our favourite month suddenly rendered inaccessible.
My grandmother's absence is felt most sharply. She is 80 this year and currently cocooning. She should have been with us this Easter, enjoying my mother's roast dinner and gorging on Easter eggs but, instead, she spent the day alone. Prior to Covid-19, her days were marked by regular visits from her children, walks to Mass, weekly shopping trips to town.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, we visited once a week and her home became a place of intense solace. It was always warm and cosy. Treats were plentiful. My sisters and I had the freedom to watch whatever we wanted on television.
Now that I have moved back to Cork, I find myself overcome by nostalgia for the weekly ritual of seeing my grandmother. Interspersed is a yearning for all the small traditions I had previously taken for granted - the manner in which she always brings a cake over on Sunday, our amicable after-dinner conversation, her commitment to watching Fair City.
There is consolation in her tech savviness - she's owned an iPad for years and has a firm understanding of how best to navigate social media. Although her days are spent alone, she maintains a constant connectedness to all of us, her family, through daily FaceTime calls and WhatsApp messages.
Online interactions, however, are no replacement for the traditions that make April such a special month. My grandmother won't be present at our birthday celebrations this year. There will be no specially chosen gifts. My youngest sister will spend her 18th birthday - an event she has talked incessantly about for almost a year - stuck in the house.
Despite the disruptive and difficult nature of this past month, the sudden loss of structure has forced the family to develop new routines and rituals - smaller-scale traditions that are quickly becoming entwined into the fabric of lockdown life.
We've begun watching films on Saturday evenings. We've set aside Tuesday afternoons for cleaning our respective bedrooms. We make an effort to have breakfast together on Sunday mornings.
Before Covid-19, these events were elemental and non-eventful, unremarkable moments in the quick-fire pace of our daily lives. Now they offer a much-needed sense of stability.
"April is the cruellest month," begins the first line of my favourite poem. In a month which has been earmarked as the peak of this pandemic, there is a sliver of truth in that statement. April has always been full of joy in my family, characterised by carefully crafted traditions.
Now we will always look back on the April of 2020 as a month memorialised by suffering and loss.
It may take weeks, or even months, but life will eventually return to normal.
This "cruellest month" is not endless but, rather, a stain on the history of every future April. And when it is over, I am comforted by knowing that my family traditions will still be there, as meaningful and important as ever.