VIRUS: CANON GERRY IS THE FRONTLINE CHAPLAIN

St Patrick’s Church in Strathleven Place, Dumbarton, and parish priest Canon Gerry Conroy. Pictures by Bill Heaney

BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK

The great Corona virus pandemic is everywhere likened to a war with fights and battles going on all around us.

These warlike words are the the main metaphors being used to report this unprecedented calamity which has taken so many people from us as it sweeps through our hospitals and care homes. Even our own homes.

There hasn’t been much written about the clergy and their vital role in bringing comfort to the frightened, the sick and dying. Do not be afraid.

I did notice on social media though, after the magnitude of the crisis at Crosslet House care home in Dumbarton was finally revealed, that the Last Rites had been mentioned.

And that because of the lockdown, many people on their death bed were unable to receive the comfort of the sacraments and speak to their loved ones, or even their priest, as they passed away in dreadful numbers.

Who better then to ask about the impact Corona virus than Canon Gerry Conroy within whose parish of St Patrick’s is the worst affected in West Dunbartonshire with more than 20 deaths in the virus blighted Crosslet and Castle View care homes.

Canon Gerry told me: “It is a very sad situation.  I am sure the nurses are doing their best in the care homes. I know some of them pray with the residents, so it’s nice to hear they can do that when they are dying too.

“It is a shame that there is a shortage of PPE. I cannot say if that is the reason they [the homes] do not ask priests to come in and visit the patients who are dying.

“I suppose they need to keep the foot coverings they have so that they can observe decent hygiene rules.

“I’m sure they are also concerned about the spread of the disease within and outwith the homes as well and the PPE doesn’t seem to guarantee non infection.

“I know that if the families ask for a priest, they have in the past allowed priests in, but I haven’t heard of the homes being told to tighten up on this.

“About the hospitals, I cannot comment – I think they have always been very strict about allowing anyone in.”

Father Conroy added: “Funerals seem particularly difficult at this time. We are made more aware of the distance and separation that death brings about.

“Perhaps it also makes us aware that we are not the islands we sometimes act like or as independent as we would sometimes like to think.”

Maitlis Emily 2
Picture by Bill Heaney

I asked the question about loneliness after having seen Emily Maitlis, right, the BBC Newsnight presenter, interviewing the Beirut hostage Terry Waite about it.

Terry Waite, you will remember, was kidnapped and held hostage for nearly five years by terrorists in the Middle East.

He said that he did not, as we would have expected, like to hear the sound of the guards coming to the room where he was chained to a radiator for all that time.

He had good reason not to relish that sound however. He said: “What it heralded for me was the fact that I was in for yet another beating.”

It was only when another hostage, Terry Anderson, was chained up alongside him that Terry Waite welcome the company of others.

He said Terry Anderson did not speak to him but touched his hand, which comforted him greatly.

This fitted with Father Conroy’s view of the human condition in relation to loneliness and the fending off of despair.

He said: “We need others, we need physical contact with others and at a time of death particularly.

“The  isolation makes the grieving much more difficult, and probably much more prolonged. There is more to this illness than the physical effects.

“I think many people are doing their best to be good neighbours and to help those that are more vulnerable, so there are some good things this pandemic is a catalyst for.

“Maybe too there are families who are getting to spend more quality time together – parents and teenagers, which is a good thing.

“That takes effort however and some are not up to it, so there are difficulties too.

“Hopefully we don’t return to the same level of individualistic living we had previously, that mentality of me, myself and I.

“Hopefully too, we have learned it is much better to see ourselves as part of something bigger; that we need to see ourselves that way, because everything suggests this will happen again.

“Will we be as unprepared?  I am sorry to be so pessimistic on that score.”

 

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