We have family in Milan. It’s a beautiful city and we love to go there. It’s the industrial capital of Italy, with beautiful architectural buildings and churches, amazing high street shops like Armani, Gucci, and more. It’s full of quaint little restaurants and the old quarter of the city is charming. Italians are warm and welcoming and very tactile.
They innately embrace and kiss at every opportunity and this is considered the norm. They love their families, and very often, they live close together. Grandparents and young children are treated with utmost respect and mealtimes are always a joyous occasion. I find it hard to imagine how the Covid -19 crisis has impacted on their lives. We are worried not just for ourselves here in Ireland but for our loved ones in Italy and beyond too. They are also concerned for us, just like every family who is apart at this time. I have never been more grateful for the very thing that I have so often maligned, technology. I can reach most of my loved ones daily, and that is God’s gift to all of us during this time of hardship. We send greetings and pictures to each other every day and this has become our new normality.
In Limbiate, just outside the capital, my first cousin David Leonardo Lenihan and his wife Anna live with two of their children, Astrid and Joshua, both of whom are in college. The eldest son Luca lives a life of almost self-sufficiency in the beautiful moun-tainous countryside region of Biella. David’s work is suspended for now, but Anna is a physiotherapist in one of the main hospitals. David’s brother Alex, who lives nearby, has two grown up children, Alicia and Yuri. They live in different parts of the world, Abu Dhabi and Tanzania. Their mother Carla is an intensive care nurse and works in the frontline services. I spoke to them last weekend.
“I think we don’t fully realise the extent of it yet. These are very strange days, constantly exposed to the news  and ‘ imprisoned’ at home, but at the same time living through it like it was a dream, so surreal. It’s like we are at war” Astrid said. I asked how they are spending their time.
“During the day we try to keep ourselves busy, doing the housework (what we wouldn’t normally do!), doing homework, studying, practising our instruments, sometimes baking, reading. Fortunately, we have some gym equipment and can do some exercises, to keep active. My Dad too is exercising to keep his muscular tone, because he has rheumatoid arthritis, so it is important for him to keep moving. At night we usually watch a (happy) film all together.
We can go out only for health reasons/emerg-encies, work or to go grocery shopping. Those who have a dog can walk him outside but only very near their house, and the walk must be brief. Probably the government will take further measures because there are still people that don’t understand the gravity of the situation and still gather in parks. Even three/four people are too many to be out with. If we go out without a valid reason the police will censure you for spreading the epidemic, and you’ll have a criminal/police record, a €200 fine or a three-month jail sentence. Nonetheless, thousands and thousands of people are being censured because they keep going out! It’s insane the amount of stupidity that many people are showing all over Italy and the world in general.”
She explained that her mother Anna works in the afternoon in the hospital. But she now works in a type of filter zone, accessing patients who may need intensive care and generally helping out the nursing staff on the ICU units. These nurses need all the help they can get because leaving a ward means scrubbing down and changing protective wear every time.
My cousins would be happy to see more restrictions happening because, of course, they work in the Health Services and see first- hand the effect of the virus. “The situation is getting worse day by day; the number of cases is constantly growing. I have a friend who is a nurse and today she told me that it’s estimated that the cases will keep on growing until the first half of April, then hopefully the situation will start to get better. Many hospitals, like the one my mom and Carla work in, are being converted completely to Covid cases centres. The problem is that there is not enough space  and  equipment to take care of everyone, and if people don’t stop going out for futile reasons, we won’t get out of this emergency state soon. People are dying every day and nurses have to run to try and resuscitate them, but most of the time it’s too late. Hospitals are collapsing and we all have to do our part to block the virus, even by just staying at home.” Astrid said. She studies Foreign languages and literature, and her brother Josh is in his last year of high school. “I have to upload some homework and study the slides that my teachers post every week on the university site. Joshua attends some online lessons, but only the ones that will be in the final exam, which should be in June but now nothing is certain anymore. My Dad feels imprisoned at home, but actually that is the general feeling. He’s worried about the situation, but I think he’s doing well, and I pray he will keep being like this. We still have some weeks to go, and almost certainly the government will prolong the isolation until the end of April, and maybe even longer, so it’s vital that we all stay calm and clear-minded as much as possible. We rang Zio (Uncle) Alex yesterday, he is trying to stay positive and busy at home.”
Fabio is Astrid’s boyfriend and is at his home “smart-working”, and he’s very busy. He also does videoconferences with his colleagues and they are managing to bring on their projects. He will probably graduate in videoconference too, in June. “I miss him very much. I know we are very lucky to be safe and healthy at home, but I must say this is a very tough period for couples that don’t live together. And actually, also those who live together have to take precautions, for example my Mom and Dad do not embrace anymore because my mum wants him to be safe, especially as she works at the hospital.” This brought a tear to my eye. David and Anna are one of the most loving couples I know, not just to each other but to their children as well. I can only imagine how difficult it is for them right now. St. Patrick’s Day was Alex’s birthday. Birthdays are highly celebrated occasions by the family, and I felt a pang of sadness that the brothers and their families couldn’t be together. But we still sent our greetings to him.
They were here with us during February of 2019, celebrating a family member’s 80th birthday. It was such a joyous occasion when everybody was together. Nobody could have foreseen what was to happen a mere twelve months later.
We are not yet where my Italian cousins are. But I’m worried that if we don’t follow the guidelines set out for us by the experts, we could potentially get there. Isolation isn’t pleasant for the most part. But surely, it’s a small price to pay in an effort to curb the virus? I read somewhere that we should behave like we have the virus. In that way, we will be far more aware of everyone around us and strive to protect everyone, not just ourselves.
With God’s help, this will pass. We’ll visit Milan again and our cousins will be back to us. We are all praying for each other. My hope is that we can look back at this time and be confident that we played our part by listening and following the advice of the experts, regardless of the length of time it took. Stay safe everyone.