(def: very great sadness, especially at the death of someone)

This is not my own story – and yet in some collective way it is. A friend’s mother tells me she has lost her sister, who had dementia and was a resident in a care home in Edinburgh, to Covid-19. Her daily routine used to be to do the shopping, buy the paper, walk the dogs and then spend much of the afternoon with her sister. But all that stopped with the pandemic.

“Now,” she says, “I won’t see my sister again. Ever. That’s because of this virus. The coffin will be shut. It’s horrible. I can’t express to you how I felt when I got the phone call to say she had passed away.”

There has, of course, been much grief already since the start of this pandemic. Those who have lost loved ones will have felt its full body blow, but most of us have caught echoes, waves of it when we’ve read the stories, seen the news, felt our own past grief reawakened.

This last week, however, in which we found ourselves with the worst death toll in Europe, has been one that has rippled with the hush of shared grief.

Most of that has been centred on our care homes where over half of Scottish coronavirus deaths are now happening. It has been focused on, for instance, the Portree care home that has 57 residents infected and, at time of writing, five dead. The grief is not just for the individuals dying in homes, a swathe of our elderly gone so quickly. It’s also for the time we might have had with older relatives still healthy but in isolation.

It’s a grief tinged with horror and sympathy for the workers who have moved into the homes, caught the virus themselves, and found themselves the frontline of the pandemic battle. Where the inadequacies will be something we rake over in the future.

Grief can be made worse by the sense that we failed in some way those we have lost, and it’s certainly true that on a national level, the care system that serves our elderly has been failed.

It feels as if a choice was made that has changed our sense of who we are. The support system for those deemed strong enough to survive the virus was bolstered, while those deemed to be in their final years were almost written off. They’d had their lives.

I’ve even heard such an idea uttered by older people themselves – one neighbour told me: “I’m 82, I couldn’t care less!”

But, surely, it should have been straightforward that we would both protect care homes, make them shielded places of safety, properly supplied with PPE, with the necessary testing that has been so lacking all round, and, at the same time save the young and the NHS. But the country was too ill-prepared for that.

There’s no doubt that this pandemic will bring about a new conversation about both how we look after our elderly and also what a good end of life is, as well as how we came to be so reliant on this complex and fragile care system with its private nursing homes, agency workers and poorly paid staff.

Because of Covid-19, the nursing home has begun to seem an even less safe place. Old people will, no doubt, be more nervous about moving into them.

Families will be more reluctant to put their loved ones in their care, and more conflicted when they do it. This pandemic and its lockdown are constantly raising questions about the way we have been living, our values as a society.

The question it asks us here is whether there is a better way not only of looking after our elders, but also of thinking about end of life and its quality.

The Covid crisis has brought us much grief, one after another – grief for a world passing, even as we might hold bright hopes for the coming new norm. There are almost too many of them to process, which is why we do not talk about this grief nearly enough – just as we have never talked about the climate crisis enough.

When it comes to grief, right now, where do we start?

I started with care homes, but there is also the high BAME death toll, the businesses failing, the young people whose education and futures seem lost, and so on.

We must talk about them all. It’s the grief we bury most that will, in the future, come back to strangle us.

Vicky Allan is feeling it: Burnt out from home school and home work