Grieving far from home: Brazilian's life in Hackney during Covid

Aunt So, mum Leda, Laura and aunt Ana

Aunt So, mum Leda, Laura and aunt Ana - Credit: Carniel family

I have been living in Hackney for almost four years and it has been an important part in the process of understanding my identity as an immigrant in the UK.

I was born and raised in Brazil and after moving to the UK, being Brazilian became a bigger part of my identity.

In Hackney, I got to know people from all over the world and we took comfort in recognising the things we missed the most about our countries and teaching one another the favourite aspects of our culture. We came to realise that even the most unique aspects of our countries could be found in another with some variation and that we were much more similar than we thought.

Hackney is a vibrant place where we have the chance to explore fully who we were, the connections with our countries and how we relate to the UK. 

When the pandemic started, I learned how to live with the isolation, the lack of perspective and the fear of the unknown. Because I didn’t have access to my community, I started longing to be in my country more and more and London became a strange city to me.

After a brief experience of freedom in the summer, we went back into lockdown and things started to get significantly worse here and in Brazil.

Nothing prepares you for the unbearable experience of having someone you love being diagnosed with Covid, and the daily fear and anxiety you feel.

Laura Carniel's aunt Nor

Laura Carniel's aunt Nor - Credit: Carniel family

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In December 2020, my aunt Nor was diagnosed and after a long month in the ICU, while the family waited for daily news on the WhatsApp group, she passed away on January 2. 

Grieving away from home when you only have seen your family on video calls for the last two years brings a whole new level of disconnection and loneliness. You don’t get the chance to say goodbye and be a part of any rituals that bring some closure, and can’t quite understand what happened was real. 

After she died, my family organised some online meetings where we would hear stories about her life and patch together the amazing person she was.

A month passed and grieving during a winter lockdown proved to be the most challenging period of my life which would only get worse after we got the terrifying news my aunt So was diagnosed with Covid as well.

Another month had passed and we got used to the same daily ritual of waiting for news in the Whatsapp group, but despite the family trying to remain hopeful, she passed away on March 2. If it was hard to explain what grief felt like the first time, now it felt like the world was out of place and my presence in London somehow felt irresponsible towards my family. 

Aunties Nor and So

Aunties Nor and So - Credit: Carniel family

At the time, because of the lockdown and Brexit, most of my foreigner friends had returned to their countries and grieving was an incredibly lonely process.

Maybe as a way of dealing with the uncertainty of the future, I started to hold on to the past and get to know the story of my family on weekly Zoom calls with my mom.

I got to know more stories from my aunt’s childhood and early adult years and started feeling closer to them and to my roots. I got to know the joys and sorrows of people I never met – great grandparents, great uncles and aunties and started to put together the story of the family Carniel.

I still don’t know what I’ll do with all this information, but at the moment I’m glad I recognise myself in so many of these people and that I can carry them with me. 

Laura Carniel with mum Leda

Laura Carniel on Zoom with mum Leda - Credit: Laura Carniel

Lockdown is now over and together with these weekly calls with my mom, I can count on my friends to bring me a sense of home.

I learned home will never be a geographical place and that you can feel connected to your roots by knowing more about the people that came before you and what they valued.

Seven months after the first death, I’m still trying to find ways to honour their lives and make their memories live on.

I’m still not home and I don’t know when I will be but having my community back means we can share a little bit of our roots with each other and build our own sense of belonging.

Laura's aunts Nor and So with grandmother Nedila (centre)

Laura's aunts Nor and So with grandmother Nedila (centre) - Credit: Carniel family