Post-Covid times reveal a world of longing

Living while longing: for a loved one, a job, a home, the life you had before Covid

When we were children and my father brought us to visit cousins near Prosperous in Co Kildare, we would sometimes walk to the grave of Teresa Brayton who wrote The Old Bog Road.

This emigrant’s lament, set in New York, is a song of longing. Its extraordinary popularity for many decades underlines the universal experience of, especially, unrequited longing.

By unrequited I mean longing that can’t be satisfied.

Today, as we emerge into the (we hope) post-Covid world, longing is coming to the fore for a great many people.


If you lost a person, business or job to Covid, you could reasonably be expected to long for pre-Covid times. Maybe you can replace the business or the job (though maybe not). If you lost a person, though, longing won’t bring them back.

That’s why, when the clouds of grief lift a little, bereaved people need to move attention and awareness to building a life from the ingredients of what they have left. It doesn’t mean no longer longing for what was lost; it is more a matter of not being immobilised by that longing.

A person derailed by Long Covid will very understandably long for the days before this curse came into their lives. Since we don’t know the full trajectory of Long Covid yet, we can hope they will see their health improved or restored.

In the meantime, though, they will long for what they had as will anyone unexpectedly struck by a chronic illness.

They may even invest the past with a glow that doesn't really belong to it. We tend to romanticise what we long for – as does the emigrant in The Old Bog Road who invests Ireland with a romantic tinge though he has no intention of returning to it.

A person may long for decades for someone they fell in love with but who turned them down. On rare occasions, they eventually meet and marry after the death of their first partners but it’s rare, which is why it gets into the news.

Maybe the refugees here once had status, peace and ambitions and now they are stuck in the rain in Ireland longing for a home to which they can never return

Or maybe you long to have done something differently when you had the chance but the chance will never come around again.

Often all you can do with unrequited longing is to be willing to acknowledge it and then move on until the longing comes around again when you acknowledge it and move on again.

Think of the weight of longing that must exist among refugees in this country. Maybe once they had status, peace and ambitions and now they are stuck in the rain in Ireland longing for a home to which they can never return. They can let the longing destroy their happiness or they can honour the memory of the loss and put new lives together (which I know is a tall order).

Longing is everywhere. It’s interesting to look at the people around you and wonder what they are longing for that they are never going to tell you about, even the tough people, even the ones you don’t like. Maybe they wanted to do something different with their lives. Maybe they wanted to be somewhere else like the man in The Old Bog Road who, when he was young, couldn’t wait to get out of Ireland.

Or maybe their adult children won’t talk to them. Or maybe their children can’t talk to them because they were taken away as babies and the trail is cold. The same applies to children who may be searching for a birth parent; maybe the birth parent told nobody about them and won’t meet them now because they fear their family’s reaction to such a revelation, though it might be more understanding than they think.

For most of us, I believe, unrequited longing doesn’t hurt too much unless we wallow in it. For some, it can be very painful. If drink takes it away for a while, as it did for many Irish emigrants, that’s dangerous.

Talking it out with a friend or with someone who will listen respectfully is, I think, a better way to arrive at some peace.

Padraig O'Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (