Actress Alison Steadman has urged people to “remember that there is love in the world” as the nation reflects on the lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic, one year on from the first lockdown.
A national day of reflection is being organised for March 23 by end-of-life charity Marie Curie to remember those who have died.
The Gavin and Stacey actress, a long-standing supporter of the charity, said she hopes the day will bring people comfort by showing that “we’re in this together and we’re here to help each other”.
A minute’s silence will be held at 12pm followed by a bell toll and people are being encouraged to stand on their doorsteps at 8pm with phones, candles and torches to signify a “beacon of remembrance”.
The Prime Minister has said he will observe the minute’s silence privately at noon while it will also be held in the Houses of Parliament.
London’s skyline will turn yellow with landmarks including the London Eye, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium lighting up at nightfall.
Other notable buildings that will be illuminated include Cardiff castle and Belfast City Hall.
Steadman, 74, will be standing on her doorstep in north London to mark the occasion with her partner.
She told the PA news agency: “I think for people to come together in times like this is really helpful – to reflect, to remember, you know there’s been so much suffering, so much anxiety across the whole nation, it has been like an awful war that we’ve all been battling and we’re still battling.
“Thank goodness we seem to see some sort of light now, but that doesn’t take away the bereavement.”
According to the latest available data from the Office for National Statistics, there have been 618,676 deaths from all causes registered in England and Wales between March 21 2020 and the week ending March 5 2021.
Using a measure that estimates that every death leaves an average of nine people bereaved, Marie Curie said this could mean more than 5.5 million people have been bereaved.
A recent survey for the charity found that 56% of those bereaved said they had “not had a chance to grieve” or “fully process” the loss they had experienced.
Being unable to comfort each other in person through the last year has made the “tragedy and the pain of it twice as hard”, Steadman said.
She said she has particularly been affected by stories of care home residents isolated from loved ones.
She was left in tears after hearing a story about one elderly resident who had sobbed on the phone as she tried to understand why her daughter was not able to visit her.
Asked what she would say to anyone who has struggled or lost a loved one this year, she said: “My message would be to remember that there is love in the world.
“This is quite easy to forget – things seem so difficult, so bad – but remember that there are good people in this world, caring people, kind people, and that things will get better, it will change, and to take the love from the people around them to try and heal that wound which so many people are living with.”
Steadman, who has had a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, said she is “longing every day” for the message that will say she can book her second appointment.
She has not seen either of her sisters, who are in their 80s and live in Liverpool, for more than a year, which she said has been “really hard”.
She has also desperately missed being able to cuddle her grandson.
But phone calls, cards, FaceTime and chatting on Zoom with family and friends have “really kept me smiling” throughout the lockdowns, she added.
More than 200 organisations are supporting the day of reflection, including 82 leaders from religious groups and cross-party politicians, care organisations, charities, businesses, emergency services, public sector bodies and community groups.
Celebrities including War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo and musicians Suzi Quatro and Steve Harley are taking part in a series of online talks to help those feeling isolated and struggling with grief.
Marie Curie executive director Meredith Niles said: “Millions of us have been unable to say a proper goodbye or comfort our family, friends and colleagues in their grief.
“With so many having experienced the death of someone close, our shared sense of loss is incomparable to anything faced in living memory.
“Although these absences will be felt for years to come, the national day of reflection gives us a moment to contemplate our collective loss, as well as take time to support those close to us, who are dealing with feelings of isolation and bereavement.
“Please join us in a minute of silence at 12 noon to reflect on the lives cut short during the pandemic, and show those struggling with grief that they are not alone.”