23 March 2020 (a year ago)
Yesterday was my mother’s 87th birthday. It was a Sunday. I usually spent weekends with her in any case since my stepfather died a few years ago.
A week earlier, I had returned from my annual week-long ski holiday with friends, anxious because I rarely left her alone for longer than 4 days. The news about Covid-19 and the risk of a global pandemic still seemed secondary to the immediate concern of getting home.
That Sunday we were joined by my wonderful cousin Susie, the elder daughter of my late uncle Jim – my mother’s only sibling – for a kitchen celebration involving gifts, cake and photos.
Today the world has changed: the UK has gone into lockdown. Having dumped my ski stuff at home and popped down with an overnight bag, I nip home to do the washing, shut up the house and return with a suitcase of clothes, laptop, chargers, work files, spare screen and keyboard. Just in case.
Just as well…
I have taken over the dining room at my mother’s house. The room accustomed to hosting family Christmas dinners has become RG10 HQ. The painting on the wall behind me has become familiar to many RG10 advertisers and networking contacts through video calls on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
I take the decision to abandon printing a May/Jun edition of RG10 magazine, divided between the desire on the one hand to keep the #supportlocalbusiness flag flying for customers and on the other hand the responsibility to keep our delivery team and local residents safe, at a time when the official guidelines are telling us to stay at home except for essential purposes.
The period from late March to mid June is spent reconciling with the shock of lockdown, coming to terms with the realisation this might not just be for a few weeks, then beginning to relax and catch some breath and, ultimately, enjoying a rather surreal and fabulous spring/early summer observing the garden, the birds and nature, the quiet skies and roads.
Lockdown prevents any progress being made on refurbishing the house I jointly own: the tenants left abruptly and we had to wait for the official inspection report before asking trades people for quotes.
I feel fortunate that otherwise my main stress is just sourcing groceries at a time when supermarket delivery slots are impossible to obtain except for the most vulnerable. I enjoy discovering new delivery options offered by a bakery, wine shop, butcher and greengrocer within a few miles of my mother’s house, none of which we’d supported regularly in the past. I resolve to continue in future to support these businesses which, like so many, are adapting quickly to circumstances beyond their control and making such an important contribution to their local communities.
Cousin Susie rejoins us in the garden for my lockdown birthday barbecue in mid June. I’m surprised and delighted by a visit from my schoolfriend Sasha, who pops her head around the side gate with some flowers from her garden. There’s a photo of me that I plan to adopt for my editor’s page in RG10 magazine.
Life isn’t all bad: I finalise the ‘bounceback’ Jul/Aug edition of RG10 magazine and feel a new sense of purpose, buoyed by a sense of optimism emanating from the resilient small business owners that make up the bulk of our advertisers. Non-essential shops have reopened and pubs and restaurants are soon to follow. I establish a routine of getting back to my place for half the week – permitted as I can continue to be a ‘support bubble’ with my mother, coming and going as I live alone.
Having completed the minimum repair work necessary to the house, we put it on the market in June and it goes under offer in August.
Then a routine scan leads to further tests and an unexpected diagnosis: I have early onset breast cancer. In the meantime my mother has surgery for a worrisome lump in her neck involving a short stay in hospital. Thankfully the biopsy comes back clear.
I have time before my own treatment to get the Sep/Oct RG10 magazine finalised and off to print mid August. Mental health is a strong theme for this issue as the topic is very much on my mind: July marks the first anniversary of the tragic loss of cousin Susie’s young son to suicide.
How lucky I am. My cancer is very small, contained and easily treatable. Despite the ongoing Covid pandemic I am able to undergo surgery in late September with no complications, followed by a short course of radiotherapy in late November (offered because of the grade of cancer found).
Between the two treatment phases and after much procrastination, in October I take the opportunity to visit my brother and family in Dubai – the best medicine possible, thanks to sunshine, safe surroundings, increased human contact, and making precious memories with my young niece and nephew. I feel incredibly thankful for having seen them as we enter a new lockdown in the UK in November.
During lockdown 2 my decree absolute finally comes through, closing a chapter that we have been slow to finalise since splitting up in 2015.
News of my treatment also brings the benefit of reconnecting with a few friends and family members, including a close friend from uni, Gill, who in recent years has become an inspirational campaigner for mental health and suicide prevention, built on her own experiences.
I have very little of the potential side-effects from radiotherapy listed in all the blurb I am given. When lockdown is lifted again in December I try a going back to a few exercise classes (outdoor cardio tennis and fit camp) and realise I’ve become quite unfit through the months of lockdown and inactivity. I find Yoga and Pilates via Zoom in my living room easier, and I also try to go out on more walks and cycle rides.
Christmas marks the start of lockdown 3: from mid December I find myself once again living full time with my mother. January brings joy and tragedy…
Joy because my brother finds a way to visit us from Dubai in January, and we spend ten days circling each other in my mother’s house, wearing masks, until his Covid test comes back negative and we finally get to hug each other and sit around the same table. (He contracts the virus a few weeks later back in Dubai but gets off quite lightly, laid low for just a few days with flu-like symptoms).
Tragedy because my dear friend Gill reaches the end of her long battle with depression, taking her own life early in the new year. I view her funeral online, along with other friends from uni, united in our grief as we remember all the fun times we shared as students and at subsequent reunions. We struggle to understand how someone who worked tirelessly to encourage others to seek help still found it so hard to share the depths of her own struggles.
Shortly afterwards it feels like serendipity to be approached by a local charitable foundation with the idea of raising awareness for mental health helplines in the Mar/Apr edition of RG10 magazine. I also source uplifting content for this issue, with articles reflecting the themes of spring, Easter and hope. There is a real possibility of some lockdown restrictions being eased by the spring thanks to the rollout of the Covid vaccine, which seems to have started well.
In the meantime, another sadness: the loss of Gordon, a well-known and respected member of the local community. There’s just time to put together a fitting three-page tribute in the Mar/Apr RG10 magazine. I experience a second funeral via webcam.
23 March 2021
Yesterday was my mother’s 88th birthday. It was a Monday. As had become our pattern last summer, I’d been down since the previous Friday, but instead of leaving on Monday afternoon I stayed an extra night so that the presents and meal didn’t feel rushed, and we had time to review the calls and cards and gifts received before bed and again in the morning.
She had a good day, putting aside the several hospital visits over recent weeks investigating various ongoing problems. We enjoyed a long video call with my brother in Dubai at lunchtime, and later a doorstep visit and gift drop from the amazing cousin Susie.
Before leaving today I put in some work calls and emailed all advertisers booked in the May/Jun edition of RG10 magazine. We now have dates to look forward to over the next few months: a roadmap out of lockdown, giving businesses a framework enabling them to begin planning next steps.
Returning home, I discover the first flush of colour in the tulips in the garden, realise the peony in the pot is not dead after all, discover the hedgehog is no longer hibernating in his nest of leaves and take my first coffee of the year on the garden bench in the sunshine.
Spring feels full of promise, but in a different way to 2020. We have the opportunity to build on a year’s appreciation for the things that are important, to be thankful for whatever challenges we have got through, and to congratulate ourselves on how miraculous and resilient we can all be, with just a bit of support from others.