Sunday Lockdown Report

Horse chestnut leaves unfurling

Dear Readers, how are we all doing? What a bittersweet week it has been for me: I got out more than most, all the way to Dorset and to the nursing home where my dear old Dad died on Tuesday, but mostly it’s been four walls. It has been day after day of perfect spring weather here in London, and so we have been going out for an early morning walk to the cemetery every day. I can see this too being curtailed at some point in the near future, as people seem to be unable to resist gathering and meeting their friends, but for the moment it’s a sanity-saver. There’s something about walking (and writing) that helps to ‘right’ things: there’s a lot of evidence that it re-wires our brains, and mine could certainly do with some help at the moment.

I have been getting on with the practical things that have to be done after a bereavement. The cremation will be, of necessity, a very low-key event: just immediate family, which means me, my brother and our respective partners. Social distancing is going to be observed, which means I can’t even hug my brother, or get a lift to the station, as we come from separate households. Sad but necessary, and I know how incredibly lucky I’ve been, when you think that lots of people are saying goodbye to their loved ones via I Pads. The cremation is going to be webcast, which makes for a very strange situation – I will watch with interest to see how it affects the whole thing. The vicar who gave the service for Mum is able to conduct the ceremony, and as I love her this is a great thing. And how I’m looking forward to being able to see Dad off properly, when all this is over and things get back to whatever we decide is normal.

It’s hard telling people that Dad has gone too, but I have had great solace from what people have said. Dad retreated in his mind to the days when he was a boy, and his cousin Derek was his substitute brother – he often mistook my brother for him. When I chatted to the real Derek, he sounded so like Dad that I choked up. There is a certain East End accent that is disappearing from the world, and the world will be worse off without it. I once stayed on a bus past my stop because the lady in front was talking to her friend in exactly the same way as Mum talked, the same accent and the same cadence.

And I have been thinking a lot about Dad’s passing on Tuesday, how it seemed to be such a struggle, and yet was then so utterly peaceful. Death is a mystery, and nothing in my life has felt so profound. I was moved to tears by this blog by Radical Honey, who is a blessing at the best and worst of times. I too felt that Dad was intensely in dialogue with something beyond my comprehension during his last days, and that when he died it was because he’d made some kind of peace. With Mum it was even more explicit: she told me, several days before she died, that ‘someone is helping me’, although she wasn’t sure who. With both of my parents, I felt that death seemed like hard work, but that my role was as a witness: they had moved beyond earthly concerns, and were engaged with something else. May that give those of us who aren’t able to be at our loved ones’ bedsides in their final hours some solace.

And in another not-so-profound statement, I have decided to let my hair go grey. Partly it’s because at the moment I have no choice, but also because I want to mark all these rites of passage physically – Mum and Dad’s death, my sixtieth birthday. I feel an urge to move into elderhood, to accept the changes that are happening rather than cover them up. In this time of strangeness I feel a sense of letting go: what really is important? And how can I express myself fully?

I wonder what the new normal will be? It would be wonderful to think that some good things will have come out of this: new networks of community, new respect for the nurses and doctors, the bin men, the teachers, the supermarket workers, the postmen who have gone about their business in spite of personal risk, a new resilience which tells us that we didn’t need a lot of the things that we thought we did. I suspect that all of us will be touched by the tragedy of this situation, and that the meaning that we make of it will determine how our society functions going forward. Will we look after one another, or will we fall to blaming others? Will we hold our government to account? We live in interesting times, and I suspect that future generations will judge us on how we manage this crisis, and how we apply what we learn to the bigger challenge of climate change. Let’s see how it all comes out.

And on Tuesday I have some of the cutest photos I’ve ever seen, when we go back to Borneo to suss out the macaques. Stay tuned….

14 thoughts on “Sunday Lockdown Report

  1. Anne

    These rites of passage and growing older – and wiser – that you are contemplating here are a part of us that we cannot ignore. I too hope that the world as a whole will emerge from this pandemic a better place as far as human relations and respect for others is concerned. In South Africa we may not leave our homes for exercise and so my second outing in two weeks, like the first, has been to purchase food.

      1. Anne

        It was a tough, but not unexpected, nut to swallow with only one week to go. We will manage but the economy won’t.

  2. Elizabeth Britton

    Thank you for this. So many echoes! My mother died in January and I was on my way up the M4 (from Bristol to London) but she went extremely quickly and I didn’t get there before it happened. She was 94 and physically frail, in a nursing home since September, after a full and independent life. The past year had been frustrating for her, as she was still mentally sharp. So when I saw her in the hospital bed to which she had been rushed to early that morning (chest infection, breathing suddenly worse) although I was upset that I hadn’t been with her, I could tell that she was at peace – moved on, somehow. Nurses do say that sometimes people dying wait to be alone, to be released from the love which pulls them back from letting go.

    Your comments about East End talk were spot on for me too. My father’s family hailed from Bethnal Green originally, going back generations (I’ve discovered from family history research). I have heard that unmistakable accent in Cornwall and California and am impelled to get into conversation for a while to find out the stories involved.

    And I too (mid sixties, living alone) am growing out my grey during these weeks when I’m not seeing anyone, apart from video calls to my daughter and grandchildren in New Zealand. Not sure if I’ll keep it once it’s established but it’s an interesting experiment.

    I do so enjoy your blogs every week – about family and flora. Never commented before but just had to after this one. Kia Kaha – stay strong. 💞

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you so much Elizabeth, what an interesting comment! I am sure that people choose when they’re going to pass on. I hear so many stories of people popping out after days of waiting at a bedside, only for their person to pass while they were getting a cup of tea.

      It will be interesting to see how we will all look when we emerge, blinking, from lockdown. My Mum used to say that I looked like ‘the wild woman of Borneo’ when I didn’t brush my hair, and I think she’d be very amused to see me at the moment. Mum and Dad’s hair was a lovely shade of silver, so I hope that I take after them.

      I hope that you’re still doing well in lockdown – where are you? I know your children and grandchildren are in New Zealand, but I wasn’t sure if you were as well.

      Stay well!

  3. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I recently attended a friend’s wife’s cremation, which was beamed by the wonders of modern technology to Australia. The lady in question had been gradually dying of cancer and her daughter and her family had only just been over for Christmas and to say goodbye. It was completely unobtrusive and we only really knew it was there because it was mentioned by one of the speakers. It’s also funny that you should mention accents. My dad was brought up in South West London and, despite living ‘up north’ (well, just outside Hull) for the vast majority of his life, he never lost that accent. He’d often also throw in the odd bit of Cockney Rhyming slang when we were kids just to test us. So I’m sure your Barnet will look fine. 😊 Take care and stay safe.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hah! Thank you Mike. My barnet is going along very nicely colourwise, though I am starting to bear a resemblance to a small sheep in need of shearing. Hope all’s well with you.

      1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

        My hair is going grey, but mainly at the sides and back, so I don’t really see it – unless I visit the barbers or look at a photo taken of me from the sides. (You’ll note that most on my website are from the front or I’m wearing a hat!) All is good here thanks Vivienne. The local Co-op manager told me today he’d not heard of any cases of the virus in our area. However, our neighbours are not following all the rules (social distancing and Swiss rules about playing music outside – especially loudly). That’s not so bad, but my wife is driving me crazy talking about it all day! (Hence why I went for a long walk yesterday – post to come). 😊

  4. jentsplace

    I can only say, once again, that your beautiful writing at any time, but even more so now, is such a spiritual & intellectual blessing. Thank you again.

  5. Liz Norbury

    I feel for you, that in this time of turbulence and uncertainty for us all, you’re also grieving for your dad. Reading your words has brought back both happy and sad memories of my dad: it’s two and a half years now since his death. I do hope you’ll be able to continue your sanity-saving walks – it seems that the government is rowing back on the idea of confining us all to our homes. I’m lucky: I can walk to a beach or a sub-tropical garden, my son came home from university just before the lockdown took effect, and my mum is in good spirits and well looked after at her lovely care home. Every few days, I deliver daffodils, ginger biscuits and anything else she asks for, and I phone her from the garden so that she can see me through her window.

  6. Veronica Cooke

    I was so sorry to hear of your dad’s death. I’m so glad you were able to be with him when he died. It is such a privilege.

    As for the grey hair – go for it! I did it when I was 60, too, and have never regretted it.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks Veronica, I was very lucky to be able to be with Dad. And the grey hair is coming on very nicely. Hopefully by the time we’re ‘released’ I won’t resemble a badger quite so closely 🙂


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