My sister and I were chatting on Google Hangouts with my Dad when we heard the news. A connection that linked Quebec, Santiago and Seatown Place. My mother had been in hospital for a few weeks due to complications relating to multiple sclerosis, an illness that she bore with great dignity for many years. My dad had rung the hospital so that she could join in the call. Witnessing his reaction as the nurse told him that my mother had tested positive for COVID-19 is something that will stay with me forever. Thousands of miles away I stared at the screen, processing what the news meant.
After we hung up, I sat there transfixed. COVID was a death sentence. It was something that I had feared since the beginning of the pandemic. A constant worry every time I called my parents, fearing that I would hear those same words. I managed to call my girlfriend and she was a fantastic support to me over the following days. Everything was a blur of emotion: anger at the hospital staff, guilt towards myself, fury at the Government and the cursed Vintners Association and even resentment towards the Irish populace as a whole for the madness that led to the January spike in cases. I booked myself a flight home and factored in a few days to get the required testing done before flying. I did not expect to see my mother again.
Against all odds she fought off the first stage of the virus for many days. The initial onslaught took her to the brink but she held on and gave myself and my sister the chance to say goodbye. It was a true gift and a testament to the strength of her character and soul. It is something that I will be eternally grateful for and I can only hope that she drew comfort from our presence. I think it important to note that the staff at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital and the palliative care team in particular were exceptional.
In the weeks that I have been home I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity shown by friends and neighbours. Small details have caught my attention.
By now I have had several PCR tests. A horrible little procedure that, in my experience thus far, had been a very impersonal. As I was making my way out of the Ardee Test Centre an older man handed me an information packet and said “please God let it be negative”. A simple phrase but it was the first time anyone had expressed such sentiment post test.
Our neighbours continue to drop in endless dinners and supplies. Upon hearing the news an old friend of my mother’s went straight to SuperValu and dropped four bags of groceries to our door. These gestures have made the past two weeks easier and have reminded me of the strength of Irish communities. Even as I type the doorbell rings and more stuff is dropped in.
Being at home at this time is strange. The scents and sounds of Dundalk in February bring me back to my school years. The nostalgia mixing with the grief. I know now that I will not be able to watch my mother grow old nor will she be there for important moments in my future. I think that this is something that will always be there and that perhaps I have still not fully processed.
All my life I strived for her approval, I loved being able to tell her about my achievements. Even if deep down she wished I had become a diplomat I know that she was proud of me. At the end of one the final conversations I had with her in the hospital I heard her proudly say "He lives in Chile" to the nurse as she handed back the phone.
I know that the better elements of my personality and that much of the way that I view the world comes from her; definitely my appreciation for the finer things in life and the importance of using the correct cups for coffee and tea. There are other elements that I can aspire to: courage, kindness and an ability to deal with the most difficult of situations. She was diagnosed with MS in the prime of her life but not once did I hear her complain. As children she sheltered us from the reality of the illness and took its challenges in her stride. She constantly managed to produce the best birthday parties for myself and my sister, something that various people now remember. She was a creative and caring person with some of the neatest hand writing you will ever see. Even in her final days she lived her life as she always had done - with unwavering, uncompromising dignity.