A life I had some understanding of
It is absurd I know. I am surrounded by land – woodland and open fields – we’re facing the sun, we have far reaching views, I can see the sea in the distance and the North Somerset coast beyond. Yet I have moments of feeling so closed in I can barely breathe.
In a world of social distancing my life could not be easier. There are no more than 20 people within half a mile of me. It’s quarter of a mile to the nearest public road. The house I am living in is full of family. The nearest neighbours are close friends. We have dogs and space and food and freedom in a way that most could only dream of. I am well aware of how lucky I am.
I have arrived here on a rollercoaster, that has left me wide-eyed and breathless.
The last six weeks have been some of the most enriched in my adult life.
While Coronavirus was still a distant threat and the Chinese faced the troubles of runaway deaths alone, we had to deal our own respiratory crisis.
My father-in-law, who had been ill and bed-bound over Christmas, was rushed to hospital.
Discussions were had in the family and decisions quickly made. My wife and I, along with our kids, would move from our humble cottage by the sea, to look after my in-laws.
The house was big enough to be divided. Whichever way the hospital story broke, the family would be future-proofed. We stayed, in the guestroom, the night father-in-law went into hospital. I have not spent a night in my bed since.
He was in intensive care for a time, wired to a plethora of devices. Pneumonia had got him.
As the COVID crept West and Italy grabbed the headlines we were summoned to the hospital, to say our farewells.
They wanted father-in-law out of ICU. We led ourselves to believe this was a positive sign. But the authorities were worried about the virus impacting life in Wales.
It also turned out the medics felt there was nothing more to be done. Father-in-law moved onto the respiratory ward.
More antibiotics were administered. The virus story centred on France and Spain. The number of cases in the UK was rising.
Mother-in-law started returning home to sleep, rather than crashing out in the waiting room of the hospital.
All was calm for a while. The family was reeling. Discussions were continuing, quietly, about the house conversion plans.
The fear was building about the coming of Corona.
The kids were either staying with their other parents, or had not yet returned from Uni.
Father-in-law was sitting up, drinking tea, charming nurses. He even stood for ablutions.
The change could not have come at a more appropriate time. It was the day the hospital closed the ward to visitors – no matter how close, no matter how single minded.
Father-in-law came home the following day.
For 48 hours the level of commitment was constant care, 24-hour a day lifting duties, from falls and awkward ‘moments’. We were cooking, cleaning, tending to the grounds and constantly negotiating a new way of being.
We both run our own businesses and the Corona clamp-down was taking its toll.
Coupled with which my in-laws have lived in this house for over 50 years. 50 years in which it seems ‘things’ have only come in, nothing has ever been thrown out!
Three of our four kids hunkered down in our coastal cottage for a period of self-isolation. The other, mine, was and remains in Bristol with his mum.
Since coming home, Father-in-law’s return to health has been nothing if not meteoric. His strength is returning and he’s taking daily constitutionals around the grounds and up the drive, aided by his wife and a walking device.
Three of the kids are now out of isolation and are living with us – and everyone, quite rightly, has an opinion, on absolutely everything!
Of course, there is more than enough land here to find moments of space. But the house is in chaos, the rooms lack insulation and evidence of a family bickering, goading, chatting, breathing, being, arrive not as sounds in the ear but as trauma, drilled through the marrow.
I am part of that family. I recognize that. But I arrive as foreigner. A refugee from a quieter, less populated world. I understand the banter. Indeed, seeking it out has been part of my pathology. But, sometimes I choose to retain a position on the outside, rather than getting fully immersed.
If this time we’re in, as a world and as a family, has any clear message for me yet, it is the need to let go. As a planet we’re beyond the control of this virus. Many thousands of people are letting go of loved ones, some of their wish to be with their loved ones as they let them go.
What a tiny price to pay for the opportunities to support and love a family who have embraced me and to occupy, for a time, a piece of property that has been SO significant too so many people.