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Day 34

This weekend’s weather has been beautiful, although, living in the North East of England, there is still a cool breeze. We’re not yet in shorts. That tends to be about four days in June.​

Over the years we’ve worked out with our family in Norfolk, that Northumberland is two to three weeks behind the South of England when it comes to the turning of the seasons. The slower pace of life and confinement to our house and garden during lockdown means that we are noticing all the signs of the arrival of Spring. The birds nesting (and making quite a racket in the mornings), the buds on the trees, and the spring bulbs flowering.

Yesterday Littl’un went out with his binoculars looking for “rare birds and flowers”. He’s a bit scared of plants and flowers (long story) so it was quite an adventure for him. The binoculars also accompanied him on his daily treks in the woods with Big D, which are becoming an early evening routine. They are gone about two hours, and usually don’t meet anyone on their travels. It’s good for them both. Littl’un has loads of energy to burn off. From the moment he wakes up he is a little ball of sound and movement – and he really needs to exercise a lot or he’s literally bouncing off the walls and furniture. Thank goodness the Government guidelines allow children like Littl’un more than one lot of exercise a day – we tend to go for enough to help him regulate his emotions and behaviour – and to sleep well.​

This weekend was also birthday weekend. Mine on Saturday and Paddy’s on Sunday. I have to say, it was one of the nicest birthdays I’ve had for years.

I was brought tea and toast in bed, and had happy birthday sung to me several times – real life and virtual singing. Littl’un said he was going to “make the house hotel-ish” – which meant that I was going to be served all day. It didn’t quite work out like that, and he became very frustrated when Big D wouldn’t let him move the TV upstairs into the bedroom, but it’s the thought that counts. We had a socially-distanced visit from my parents, who said it was fine because they were on the way to their daily exercise at the local lake (that’s an improvement). They brought their own chairs and flask of coffee and mugs, and they said they would only stay to sing me happy birthday – leave cards and presents, and finish their coffee in the garden. It was actually quite lovely. They were on good form – apart from saying that they miss their grandson so much that they were considering driving up to the Wild West of Northumberland to visit him on Sunday. Er, no way. A one hundred mile plus round trip was really not essential. They agreed in the end.

We don’t tend to make a lot of birthdays for adults, but I must admit that I enjoyed the time to open cards and gifts, and to speak with friends on the phone. One of my favourite presents was an email from ASDA saying they’d heard from the Government that I was in the “shielded” group so they’d like to offer me a weekly delivery slot until October. I did punch the air, shout “yes!” and then fill up a little with the emotions of relief and gratitude. Strange times. Big D bought me a lovely coat, which I’m hoping to get to wear sometime this year. And as we’d agreed, he also bought safety glasses, longer-style gloves, mop caps and other protective equipment for the staff at Auntie Hazel’s care home. Yesterday the manager was doing a ring around families to let them know that one of the residents had tested positive for COVID 19. It’s a worry.​

Saturday was supposed to be the start of the cricket season for Big D’s club Ulgham Village. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and we’ve had very little rain so the ground is nice and dry. It was a perfect April day for the first match of the season. Very rare in Northumberland. Big D said that was “b*** typical!”.

On Sunday my thoughts were all with Paddy, who was spending his twenty-fifth birthday alone up in the wilds. We had a good chat on the phone and he said he might come down next weekend to collect some essentials. It will also be six weeks since he’s seen any family members, and he wants to check on his Grandma and Grandad, and, I hope, us. We also have his birthday gifts – and a couple of boxes of basic supplies like toiletries and cleaning stuff. His nearest shop is seventeen miles away, small, and expensive, so we tend to top him up every now and again. It’ll be a brief visit. It always is – he’s a restless soul – and with social distancing it’ll be even briefer. But I’m looking forward to it already.

Day 35

I had to think twice about whether or not to tell Blog readers this story. But in the end I decided we all need a bit of a laugh. And it’s very much a human story about lockdown, and how it’s impacting us older and slightly crocked kinship carers. So well within the remit.

As part of our daily routine, designed to pace ourselves and make sure that Littl’un gets the best of us both, Big D almost always does the early morning shift. He gets up with Littl’un at 6 am. Sometimes it takes both of us to be with Littl’un in the mornings, depending on his fettle, but most days the boys leave me to sleep longer. And, as Big D enjoys reminding me, I’m a very lucky lass to have him, as he brings me a cup of tea in bed at about eight o’clock. As anybody with Crohn’s Disease will tell you, it can take a while to get going in the mornings – stiff joints etc – but then once you’ve had your painkillers and other meds, and had a stretch and a drink, well you really do get going, if you know what I mean. So we have a system that allows me to pull myself together gradually and be ready for the day ahead. And I do love that early morning cuppa. Sometimes there a little too much milk, but I’ve got a wise mouth and it knows when to stay shut.​

At 9 am this morning my Brother The Younger knocked at the door on his way to dropping off shopping to our parents.

Littl’un, dressed and breakfasted, was watching TV – but has been told – in these COVID 19 times – never to answer the door. So he ran to the bottom of the stairs and yelled up to Big D that there was someone knocking and ringing the bell “like a mad person”. Because I’m Mrs Clinically Extremely Vulnerable when it comes to the virus, it’s Big D’s job to answer the door, even if he’s busy. Which he was. He’d been in his makeshift office (ie the box room at the top of the stairs) since he’d brought me my tea. Meanwhile, Lazy Lucy here was still half dressed in the bedroom, finishing off her morning cuppa.

So Big D opened his “office” door and ran down the stairs to answer the front door.While he was having a chat with Brother The Younger, who was standing half way down the drive, having deposited three packets of paracetamol on the step for me, I yelled downstairs: “Wait!Don’t let him leave!I have something for him!”I hopped along the landing to the top of the stairs, pulling on my trousers as I hopped along, and, I admit it, having moved quickly, passing a little bit of wind in a not entirely silent way (Crohn’s Disease isn’t a subtle condition – I have some interesting stories).This morning it wasn’t quite like a big bloke after a full English with extra beans, but it wasn’t exactly ladylike. ​

I ran down the stairs, shouting hi to Brother The Younger, and thanking him for the paracetamol and, when I glanced onto the step – woohoo – there was risotto rice!

We then did the usual backwards and forwards dance down the drive so I could hand over the bag containing the letter I’d typed for him and the eye drops to take to Auntie Hazel’s care home. I always think it’s like a courtly dance from the middle ages – especially when you bend to put down or pick up items, it’s like the bowing – or maybe that’s just my mind.

Anyway, as we starting to talk about the rebellious parents, Big D said “Well, I’ll say goodbye now. I must go back upstairs. I’m in the middle of a meeting online.

“Oh”, I said. “I wish you’d told me that earlier!” And then I couldn’t stop laughing. I was doubled up. Brother The Younger was highly amused. Littl’un came to the door to find out why we were laughing. Then he started laughing too – anything to do with toilet humour tickles his funny.

Never mind. Maybe Big D’s colleagues got a virtual eyeful and maybe an earful to boot, but hopefully it made them smile. And it’ll give them a story to tell too. But, guess what? They’re all British. Nobody said a word.​

Day 50

I haven’t blogged for over a fortnight. It’s strange how life moves so slowly under lockdown, and yet somehow at the same time within a few days there can be big shifts in the national picture, in what’s happening in the family, and in how things are at home.

My lovely aunt and Godmother took a turn for the worse in her care home towards the end of April. She was taken by ambulance first to the Northumberland Specialist Emergency Care hospital, then to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. With advanced dementia and a blood clot in her leg, which was turning a nasty colour, it was the first time in her ninety three year old life that she’d ever attended hospital without a member of her family with her. She must have been terrified. As Power of Attorney holder, my father had to decide at a distance whether or not to authorise removal of her leg to save her life. He consulted with us all, and decided on palliative care. Within 48 hours she was back at the care home. And after another 24 hours the care home received a call from the Freeman hospital to say that my aunt had tested positive for COVID-19. She was then nursed in a part of the home that has been separated off for the increasing number of residents suffering from the virus. A week later, she died. We wrote her letters, sent gifts, cards and little treats, and Mam and Dad spoke to her on the phone – she was unable to respond other than to grunt. The care assistant holding the phone told my parents that she was smiling. But in the end we weren’t there to hold her hand. She always knew she was loved. I do hope that in the confusion of dementia, throughout the trips to two hospitals, and dying in a strange room being nursed by masked care workers, the certainty of our love remained with her. The care home manager told my mother that my aunt died peacefully in her sleep, but I’ve read that care home staff are telling kindness lies to families in order to save them from awful truths of loved ones dying gasping for breath, hallucinating and screaming. We are choosing to believe the care home manager.​

We are grateful to friends and neighbours in the local community who have been sewing scrubs, masks, bags and headbands, and have gifted the care workers in the home with a huge donation of their colourful creations on behalf of my aunt.

We’ve sent luxurious chocolates and little boxes of fudge – but what do you send, what could possibly be enough, to thank these people who are among the lowest paid workers, but are proving themselves to be among the most courageous of people.They are braving potential serious illness or even death to take our place beside our loved ones and care for them as they are dying.There really aren’t even words. ​

So this last week has been a surreal mix of colouring banners with Littl’un, blowing up balloons, and baking family favourites for the VE Day anniversary celebrations, while planning a funeral that I can’t attend, and attempting to condole with my parents, who have lost their much-loved sister, without any physical contact.

Mam and Dad came over on VE Day – Dad can sniff out a corned beef and egg pie from five miles away – and sat in our garden, at the required distance, with their flask of tea. Not quite within the lockdown rules, but we thought the police wouldn’t mind under the circumstances. Dad, who is 88, wondered sadly when he’d be able to hug us again.The question just hung in the air. Then he had a huge slice of pie, and we listened to Vera Lynn singing We’ll Meet Again.​

My aunt’s funeral is on Monday. My cousin is liaising with the vicar and funeral director, Brother The Younger is doing all the running around, and I’ve put together the Order of Service, and written a poem to be read out by Brother The Elder at the service. I do hope that my aunt would approve.

There will be eight people present, no bearers, no singing, one floral arrangement, and a service so short because of the need to clean and air the room before the next funeral, that I reckon it will be over in fifteen minutes. Everyone will be wearing masks. We have already arranged to have a lovely memorial of my aunt’s life next Spring at my cousin’s home, when we can all spend time together, reminisce and remember her, and, hopefully, hug.​

To My Family

Let not your heart be heavy, nor your thoughts be filled with sorrow.

Today I am at peace, and I don’t worry for tomorrow.
It was my time. God came, and took me to a better place.

And I am safe and comforted in His eternal Grace.

Remember the good years we had, and not the long goodbye.

Let memories be of happy times, with sunshine in the sky.

As life goes on, enjoy it! Grieve for me, but don’t be sad.

You touched my life. And held my hand. For that, I am so glad.

Now I am gone, remember me with stories, smiles and pleasure.

My life was long and full, and blessed with riches beyond measure.

I loved.

And I was loved.

And, for the time we are apart

I’ll stay in all our yesterdays

Forever in your heart.​

Day 51

Since 16th March I’ve been confined to the house because I’m in the ‘shielded’ category of people who’ve been classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ to developing complications if they contract COVID-19.​

As instructed, I’ve got a ‘just in case’ bag packed ready for hospital, which includes essential items and a list of daily meds. Also in my bag – though not included in the “essentials” listed – are a pair of fluffy bedsocks, some sparkling mineral water and a tin of boiled sweets. All essential, in my humble opinion.​

At home we’ve been doing the separate towels thing, disinfecting everything within an inch of its life etc. It’s caused some tension, as Big D doesn’t tend to clean the bath properly after himself, so I keep telling him off, and Littl’un also tells him off for not singing Happy Birthday twice when washing his hands. More than two months on, the novelty of that hasn’t worn off for Littl’un. I wonder if he’ll still be singing it at Christmas? If so, I think Big D will be rocking backwards and forwards in his office chair upstairs. I think we need to develop a repertoire of 20 second songs so we can ring the changes.​

I must admit I’ve been cheating a bit with the shielding. I’ve spent some time in the garden, rather than opening a window as advised, and on two occasions, as confessed previously, I’ve sat in the car when Big D has been dropping things off on doorsteps.

But this last week I’ve been seriously considering going out for a walk. It may be the fact that I couldn’t be at my aunt’s funeral or hug my parents and other family members in our shared sadness. Watching the funeral online was a particularly lonely experience. I had to phone my sister-in-law who I knew was also watching online (only eight people could attend) just to have some human contact and be able to cry together.​

I also think I’ve been unsettled by the combination of the good weather, Big D’s stories of the fun he’s having with Littl’un when they go out for their adventures in the woods or, latterly, on the beach, and the general vibe of things getting into the groove of a new normal.​

Anyway, I’ve been checking in with what other people in my position are doing, through the Facebook group “Shielders United UK”.

The group has been great to be able to compare notes on things that are of no interest whatsoever to the unshielded – from how best to wash fruit and deal with your bins, to how to pass on unwanted items from the Government’s food boxes. I always keep the UHT milk – we can only get 3 litres in our weekly online shop – but the rest goes to those in need. Mind you, last week Big D nicked the tomato soup out of the box as he had a bit of a craving. And the week before my brother spied the pack of digestive biscuits. He hadn’t been able to get any at Aldi, so they disappeared too. But, I digress …​

Some shielded people are going out and some aren’t. Those going out against the advice in the Government letter are going for walks or runs at night (I don’t get that myself) or first thing in the morning, to avoid other people.

Some shielders are having to go to extraordinary lengths to stay safe – especially if they have key workers in their household. Quite a few are in caravans on drives. And those people tend to get a bit cross with the ones who are going out at all.

So, after checking with others, I still felt that I’d like to go out, so I did the right thing and rang my GP to ask her advice. We’ve known each other for many years, and have a good relationship, so I expected her to tell me to be sensible if I was going to go out, and to go places out in the countryside where I was highly unlikely to bump into other people or animals. But she didn’t. She told me that I had to stay indoors. She said that it was clear on my letter. I said to her yeah, but … you know, my mental health etc. So she said very bluntly that if I felt I needed to go outside then I should go into the garden – but that I MUST avoid all other people: “You know what I’m saying, Jacqueline”. She was quite stern. Er, yes.

I felt like I did when I got the letter from my consultant saying in black and white that I had to shield and stay indoors for at least twelve weeks. Unsurprised, but at the same time a bit shocked. This afternoon I’ve given my head a wobble and told myself that I’m very lucky to be protected. I’m also very lucky to have a lovely GP who is quite happy to give me a metaphorical slap around the chops to remind me not to take any silly risks. A bit of cabin fever is highly preferable to going the journey. I have enough things to do at home to last me a lifetime, so, prioritizing Littl’un’s mental health and his general development, I think I should count my blessings and get on with it.​

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