Visiting Granny at Christmas

I flew home for Christmas because I wanted to see my granny, who has lived in a home since regulations kicked off. Before the hysteria, her brain was significantly better than your average Joe, but sadly the isolation has caused a mental and physical deterioration. For my gran, and grannies all over the world,  2020 has not been all bingo and rosary beads!

I was ‘allowed’ to visit her after two weeks ‘quarantining’ on ‘compassionate grounds.’ I thought it may be the last time I would see her and so I was especially grateful to see her little face. However, the visit was tainted by unwarranted advice from people trying to get me to jump through covid hoops; stay indoors, wear a mask, socially distance, shower in Dettol, and so on… I even heard phrases like, ‘maybe you shouldn’t visit her at all’ and ‘you need to act as if you are sick.’ I prefer to act as if I am healthy, but I suppose people can pretend to be whatever they want to pretend to be, no matter how ridiculous. I just wish that those who are playing pretend games would pretend to be cool. Talking about being cool, I was once doing an improv comedy class and was told to pretend to be a chicken. I did not like making weird neck movements and repeatedly shouting, ‘bakaw’, so I never went back. We have a choice. Lucky for those who wanted me to bathe in sanitiser and fear, covid has brought me back to my daily meditation practice, so I smiled compassionately at them but knew I had not obtained enlightenment as I witnessed some violent thoughts of beating them to death with a bottle of hand-sanitizer. This too shall pass.

When I was about 7 years old, I was in my gran’s house and my sister was ‘playing’ with me, which really meant torturing me, so I threw my shoe at her but missed and broke the glass door into the dining room. I was so scared to tell my grandparents, so I waited till granny was alone. She just smiled, rubbed my head and said, ‘your sister must have really been terrorising you for you to do such a thing. She never gave out to people, certainly not me.

I was once fined £25 by the bus inspector for having the wrong ticket but granny got the bus into town and convinced them I made a mistake and would never do it again. She had a chat with me, and I never did it again. She saved me money, got my back, and taught me the invaluable life-lesson that there are ways around the system… oh yeah and not to steal.

She often seemed to be there for me when I needed it most, like that time I was not allowed back at school until I apologised to a teacher, but I refused because I was in the right and I was stubborn. Granny pointed out all the times I was wrong and got away with it and she told me that, ‘sometimes the bigger person is the person who says ‘sorry’ regardless of who is right or wrong’. I bit my teeth, apologised, and went back to school. Actually,  after that, I became quite friendly with the teacher and realised neither of us was wrong, it was a simple miscommunication. However, I must admit, even now, saying sorry or backing down often evades me like a fleeting dream about a butterfly who thinks she is man when she is simply a shoeless caterpillar. When I was a teenager, I left home, and my granny took me in. I lived with her for 9 years. During that time, I realised that every thought she has or action she makes is for the benefit of others so you can imagine how many sweets I got. She is a woman of God, she laughs a lot, and she still tells old rebel poems and songs with grit in her eyes. She loves me so much that she would still love me even if I brought home a protestant (which of course I wouldn’t).

One of my favourite stories about her is the following; When I was about 15, I had £200, rolled up like a fat cigar in my pocket. It was the most money I ever had, and I held it tightly as I made my way to the airport. My sister was to meet me at a bus top in Ballymun and drive me the rest of the way but there was no sign of her. Tick tock, time was running out. I realised I was at the wrong stop, so I ran to meet her, found her, we raced to the airport and luckily, I made the plane on time. As we look off, I started to relax, high in the sky, looking out the window over beautiful Dublin when I noticed my pockets were empty. I frantically checked my pants, jacket, and pulled open the contents of my bag. My money was gone. Ah balls!

I returned a week later, and granny made me pray to St. Anthony. She then suggested (insisted) we go to look for it. I thought this was a stupid idea and wanted to stay and watch the Simpsons, which would not have helped me find the money but would’ve helped me predict many future events such as Trump being president and the recent Capital Hill fiasco. Not that I did not want to be more like Nostradamus, but I was not convinced we had the slightest hope of finding my money, “Do you really think we are going to find the £200 lying at the bus-stop waiting for me?” She did. I sighed and off we went. We walked around the bus-stop and the areas nearby, looking in bushes until my feet were sore. I remember kicking my foot off a bush with hands in my pockets thinking this is the dumbest way to waste a day. My gran was about 70 at the time and got on her hands and knees to help me look while I whined, ‘This is one of the poorest areas in Dublin, someone must have found it ages ago and if they did, they would’ve kept it.’

We were finally in the car but instead of driving home, she drove to the church to light a candle to St. Anthony, where I was told to promise him some money (if he found my wad of cash). I generously offered him £20. It’s easy to be conditionally generous like it’s easy to love someone conditionally, ‘Yes sweetheart, I shall love you if you caress me, cook and clean and laugh at my jokes but if you tell me one more of your long stories, I am out of here.’ Granny paid to light the candles, which was good because I had lost enough money already. We said the prayers, she checked for notices in the church but there was no notice with, “Found £200, looking for the owner”. Surprise! Surprise! She asked the person who helps mind the church, but the woman just tilted her head slightly and promised to pray for us. I wanted to ask her for the candle money back but did not have the courage. Back in the car, this time I really believed gran was going to take me home but just because you believe something, it does not make it true (ahem masks ahem). She proceeded to drive in the opposite direction of home, towards some local shops. I pointed out that I never even walked past those shops but she counter argued with, ‘God helps those who help themselves’.

There was no sign saying, ‘lost money’ on the notice board but granny didn’t let reason get in her way, instead she asked the cashier who shrugged indifferently, but the other cashier overheard us, and she said she may have seen something that had fallen off the notice board. Without any such indifference as her colleague, she enthusiastically rooted around in the bin like a sophisticated hobo, then her body froze, and she slowly and seductively held her slender fingers up, triumphantly holding a small yellow Post-it note. It had a phone number and the words ’found money’ scribbled in faded pencil lead, which we immediately called. The phone was answered, gran spoke and before I knew it, we were back in the car and I had stopped whining. An elderly couple invited us in for tea and biscuits and sat us down in their sitting room. Above the fireplace, on the mantelpiece was a large statue of St. Anthony. Seriously! Who has a A LARGE STATUE OF ST. ANHONY in their sitting room? The people who found my wad of cash, that’s who. And there he was staring down at me with his saintly little porcelain face waiting for his £20. Granny said nothing but I could hear her smiling beside me. They handed me the cash and St. Anthony got his cut (as far as I remember).

This is the incredible woman I went to visit over Christmas. I write ‘visit’ but let me explain what that means. A ‘visit’ means, standing outside her window against a white wall, 15 metres away from her room and calling her phone. The distance is too far away for her to make out who she is talking to, but she can see the silhouette of someone against the wall, and hopefully that gives her a sense of some real contact even if it is illusionary. She chats away on the telephone for as long as she has the energy for, which is less and less these days. I usually leave with cold fingers and a heavy heart. What a sad way to end a beautiful life of such a powerful force of good in this world.

As I walked away from granny’s window, I saw a bright and well-dressed elderly man who grabbed the opportunity to start chatting to me. A young nurse was chaperoning him, so I presumed he was one of the inmates…. or else a bit of a legend. Within a few seconds, I could see he was a well-educated, well-spoken, interesting man with a spark of mischief in his eye. He stood close to me, too close for the young nurse’s comfort because she reminded us of what we were both already fully aware of. I smiled and took a gentle step back. The gentleman said, ‘isn’t it a strange world where we must have permission to have a simple conversation?’ I heard him speak those words, but I must not have truly heard him because when he went to introduce himself, he put his hand out to shake mine, and I just stood there. I just stood there. Then, as if to add insult to this gentleman, I awkwardly did the stupid elbow thing. I am one of them now. I excused myself and wished him luck. My sadness turned to shame.

I think granny will die soon. Lucky for me, I don’t believe in death, otherwise this whole human experience would be simply terrifying, but I mean gran’s earthly form shall perish soon. I am not taking bets on this; it’s just looking statistically likely and it sucks that this was her final year. While she’s been locked up in her room this year, she missed out on human touch, hugs, connecting with the family, going to mass, and holding her beautiful great grandson (my nephew). She missed her last Christmas with her family and we missed her terribly. At one stage, we considered bringing her home and hiring full-time care, but this was impossible because of all the paranoia and madness about covid. She has always been there for me but, in her final year on his planet, everything she loves was taken from her, she was left on her own and all I could do was wave at a window. 

Like many grannies, she’s been surrounded by large, loving families her whole life and has really suffered from these isolating regulations. I do not think we would be in this position if we’d followed a more rational and scientific policy from the start and sadly this mess may continue if we continue to listen to the power-hungry politicians and the fear-mongering media. ‘Dear St. Anthony, I will give you another €20 if you help them find their souls.’ Even the most blind of the regulation-lovers must see, by now, that the way we are treating our elderly is beneath any acceptable standard of what it means to be human. It is likely that gran will die alone, surrounded by strangers with masks on their strange faces while her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild will wait outside the window. This is not okay. Please stop defending this madness.

This is not okay.

The only way I can make peace with this is because I talked to gran about it recently. She had some rocky moments and seemed to have had her ‘why have you forsaken me’ moment but she is at peace with God. She is at Peace. If Peace can be obtained from someone in such a position, then Peace can be found within all of us, no matter what horrible circumstances we conjure up with our minds. She continues to inspire me even in ‘death’.

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