Flash Tales

Excerpts from a Lock Down Journal 2020

By Joanna Law . .

April

My daughter came to me this morning. She will be 17 in May. I was watching The Andrew Marr Show and listening to Sir David Attenborough, then Michael Gove. It made for difficult listening. I put it on pause.

I’m getting to know when my daughter wants to talk, but it takes a while for her to say what she feels. With some therapeutic support, I’m getting better at giving her space, asking less, listening more. In turn, she’s feeling easier about expressing herself. It’s a process which needs time. Her words struck a chord: ‘I feel I don’t have a place here. I feel alienated in my own home. I feel lonely’. 

The context is important. We are a few weeks in to Covid-19 lock-down. I’ve been going to work pretty much as normal. I work as a Family Therapist on an Inpatient Adolescent Unit. My husband is fortunate to be working from home, and so far, still has a job. 

A short while before lock-down, my son (19) asked if his girlfriend could stay with us, if it was enforced. We all agreed she could.

So, coming back to this morning. I wondered with my daughter, whether it was hard seeing my husband and I, and her brother and his girlfriend as couples together day in day out.  She slowly nodded her head snuggled on my chest. She then reflected “When I get a girlfriend, we won’t have enough chairs in the living room” Currently we have two sofas and an armchair. I suggested we could look into getting one of those snuggle seats (made for two) to replace the single chair. Again, a slow, yet assured nod.

***

I wanted to incorporate some yoga into my meditation practice. I took my mat, my cushion and myself to the floor, and with the help of an on-line resource, started a beginner’s package. I was deeply humbled and reminded, taking up my beginner’s position, that this is always available to us in every moment. The breath, and the sitting is always a good place to start, if we allow it to be. I look forward to my next session tomorrow, and the next day etc. The crucial element being, that I must gift myself the time.

Last weekend I planted some seeds; sweet pea, foxglove, and cowslip. Sweet peas were my Grandmother’s and my Mother’s favourite flower and are now mine. Cowslips were my father’s. This week’s annual leave from the hospital, has been very welcome. Affording me time to tend my little crop, moving them into sunny spaces, watering them gently. 

May

It has been strange going to work as usual, leaving my family at home. I am both relieved and envious. 

Relieved, that I have a job to go to. I know my family are struggling being together, at home, all the time. My son should be enjoying his first summer at University, my daughter misses her friends and the routine of school. My son’s girlfriend is living with a family she hardly knows, warts and all. My husband misses his own space, having the youth around all the time.

Envious, because I love to potter around the house, both alone and with my family. We don’t have to be in the same room, but just to be around the house with my loved one’s is a delight and privilege to me. Safely gathered in.

***

My mother-in-law passed away very suddenly. It was not COVID related. She had been in hospital for a routine procedure. She was 81 and suffered a heart attack. My husband is the oldest in his family with two younger sisters. This has rocked him. He cries at unexpected times. He can’t hug his sisters. They are sharing a distant grief. Both their parents have now passed away. Amidst the Pandemic, the Renal Unit at St Helier Hospital facilitated my husband seeing his Mum a few hours after she passed. This was a blessing. So much thanks to this NHS team, and teams who are working in the most challenging times. 

The funeral will be held at a Crematorium, the maximum people allowed to attend, will be 15. Where once they did 8 services per day, they are now doing 15-20. These are COVID times.

The murder of George Floyd. How do I begin to write about this? As a white British, middle class woman, how can I possibly know what it’s like to live in America as an African American. I do know African American people continue to be murdered on an all too regular basis. Surely, we need to listen to the BLM movement, who will inform us how we can be supporters of change. I worry that here in the UK and in the USA, those in positions of power, do not seem to want to listen. They seemingly prefer to dictate, ignoring those who continue to suffer from the shackles of colonialism.

June

June is our wedding anniversary month. This year is our 22nd and due to lock down easing, we were fortunate to be able to take a day trip to the beach in Suffolk. It was a bright, yet windy day, and I wondered whether it might be too cold to take a dip in the North Sea. Sea swimming is one of my favourite things to do and follows a tradition of women in my family. My two grandmothers would both ‘take the waters’ wherever and whenever possible. 

Growing up, I was the youngest of four. My three brothers and I would often swim in the sea off the Suffolk coast in the summer. I was always first in and last out, splashing about while my brothers stood wrapped in towels on the beach, their lips turning slightly blue.

Today, I walked to the shoreline and dipped my toes in. To my surprise the water felt cool, rather than cold, and very inviting. From that moment, I could not resist the pull. The water and waves welcomed me. As always, I benefited from the invigorating, calming, healing and restorative effects of the sea.

June 22nd also marks another important milestone. I have now been without a period, for a whole year. This means, as I understand it, that I am ‘through menopause’ I have wondered recently about menopause and The Family Lifecycle and would like to write more about it. My experience has definitely impacted my family, and our relationships. I imagine it does so for others, yet is it really thought or talked about? Swimming in any open cold water, definitely helps. Earth, connectivity, cycles and the passage of time.

July

I have begun to see families in person again, both at the hospital and in my private practice. This feels very good, but I have been surprised at how we have adapted to working on-line. I was sceptical at first, but thankfully no more. 

Importantly, couples with young children are able to access therapy via this format. I appreciate how much easier it is to do this from home, with an evening slot, once children have gone to bed. 

***

My sweet peas have grown abundantly, and I am now harvesting the beautiful scented flowers. Yesterday I went to visit my Mum who is 84. I took her a posy, wrapped in moist kitchen towel and foil. She was overjoyed. We hugged each other for the first time in four months, as she had been shielding. She offered this reflection:

“Do you know I can remember my Nana Chopping’s garden in Enfield- a rustic wooden arch with sweet peas up and over- isn’t that lovely. They had a horse in the stable for the cart to go up to Smithfield, so a good supply of the necessary, to feed plants. So many stories. Love you sweetheart Xx”

It will soon be time for a break by the sea. We were due to go to Spain, but decided to cancel this year, and stay in the UK. Work at the hospital has continued to be very busy, and my husband’s work has been likewise. We will be glad to rest and revitalise.

I am very grateful that so far, we have stayed in good health, but I worry about what the coming months may bring. So, for now, I believe we must take care to wear masks in busy places and adhere to social distancing. As a Family Therapy colleague reminded me recently ‘us family therapists are used to working with uncertainty’

***

I’ve read that my foxglove and cowslip seeds may take a year or so to flower, and I’m reminded of this beautiful quote:

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu

August

As I write this last entry, I am in the second week of our family break. Last week, a dear friend passed away very unexpectedly. He leaves behind three children, all in their teenage years (our kids grew up together) We are numb with shock and sadness. We visit them, and tears flow freely. It is good to share this grief, as we sit together in their garden. We also share some joyful memories. Tears and laughter well represent this complex dearest man. The family are so loved, and he will be sorely missed.

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