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28 Jan 2022

Postcard from a cocoon: Longford's Kitty Hughes shares her experience of isolation

Postcard from a cocoon: Longford's Kitty Hughes shares her experience of isolation

Kitty Hughes, Chair of Longford Older Persons Council

The year 2020 will be for many, the year of the cocoon. First, we were marooned by a spate of storms - Brendan and Ciara came in February followed by the biblical rain of Denis and Ellen and we were going nowhere.

Then as the land began to green-up in honour of St Patrick, spirits lifted. But from the east came a new threat - the Coronavirus and suddenly the Taoiseach announced that all over seventy were to stay at home and cocooning became the key to our safety and survival.

Travel further than 2km was forbidden except for essential duties, and even the gardaí phone to check I am okay, which is reassuring!

I rearrange the cards on the mantlepiece, reminders of a time when travel was an everyday activity. There’s the one of a blue sky over Mont Blanc, another of a colourful market scene in Rajasthan and a massive moose in a grove of trees in Sweden. Wish you were here moments lived again. Two An Post cards have joined them.

What’s it like being cocooned? It’s a bit of a novelty at first, a challenge too. Heretofore, if you were short of milk or wanted The Leader, you just hopped out to the shop and got it…but now that’s out!

‘Do it online’ I was advised by my cyber happy family. ‘Just book your slot’, they said, ‘It’s easy! Just browse the aisles just like you were actually there.’ Easy indeed, but the earliest available delivery date was a week away and I had only half a litre of milk left!

Read also: ‘We will get through this Covid-19 crisis,’ says Longford's Community Champion Karen Reilly

My niece came to my rescue with milk and in return, I promised to make buns for the little ones. But I was running out of flour!

Suddenly a week was a long time to wait. ‘Add it to your list’, they said. ‘You can do it up to midnight the night before delivery’. I was sorely tempted to take my shopping bags and do it myself. I didn’t.

Sure-enough the man in the van arrived with all my groceries in big plastic bags, and I put on my fancy blue ‘wear once’ gloves to store them away.

So began my life in a cocoon. Then a new phenomenon started - text messages! The phone was in meltdown and all the while I had to remember to ‘wash your hands’.

So, I neatly arranged my anti-bacterial hand gel, sprays and cleansers so they are within easy reach. The postman knocked with a packet that wouldn’t fit in the letterbox. A packet of face masks! Good God! I left it carefully on the hall table.

Now wash your hands. But I just did- are you sure? Better do it again just in case…

Slowly the new daily routine took over and Easter was approaching.

It was Holy Week. But the churches were closed. I followed the ceremonies online. St Mel’s Cathedral looked so strange, no congregation and the voices of the priests had an eerie echo.

Good Friday was warm and sunny. I planted some seeds in boxes and strawberries in the garden. It was always a family tradition to plant on this sacred day before going to pray in the church. But it was on the TV that I joined in spirit with the lovely liturgy in Mullingar cathedral.

Easter Sunday, again St Mel’s linked families from Longford around the world as we prayed together that this pandemic too, would pass. It was the first time the house felt really empty. No family gathering, happy chatter or enjoying the much coveted box of Caffrey’s marshmallow eggs.

But they had a plan. At 4.30pm, they would all Skype. First one then two more appeared on screen. Then there was panic, two couldn’t be found! ‘Get the portal, Mammy!’ was another (un)helpful suggestion. ‘I can’t get it to work, there’s three pictures of me and two have disappeared altogether!’

Eventually it all worked and we shared greetings and stories for a long time. ‘Next time we’ll use Zoom’, they said, ‘it’s much better’.

Maybe we’ll just phone, I thought, as it’s five weeks since I’ve been to the hairdresser. Could someone invent an app for a cut and blow-dry?

So, the cocooning continues. Friends and neighbours phone to keep in touch. But the days are long and the radio incessantly brings heart-breaking news of death and families unable to be together to comfort each other.

Some days, positives are not that evident but our health care workers at all levels are amazing, delivering a caring service with commitment and competence even at risk to their own lives.

The myriad of local volunteers, in a spirit of creativity and civic duty, are all evidence of good waiting for an opportunity to break out in our community.

The postman is the only frequent caller and now; he takes my letters and posts them too.

‘Are you ok?’ he asks at the window. ‘Stamps, no bother, I’ll bring them tomorrow.’

This morning another postcard. Greetings from Longford in gold on a photo of local scenes. The message at the back read ‘to remind you of what Longford looks like’! I put it on the mantlepiece beside the other cards.

Please God this pandemic too will pass, and we’ll all meet again. And all along we thought cocoons were only for butterflies … after all, they transform from grubs into beautiful butterflies with wings to take them everywhere they want to go... may we all emerge safe and well and maybe not with wings but petrol in the car, and the bus pass to get to where we want to go!

Stay safe in your cocoon.

Read also: Age Action and the Irish Red Cross to offer Covid-19 Hardship Fund of up to €500 to the over 70s

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