Happy Birthday Jomammy…
Jo’s mother has lived with us for the last 5 years. Today she turns 95. What an age. It is something we would normally have celebrated but in the current crises we cannot really mark the day with a gathering of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren as would be approximately. Joan was born in 1925, 8 years after the Spanish flu pandemic and right in the middle of the roaring twenties. Maybe there’s hope for a repeat and we might roar again in the 2020’s.
Some people refer to reaching such an age as an achievement. It is still unimaginable in some parts of the world while in some counties, such longevity is more common place. I still think it is a landmark to be celebrated. I lost both my parents 26 and 28 years ago, both died at the relatively young age of 60.
The coronavirus has been tough on Joan. She is still relatively mobile, although not as much as she used to be, nonetheless, her weekly visits to some of her other daughters, and the odd trip to the supermarket or post office, broke up her days and weeks to some extent. Now she is ‘cocooning’ unable to leave the grounds of our house and meet people or visit family, go to the supermarket etc. In theory she could go for a walk, but it would be a challenge to keep her from interacting or getting too close to people so she has been pretty much a prisoner of our house and garden.
There was a time when she would spend all day pottering around the garden with a spade, clippers or rake, but those days are gone. Luckily, we have had an unusually warm and sunny spring so she can spend much of the day outdoors basking in the sun, snoozing or looking at her flowers and counting the pears developing on her pear trees, that will come in the autumn.
She loves the 3 dogs and they her. For some reason all dogs love Joan or Jomammy as many call her, a name generated from the struggle one of her grandchildren had deciphering the fact that she was Joan and also her Mammy’s Mammy – Jomammy. It stuck of course and many people still call her Jomammy. To me she has always been Joan. Daisy used to be her favourite, a little fluffster always available to jump on her lap, but of late our best boy Hokee has wheedled his way into her affections.
Our Hokee is a special, empathic creature, with an uncanny ability to sense pain, sadness or mood in general. Unlike the other two little barkers, he is the strong silent type. If he barks, he means business and as I have mentioned here many times before, he actually saved my life. Now he watches over Joan more and more. He sits by her side as she has her tea in the morning and then jumps up beside her for a few minutes. She brushes him and she has noticed how gentle and attentive he is. When she sits in the sun, he is never far away, and he watches her even as she sleeps.
Of course being 95 has its challenges. Joan’s hearing is impaired and her relatively new hearing aids need repeated re-adjustment, something we cant get to the audiologist to do because of the lockdown. They help with her tinnitus more than anything else. Luckily the walls in our house are solid brick as she listens to the TV at full blast with the text on as well.
Unfortunately with no where to go, when the weather turns, she is restricted to occupying herself with TV and crosswords. She used to always finish them but not anymore. Every Sunday I walk to the local shop to buy her favourite newspaper, which unfortunately is a tabloid full of hyped up stories about Covid-19. Joan had a series of mini strokes a few years ago and while she did recover, her ability to retain new information is impaired and it can sometimes take weeks of repetition to get a notion ingrained. She will remember who she loaned her bike to in 1939, trust me I’ve heard that one, but can’t quite remember what day it is today.
The weekly Sunday newspaper reminder of Covid, makes her uneasy and it sparks off a series of questions. They go on all day, repeated to both Jo and I and we answer her same way each time. She asks “what is this thing …the corona?” She asks, “how do you get it? Is it in the air?” Joan tells us that she never remembers anything like it and wants to know if she can go out. We calmly explain, that it’s a bit like the flu but it is more dangerous for people over 70, so it’s best to stay away from people and shops. Mentioning age, she proudly asks, “do you know how old I am” and then she tells us as if we didn’t know. I tell her it’s only for a few more weeks and that she is safe and she moves on, for a while at least.
But there is only so much TV one can watch. She has tired of her usual favourites, Murdoch Mysteries, Ms. Marple, Blue Bloods, Death in Paradise. We look for movies that she likes, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, old B movies, she loves detectives, murder mysteries, that’s what she tells me every day. She loves horror, the gorier or cheesier the better. Joan is a big Sharknado and Chucky fan. But it has been nearly three months now and we have even started diversifying her tastes to Scandi drama.
Caring for Joan daily is my darling Jo. As I lock myself away in my home office all day, she is calmly, patiently answering the same questions, looking after her physical needs, making sure she takes her medication and making meals of her choice, not to mention some of the more difficult aspects of caring for someone who is not perhaps as completely capable as she once was. That has become a burden that leaves me in awe of the girl I love. Normally, she gets some break, perhaps only short pauses if you will, when Joan visits her daughters, but in their absence, Joan has become increasingly focussed on my sweetheart. I know she is a little anxious about the corona as she calls it, and now she pretty much follows Jo about the house and garden until the sun sets, and she settles in to watch some schlock horror on Netflix.
It’s the small things and I see it every day, the little details and although they pile up and cause her much distress, my darling Jo is unceasingly patient and kind. Joan comes looking for tea, always saying, “I think I’ll make a cup of tea.” This is code for, will you make me a cup of tea and when I say, I’ll make you a cuppa Joan, she reminds me, “one and a half sugars” which is of course two, or she’ll be back in to add the bit you left out.
How she likes her food, what her favourites are, trying to create a varied menu for a woman who has pretty much fixed tastes, are challenges in themselves and Joanna always rises to them. It is the big things, the doctor visits, the chiropodist, bathing, worrying, it is a huge list. Like I say I am in awe.
Joan is my cover girl for Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes and the photo in fact inspired the title. It was taken in 1946 when she was just a slip of a girl aged 21. Now, 74 years on she celebrates her 95th birthday, cocooned away from the world to keep her safe from the coronavirus. It is not the 95th birthday we envisaged at the turn of the year but… 95… The sun is shining, we will have a couple of socially distant visits from her daughters and daughter in law in our garden which is luckily a perfect, safe environment for her. There’ll be cake and sure later on, she can have a glass of bitter lemon, a couple of ginger snaps and I’ll slap on Sharknado V. That’s how you rock a 95th in lockdown… Happy Birthday Jomammy…
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