Open Call: 
Loneliness virtual exhibition

Visual Art & Video:

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Text: 

In precious memory of John Eric Richardson 01.06.29-01.04.20: You are forever our loving dad and we your blessed children. You are eternally married to your wonderful wife. You are loved beyond expression and present always in your passing.

At Home On The Front Line

 

Now the past is precious, the present fragile, the future more distant. Time has lost her meaning, place is in a new context, our manner of living has been stolen away.

It is three long yet impossibly short weeks since my father died.

Four gruelling days after his death, my mother fell cruelly, life-threateningly ill. A vicious, worldwide battle has invaded my parents’ home. In combat three sisterly foot soldiers have taken up defence. Setting up camp on site, we are the new Inniskilling Fusiliers; our fight is for our mother’s life.  Grief has been greeted by disease; invalid states have visited our door. United in a wicked world, covidly consumed, this is our new reality.  Kicking and screaming, lashing against the virus-ridden air, it is in the name of our parents that we are now compelled to love in the time of corona.

The landscape of my daily walk has changed for the worse. Gone are my carefree strolls in the woodlands by the lough. Living now, I am faced with a terrifying walk through fear; dreadfully demanding, emotionally emptying. Throughout this new crusade I struggle onwards bearing the unbearable, the pilgrimage of living weighs heavy.

We are existing in socially frozen times: emotions do not freeze. We sisters soldier on with faith exhumed from deep within, love is our only ammunition in this newfound battle onwards; hoping desperately, we fight the contagious fight. Hand in sanitised hand, in fierce defence of our mother’s life, we are newly bonded, forced and focused. Grieving our beloved father’s passing, physically isolated from the rest, we are traumatically tied together. Desperate to make him proud, we promise dad to do our best: keep our mum in her home and nurse her back to health with love. Faith, hope and love will overcome our fear yet we are scared beyond our wits’ end. We are neither nurses nor soldiers, we are simply daughters fresh in grief, newly activated by fear. Our mother teeters precariously between life and death; we catch our collected bated breath willing her, in turn, to breathe more deeply. In our isolated terror, deep in the wider social distance lies a furious defiant harmony.  We four women are united in our determination for survival: at home on the front line.

At night-time I feel alone within the isolation. As I lie in the still darkness of the night, I count my mother’s coughs. I remember my father taught me as a little girl to count the sheep, Little Bo Peep’s sheep jumping fences, I can hear his voice now “count the sheep and drift into sleep”. It’s a habit I have maintained into adulthood, into the present when sleep evades me.... I close my eyes and count the sheep. But my dad is not physically here anymore, and coughs have replaced the sheep, driven them away. I count the coughs which exclude any semblance of sleep: I count the dry harsh coughs of reality and feel my desperation rise for the intensity and frequency of the corona cough to stop; to leave this house and disappear for good: for all our good.

 

I am now quite desperate for the coughs to stop. I will myself to pray so that my prayers might be answered. Please allow another day. Please don’t let my mother suffer. Please don’t let her slip away. Tell the cough to go away! Make the cough disappear! My desperation leads again to prayer. Amongst the loud harsh rasping coughs, I pray silently for a miracle. 

 

Daylight brings change, the break of dawn heralds hope but it is at night when I feel truly scared. I recognise this new pattern, acknowledge the fear and place it firmly in its context of my daytime hope, or at least I try. Hope overcomes fear. Day is longer than night. The seasons change. The light extends. As we work our way towards the summer solstice, the days increase in length, so hope and optimism grow in their increased exposure to the sun and I feel them both strongly in the air: so heavy I can almost smell them: hope and optimism kicking covid out: they are our dominant forces...diluting the disease down, drowning it away. 

 

My mother’s sense of smell has disappeared: has all sense departed in a corona infused haze?  I feel duty bound to appreciate my own capacity to smell: to increase my sensitivity and share it with my mother describing in detail with words to her the senses which I now feel and she cannot.  In so doing I am willing hers senses to return.  As I massage her hands with beautifully scented cream or light the burner next to her bed to infuse the room with precious frankincense, I describe as best I can to my mum the beautiful delicate aromas filling the air, driving away the virus. She listens intently with the wonder and curiosity of enraptured childhood willing herself to imagine these realities and as I gaze into her eyes, encouraged by her hope, it occurs to me once more, she did all these things for me as a child. The passage of time balances our relationship and I am honoured to reciprocate her mothering love. We are forever bonded to our parents and I thank God once more for the wonderful parents with which I was gifted. I remember my father strongly and focus with grit and determination on the present: on restoring my mother’s good health.

 

It is on the front line where hope overcomes fear, where we fight on to see another day. Even through the night-time of our fear, we trust hope to carry us beyond the darkness of despair. We cling on to hope with a tenacity which affirms life and allows us to breathe another breath however short and shallow. Living in hope and fear is sustainable for short periods which increase in longevity, draining our emotions exhausting us physically yet generously allowing us to greet with grace another great dawn.

 

 As the next day breaks, we are fortified with hope. As the sun permeates the sky and lights the beautiful Fermanagh Lough, our hearts fill with faith, hope and love enabling us and fuelling us with sufficient energy to battle another day. Mother Nature sweetly wraps us in her arms, nurturing us tenderly and we feel ready to embrace the new day. We are blessed to inhabit a beautiful pocket of the world and we draw strength from the nature of Fermanagh. To have hope requires strength and gazing from my parents’ bedroom window on to the beautiful landscape below I do feel strong. I believe in the potential of the day ahead, I trust absolutely that we will win. As the beautiful spring suns rises to reflect her rays from the clear still lough, I am reminded of the irrepressible twinkle in my father’s eye. I realise that at home on the front line there is a battle to be won. I feel my father behind me, willing me on and pushing me forwards, I feel his connection to the lake. Just then my mother gasps in joy; she hears the first spring honking of the geese; only days before his passing in this same bed my father had remarked nostalgically with longing he had not yet this year heard the call of geese.  I turn and smile down at my mother and say to her as she might have done to me as a child: “Rise and shine: it’s a beautiful day out there. We are so lucky to live where we do. We are lucky to be alive”.