People usually think I’m lying, or certainly exaggerating, when I say I don’t know how old my mum is.
It’s absolutely true though. She’s always been vague about her age, because she refuses to be defined by it.
In one of her wedding photos, she’s face down on a table, bodily covering the date of birth section on her marriage certificate from her friends who were witnesses.
A few years ago she told me I was going to have to start lying about my age too, because having a daughter as old as I am now threatens to blow her cover. She has remained resolutely dedicated to her cause, come what may.
That’s the first blow coronavirus has struck her – it’s discriminating against her because of her age.
However bad my maths is, there’s no denying – although she denies it, obviously – that she’s in a high-risk category. If she gets the virus, it is likely to be very, very serious.
And so, like families across the nation with relatives who are a word that rhymes with felderly, we’ve only seen her a handful of times since March.
Always in the garden, trying to stay at least a metre apart. Reminding her and my son, who adore each other, not to get too close – repeatedly – is awful. Remember, don’t kill gran!
My mum normally has a busy life, full of people, places, projects. Many at her, er, stage, take up a hobby – crosswords, knitting, sudoku. My mum is fighting to revolutionise penal reform.
I’m lucky she’s a prolific Zoomer, so much of her work has continued. For the millions of a similar generation who have never used the web, this isn’t possible, and they’re even more cut off.
But when the Zooms stop, and the emails are done, my mum – who now lives alone – has of course found the separation from us hard. We’ve put up with it because we believed it was short-term pain for long-term gain, a necessary evil. But now it’s clear we’re not going to put a sombrero on the invisible mugger’s second hump in 12 weeks, or whatever that Moonshot doofus promised.
With him yesterday extending restrictions for another six months, the end of coronavirus seems further away than ever.
And so, my mum now keeps asking to see us. But with my son mixing with 30 kids at school – and by default all their families, too – and infection numbers rising, I’m having to say no. I know this is a story being repeated up and down the country, but it doesn’t make me feel any less terrible.
This pandemic has turned everything we knew about human relationships on its head. We used to show we cared by hugging, seeing people often, keeping them close. Now you prove your love by staying as far away as possible, for as long as you can bear to. Even thinking about Christmas gives me a knot in my stomach.
Looking after my mum is starting to feel like punishing her. In trying not to hurt her medically, I’m hurting her emotionally. Is cruel to be kind the best strategy, with no end in sight?
The elephant in the room is the question I want to ask, but never will, because I’m too scared of the answer. At this point, does she not care if she gets the virus? For her, does the cure feel worse than the disease?
Most things at the moment involve some level of risk, but how big a gamble are we willing to take when it comes to our very nearest and dearest? And whose decision is it – hers or mine?