M. L. E. Brown
In the past ten months, my husband, his sister, and I have moved my husband’s parents – first one, and then the other – into different wings of the same managed aged-care facility. We then had to sell their Northland home, built by my in-laws and only reluctantly abandoned after fifty-five years of married life. When settlement finally eventuated, we had a few frantic days to travel to Northland and clear out the house. All this has occurred during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. My husband’s job at Auckland Airport dictated strictly no close contact with either his father or his sister (as she was helping their father move into the retirement village). Auckland’s second lock-down was announced three days into the final push, my husband was recalled to work, and the whole thing ended in a terrific rush.
Having moved my own mother out of her home just before she died eighteen years ago, I know this is never an easy process for any family. Then, however, I didn’t have to wear PPE and masks, stay in motels, and refrain from hugging my parent when she was most distressed. I didn’t move my mother with any notion of not being allowed to visit her again, or aware that I’d be expressly excluded from attending her funeral. These were all realities my husband faced, and faces, with regard to both his parents in these uncertain times. Covid-19 has certainly added some unkind twists to all of our everyday situations.
In the end, a poem was the easiest way to express the experience …
A Loaded Skip
Yesterday, while icy drizzle greyed the blue from sky and Father’s eyes alike,
two big men wrestled Mum’s piano onto the back of another truck.
Her yellowed scores of Schubert, Bach and ‘Oklahoma’ now lie unsung,
bundled into the iron skip,
ten cubic metres of heartless clang drowning out all echoes of the used-to-be …
Spring is fickle, like all things young.
It shines, it rains, it blusters, never looking down to see whose grave it’s dancing on.
This year, it has no sense of smell; no waiting for gardenias, jasmine, summer roses …
No care, either, for the broken bones of ancient furniture; for aged bed-linen once crisp, now limp and mothy; for cracked china, scratched CDs, and maps that lost their way long ago;
not even for the photos, black & white and sepia ghosts consigned to the final oblivion …
the Merely-Dead once cherished, now not just unknown but desecrated
under plastic cups, lifeless batteries, a mildewed mattress, dried-out pot plants, and other things that simply ran out of time and breath and relevance …
Be kind, they say – but how??
Alzheimer’s doesn’t wait …
fingers that once tied ribbons, put on plasters, mended toys, gutted fresh-caught fish, tinkered with engines, paused on the trigger just before the stag fell –
these days gnarled and swollen –
pluck feebly at the debris,
trying to unknot the tangle,
trying to re-work the puzzle,
trying to feed from a rubbish bin …
(Not that, I want to take that … where did you put my – ? … I forgot about these … )
And all the while we preside, draped in ritual plastic.
Once merely sons and daughters, now also priests and handmaidens of The Virus.
Masked and gloved, we try not to cough or sneeze or grieve
amid year-loads of eddying dust, a tiny storm on every surface …
Be kind, they say but how?
A hug can’t be socially distanced.
Tears stay unwiped at two metres,
and hands unheld.
Houses never shift themselves.
Three of us only, and all from out of town,
to clear six decades in ten days, and keep Dad’s health legal
before he moves to Managed Care.
So, no bursting of bubbles:
we sleep in motels, eat apart
and clear our designated rooms.
Tears stay unwiped at two metres
and hands unheld …
At least when this is over, he’ll be safe and not alone
we say to each other, to comfort ourselves.
It’s true and yet …
Be kind, they say – but how??
M. L. E. Brown is an Auckland-based novelist, poet, essayist, and photographer. She was one of two 2019 Emerging Pasifika Resident Writers at the Michael King Writers’ Centre and has had poems published in Tahakē Magazine and Cauldron Anthology. Her interests include humanities, sustainable economics, and the working relationship between allopathic and complementary medicines.