I barely recognised my mother when I saw her in the hospital bed the night she died. It had been many months since we were last able to meet, when she was still a force of nature. Now there was almost nothing left of her. The death certificate records that Elizabeth Carol Chamberlain died of dementia and kidney disease aged 88. But it was lockdown that really killed her.
For my parents, like so many people of their generation living out their later years in care homes, lockdown offered not protection but imprisonment. ‘It’s cruel,’ Mam would say, over and over again, in the painful and awkward phone calls that we shared over the last year or so. ‘Just cruel.’ ‘What have you been doing?’ ‘Nothing. Staring at the walls.’
Both my parents had been in and out of care homes and hospital over the past year. My mother had been sliding into dementia for a while, though she could be lucid and sharp as a tack when the mood took her. My father, Les, had recently suffered a stroke, so had been taken into hospital from the care home where they lived.
Gloucestershire’s hospitals would not allow visitors in, and the care home would not allow residents out, so they were separated once more. But after 63 years of marriage, this would be the last time. Convinced that they would never see each other again, Mam had no wish to go on. She decided to stop eating or drinking and died four days later.
Her funeral last month was a sad and strange affair. Everyone had to wear a mask unless they were standing to speak. Singing wasn’t allowed. We all had to be socially distanced. There were about a dozen people in attendance. In normal times, there would have been many more, because Mam touched the lives of so many people.