This year has been the most difficult and ‘surreal’ experience we have ever encountered. Who would have thought waking up on January 1st full of enthusiasm and excitement that most of us feel for the coming year would turn out the way it has? The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives completely and the true realisation of ‘what matters’ to most is something that should change the way we live for the rest of our lives.
Each of us have different stories to tell about how we have coped during the year. Our anxieties, fears, frustrations even new-found pleasures in this new ‘socially distanced’ world will differ but equally as important. But normality for most has changed forever. But for me it reminds me of a quote by Brene Brown
“ We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalised greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all humanity and nature”.
I took this advice and began to stitch a new garment for myself and those important around me but the catalyst wasn’t the ‘lockdown’ it was the sudden loss of the best friend a girl could ever have, my amazing dad. A few weeks prior to lockdown, I got the call I hadn’t expected, that dad had suffered a potential Stroke. What happened over the coming days was a complete blur but as a family we hoped our strong and fit dad would pull through. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be he died two days later and words cannot describe the huge emptiness I, our family and those closest to him felt. Such a huge character who would put other people’s needs first before his own. As a chef for most of his working life there are many people in our community who would have experienced eating one of his special pies, even the Postman several days after dad dying offered his condolences and said “I didn’t know your dad was the pie man?” funny now and it summed dad up caring for people through food. It was guaranteed that if my dad was around there would be fun, laughter, music and plenty of beer (or anything else available). It breaks my heart to know he won’t ever walk through my front door, hug and squeeze the life out of me the way he did. All we have is the many happy memories that I was lucky to share in my 48 years.
The weeks that followed couldn’t have got any worse, but unfortunately, it did. Within weeks of each other I lost both my 13-year-old Rottweilers, Missy and Daisy. I was heartbroken. My girls had comforted me and had been there for me every day since they were rescued as pups. Suddenly their huge presence had disappeared and I had lost what I felt, and most dog owners think members of my family. I had to find something to ease the severe anxieties building up inside of me to stop me from breaking down, my stress levels were high and causing my mild tinnitus to worsen, I had to busy my mind with something other than work.
Prior to lockdown and the huge loss my working and personal life was to say the least hectic. It was not unusual for me to be on a flight to Barcelona one day for meetings, followed by a trip to Canada for a conference. To add to this, I obtained a fellowship/PhD studentship, which began in early March 2020. Compartmentalising my working and personal life was a daily juggling exercise but I loved it and still do but I needed something ‘holistic’, something to completely stop me from thinking about deadlines, suffering, fear and heartbreak.
I found that in my garden, which is something I will always be thankful for. It was a huge undertaking as it was quite overgrown in parts with well-established shrubs that had been planted many years ago in the wrong position. Structurally it needed new fencing and paving, so a lot of back breaking work.
I welcomed this challenge, it gave me purpose, it gave me something to get up for in the mornings. Living in close proximity to a very busy airport I started to notice the impact of lockdown on nature. Whether a coincidence due to lack of flights or the fact that nature no longer had to contend with Daisy who had guarded the garden for many years,
I started to notice a vast array of birds that I had never noticed before, such as male woodpeckers. For the first time in my 26 years of living in my home squirrels began to frequently visit the garden, causing frustration amongst the magpie family living in a neighbouring tree. Over breakfast one morning we witnessed a kestrel (amazing looking bird) take out one of my beloved sparrows. It was hard not to intervene but as dad always used to say: “it is the circle of life”. It was fascinating viewing especially for my 4-year-old granddaughter who insisted on viewing its remains, which to all of our surprise not one morsel of flesh or bone remained just feathers blowing in the breeze.
I had always found pleasure in growing plants, especially vegetables and herbs as like dad I love to cook. You can’t beat the flavour of freshly picked herbs in your cooking so a raised herb bed was on my wish list, and a bespoke structure from hardwood pallets that came with the paving slabs was included in my design and intricately built by my partner Tony (as was the fence).
My granddaughter wanted magic stepping-stones to reach her magic island (everything is magic) so the transformation began.
I don’t claim to know a lot about gardening but once the structural work had been completed and to create a ‘Mediterranean’ theme I desired, my research of plants and positioning began.
I can’t tell you the joy I have had watching everything flourish loved by the butterflies and bees. Sitting amongst the nature allows me to calm my mind and provides a sanctuary from the chaos going on in the world.
I will never get over losing dad, and the girls will be never forgotten but lockdown for me has made me, and I am sure many others realise what is important. Simple pleasures of feeding birds, listening to bird song (best part of the morning), watching bats fly in the evening taking out the flying insects, eating lovely food and drinking nice wines with close family and friends, inventing games with my granddaughter that require no plastic structures or monstrosities that take away from the simplicities of beautiful plants. These things are what matters to me and my garden is the perfect garment I stitched for myself and family, and it saved me from the breakdown I thought was inevitable.