Mom's voice during the pause

Hello from our new world to yours. Where I live, we went from everyday life to significant restrictions, closures, and advisories in less than a week.

My family lived through the SARS outbreak in Toronto in 2003, while the rest of North America registered it as a blip. Friends in the medical community said this was a dress rehearsal, and I believed them—but nothing prepared me for the present.

On Sunday, when new restrictions were announced, I began to hear my mother's voice.

She has but one directive: "Toughen up". She speaks of the war years—the men gone, rationing, the knock on the door that alters a family forever, and reminds me that in many countries things were far worse: bombing, mass murder, extreme privation. Toughen up so you help those struggling, and do your work.

She reminds me of a time even earlier, the Depression, when privation struck with a similar disorienting immediacy. The challenge was not just four family meals from one small chicken, but how to manage joblessness, interrupted education, stark responsibilities. Her sister Magdelene opened her door one morning to her sister-in-law standing there with her four children and their suitcases; her husband vanished overnight.

At age 85
Mom says, "When ease returns, you will appreciate it like never before."

Of course there are differences: during WWII, people congregated in faith communities and with friends, to draw strength and support. They were united in their commitment to preserve freedoms; the enemy had a name and face, not a taxonomy.

Throughout the Depression, schools stayed open, and citizens could move about freely, though few could afford travel. Governments funded capital works and cultural projects.

Few who witnessed these events are still alive; we have refugees and displaced persons among us, but we view their experience as something that happened to them, elsewhere.

Now it's our turn. Our tranquillity has been rent, our prosperity dented, our mobility curtailed, our fears fanned, and we witness a spectrum of suffering, from loneliness to death.

It's not a good idea to let Mom live in my head too long, because she suggests organizing the many bookshelves, making napkins from that tablecloth we never use. She wonders if a young friend who has been laid off needs anything. She is surprised to hear I'm in the category told to stay in. But you're allowed to go for a walk, she says, eyeing my dirty windows.

She's right, as usual. Completing a simple task reinforces agency, and reduces anxiety.

She leans towards me, puts an affectionate hand on my arm, and offers one last piece of advice: "And laugh when you can. We did."


Jay said…
Thank you for this. I am trying not to fret too much about a son who is overseas and can't return soon. He's safe and coolly reminds me boys his age are sent to war. I must carve some "alone" time or I won't be answerable for the consequences
Pastel River said…
Dear Duchesse, I have been following your blog for years (I found you through The Vivianne files) and look forward to every Tuesday and Thursday because of your posts. While I very rarely comment, I did go through all your archives. I live a completely different life to yours yet I continue to come here because of your posts always offer either a fresh perspective, something fun to look at or some great advice (your writings about uneven aging are my favorite). And they offer comfort.
I guess my life so far has been so sheltered (I purposely organized it so it's as non-eventful as possible) that my first instinct when anything out of the ordinary happens is to freak out. I often ask myself what you would do in similar circumstances, because my parents (who are your age) are the ones who freak out first (and not just about this virus, but about everything) so they scare the bajesus out of me even if I was (semi)calm to start out with.
Thank you for your posts. Hugs from Slovenia. Živa
Jen Lawrence said…
Love this. I was pregnant with my eldest during SARS in Toronto so I've had a taste of this too. I've laid in provisions and am trying to keep positive for the sake of my kids. I'm mostly worried about my parents and have urged them to let me take on the caregiving role in terms of shopping and such and not to go out. I'm feeling very privileged during this whole experience and am trying to see the positives and be as helpful as possible to others. It feels like a new world. Xx
Mary said…
My British mother might not have said it in quite the words your mom used, but as one who drove an ambulance during the London Blitz (while holding two other jobs), had her home bombed, lost a Royal Navy brother when his ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic, and kept her widowed mother and sister going during the war years...she provided a sterling example of someone who put one foot in front of the other, even when fear threatened to overwhelm. As it often did. For six long years.

We now have a viral bomb exploding in our world. Can't be heard. Can't be seen. But the devastation it brings will change today's generations in ways we can't quite yet fully comprehend.

My long gone mother's words come back to me now, too. Whenever I was low or upset she would say, "Keep your pecker* up and carry on."

*Brit slang for nose.
LauraH said…
Having just returned from New Zealand where everything is still pretty normal, it was amazing to see the changes. Although friends kept me posted, it wasn't at all the same as living through the process. Reading about the hoarding and panicking I couldn't help but think of my parents and grandparents, the things they lived through - two world wars, the depression, Spanish Flu, and just general harder times. We've had it pretty easy and are having difficulty facing this challenge. I plan to use my two weeks of self isolation to work in the garden, sort through my photos and knock off some small jobs around the house. And by the time it is over and I can venture out, who knows where we'll be.

Love your final image!
Hope you Australs have a bit more time to prepare. But the Southern Cone of South America also has cases. With the horrible situation in Italy and not much better in Spain, there are inevitable cases in Argentina, where there is a lot of recent as well as older migration from Italy and Spain (think of the Pope, and the soccer star Messi) and considerable travel between the New and Old worlds.

And then there is that most prosperous country in the Americas that has no real health system... Hope that changes, and no, that is not anti-US.
Laura J said…
The Pilates studio where I go does some livestream classes which I attend, something on my dance card since so much has been suspended. So, one boring chore a day(whittling away at the basement),dog walks! Checking social media and sending off emails to friends, reading knitting and I did a tiny bit of too early raking in the garden (sooo satisfying). Have a quarantini for me!
royleen said…
Your last paragraph made me cry, as I was thinking of my own departed mother. Thanks!
Mine was a war worker, in Ottawa. Very difficult times, but also a strange liberation. She was entrusted with serious duties, spying on Canadian manufacturers that produced shoddy goods for the troops, and major items that went missing (such as a unit for a military unit's laundry). Like many women war workers, she could not admit what a downer demobilisation was after V-E DAY. And had to settle for a less than happy marriage, after her post disappeared despite her exceptional contribution, to some man.
I keep imagining what my mom would say if she were still here, I imagine it would sound very much like your mom (although your mom is a bit more eloquent) none the less,great perspective.

Thank you so much for the dose of sanity.
Mardel said…
Thank you for reminding us of this, to simply smile when we can and carry on. I think of my mom, who moved to Assisted Living at the end of 2019. She was initially slow to make friends, and now she has little choice, which I believe is good for her, as no one is allowed in other than employees, and residents are not allowed out with the exceptions of doctor’s appointments. But she could have been locked up in her home, alone, which would be so much worse. Of course we talk frequently and it is good for both of us, for me just hearing her talk about her neighbors, after years of increasing isolation, warms my heart.

Like another commenter, I remember the things my parents and grandparents lived through: World Wars, Korea, The Depression, They were all intimately familiar with death, loss, tragedy, and it reminds me how s truly privileged and protected our lives, at least in a certain part of the world, has become. We can do this. Two of my grandparents lost siblings to the 1918 Spanish flu. My late husbands family lost everything when they left Austria before WWI except for two small suitcases of clothes for the four of them. But they were always grateful to have escaped and been given the opportunity to begin again. At the moment I feel grateful that I can stay in, that my at-risk family members are staying in, and that I can hope that we will all do the best we can and pull together as needed.
noreen said…
thank you for sharing your mother's virtual thoughts. my mother was a great believer in the power of work when things were difficult and i channeled her when you mentioned the windows! stay safe
Susan said…
My mom died a year ago this April at 95. She’s on my mind so much right now. I’m worried about my two young-adult kids and my husband who’s in his 70s. But I wonder if I also have this “phantom” worry about my mom? I’m glad she’s so present right now, though.
Susan, of course our dear departed haunt us, but that is a good thing, non? Whether it is my mum or a series of sleek black cats, or friends near and far.

A friend in Mexico has explained that the Day of the Dead is not ghoulish, but refers to the proximity of the Dead and the Living and the idea (interestingly, also shared with Celtic peoples) that there is a time of the year when the borders between the two fade into the mist.
I've been reading your blog for a couple of years now and I suppose would be called a "lurker". First time posting because your sane, measured response to our current challenges surrounding this crisis is very moving. Thank you.
Duchesse said…
All: I am very busy just now so am not replying to every comment but just to say... I am touched and encouraged by your responses, your memories and your sensitivity to this post.
Lynn said…
I'm in the present worried about a daughter-in-law who is a health care professional in the US who has been told to reuse gowns and masks due to the shortage of supplies and to come to work sick if necessary. She has been told this may last for months. My son is a serious asthmatic so they can only wave at each other across the apartment. My mother, who died 20 years ago, would be enraged at the lack of preparation and ready to take on anyone who endangered her family. I wish I knew how to follow her example!
I saw a caption on another blog the other day

"Our grandparents were asked to go to war - we're being asked to sit on the couch. I think we can do it!"

Kind of sums it up. It sucks, I'm bored, gaining weigh from cooking too much and I miss my friends - but if that's all I have to worry about I am a very lucky person!

Thank you for helping us to remember how well off we really are compared to many - and that's not to diminish the worry that many have for family and friends. Hang in there.

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