I am not sure I feel like that a lot. I always find something I can do. A way of being there. Another way I can solve a problem. Another small step towards putting down a big wall. Whatever it is, I learnt that action gets me unstuck. But, in the last few days, sometimes I just felt like my hands were tied. Covid is hitting us left right and centre and it is hard to know what to do.
As an expat of 17 years, I have grown used to the distance between us and family. It means I have learnt how to live with it, not how to like it. No matter the distance, we always felt a short plane ride away. Special occasions or even less special ones were reason enough for us to fly home even if for a short weekend. The kids have frequent flier numbers and we smiled when the air hostess asked us if it was the first time flying with a baby and if we needed instructions. It was probably the 10th. Flying was part of our expat life, just as much as dining out in London. Some weekends we were here, some weekends we were not.
Needless to say, Covid has put a stop to all this. Whilst it also gave us the ability to spend a Summer to remember in our home in Portugal, now that the dark months are upon us, it is also giving us the stark reality of not being there. And it hurts. Badly.
Sometimes, it is about being there
My sister had surgery last week. It was less smooth than we had hoped for, especially the recovery. Last time this happened, I hoped on a flight. I was there, even if doing nothing. I am no doctor or qualified nurse, so my help is not the most useful. But I can make myself useful for anything really. Picking up food is a skill sometimes.
This time round, all we had was the phone. A phone that made her tired and that was not of much use in ICU. There was no spoiling her when she got home, helping tend for the kids to let her rest, hugging my mum or dad in their moments of worry. No, there was only me on this side of the phone, checking when the last time I got news was and wondering if I was nagging to much to ask again if the pain was better.
Being away sucks, and it is a harsh reality when you can’t be there. I know what she was going to say when she reads this
If I could fly I would be in the Maldives, not in a hospital chair next to you!
But I know she is (half) joking. Half not.
Sometimes, it is about being somewhere
As I was still recovering from a distance I did not want to have, I found out how my great-aunt and uncle were bed bound with Covid, and my cousin that was tendering for them had also developed symptoms and needed to get to bed too. His sister was in a high risk group and at a loss on what to do next.
Again, I could not hop on a car and tend for them. I could not drive them around, get food, find local nurses. Rather than driving myself crazy on all I could not do, I chose to just be there for her. I called, I connected with her, I listened to tears and we shared a few together. I also used my distance to be the rational one in the room (or phone call) and evaluate the best courses of action. In the lack of a better way to help, I just did what I do best, connecting and helping people find alternatives. Problem solving. I guess that helped. Or so I like to think.
We have been connecting sporadically for years, as our lives went in different directions and as I rarely to go back to the village where I was born. We pulled it through – well she did more than me really – and we hope for some light at the end of the tunnel.
I wonder if
As I tidied up the toys on Sunday morning tears flooded my eyes. I mourn that I did not go there for Christmas. She is a special great-aunt. Really a grandma as I never got to meet her sister (my grandma). She was there in the centre of the village, always present. I remember the slices of bread full of butter, the “filhos” we cooked together until she was too weak to mix the batter, the sweet rice whose recipe no-one can replicate.
I always try and go an afternoon during Christmas. Bring the kids, show my aunt some little faces that remind her of me when I was a kid. But I didn’t this Christmas. Hubby B reminds me this is precisely why I did not go, because of Covid. I don’t like the explanation. What if I don’t see her again? I had this feeling in March when the borders closed and we decided to stay put in the UK. Having it again and even more real has hit me hard.
Light at the end of the tunnel
As we get to the end of the day, the news are improving. The oxygen levels are up and my cousin found local qualified help. I haven’t done much at all but I celebrate this achievement. And I celebrate that we may win a tiny battle against Covid-19. I celebrate that there is a chance I will see her again.
My hands are tied, but I have so much more I can do without hands to be there present. I can be there from here, even if it is harder and feels worse. My heart is fully with them and my kids now pray for my sister and for the aunt and uncle they don’t quite remember meeting. They know they are ill and they know they matter to me. That is enough reason for them.
If your hands feel tied, maybe you can still move. I could. My heart could.
Photo by Mario Azzi on Unsplash