Lost years

By David Jolley

My brother and I, helped by others, have been reviewing what we know and what we remember about our family. Maybe it is just the ages we are – 70 plus – but the prevalence of death all around has added a sense of urgency.

This week we have learned of the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore, the regular ice-cream man from our local park has died in his fifties, a bowling friend died a few weeks ago – and we hear of others daily – all these have been Covid positive, though Covid-19 is not the only cause of death.

I don’t like the use of metaphors of war when talking about how we feel about illnesses, including dementia, and how we can try to prevent them, cope with them or overcome them, but. The ‘but’ is that this time of recurrent lockdowns, with no certainty of if and when it will ever end, feels to have a similar impact on us to that which took away years of normal life from our parents.

Mum and dad married aged 25 going on 26 in 1939. By 1940 dad was in the forces – RAF. He would be away with only occasional short breaks until 1945. Mum lived alone in the house they obtained a mortgage on in 1939 – working as the office girl in a firm which made tiles and fireplaces – two bus journeys away. Paying for the house and keeping body and soul together took all her wages and the pay dad received from the RAF. She was the other side of town, two bus journeys, from her family home – mum and dad, sister and brother. The only means of communication was letter – post was often delayed and subject to censorship – or the dreaded/unwanted telegram.

There was no telegram. They all survived and life began again from 1945.

They spoke very little about those years 1939-1945. There were and are, photographs of dad in uniform. We inherited gasmask bag and cylindrical kitbag in RAF colours to use on outings and scout camps in later years. But dad did not speak at any length about those six years in uniform. He enjoyed some friendships. He travelled quite a lot and was an expert driver of several sorts of vehicles. One day he jumped to the right from his lorry when an enemy aircraft strafed their company. Everyone who had jumped to the left was dead.

Mum might talk a little more, but in threading pieces together I have had to learn that my belief that they had honeymooned in Weston-Super-Mare, the borrowed car having broken down in Bristol so that their first night of marriage was in hurriedly arranged one night accommodation in Bristol, is flawed. The Bristol story is confirmed, but the honeymoon was in Torquay. You would think I should know that.

Now we have our Covid-years. This week I have read about Covid burnout/lockdown burnout. We are busily putting together temporary lives within the rules and restrictions of this time. Some of the most important reference points in our lives are lost and may never be available again: local and national businesses, local schools, churches, the National Dementia Action Alliance. The coming of effective vaccines in wealthy countries suggests that this time of devastation and suspension will not run as long as 1939-1945 but some aspects of its deprivation are more intrusive to personal coping strategies than even those long war years. So many days when nothing ‘real’ happens or can happen. So many days and nights that have just passed. So many people we have lost.

I guess we will not remember much about it. Or perhaps we will – but we may not talk about it much.

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