I normally sleep through anything and very little can prevent me from gaining a full eight hours. Not even when I was heavily pregnant and incredibly uncomfortable, did I miss one wink of sleep. Until now. The past few nights I have been waking up at half four and unable to get back to sleep. I am so worried about the current crisis we are facing, that I have even started to worry in my dreams. I think many of us feel the same. It does not help that as a family we are about to go into self-isolation to protect my husband. Not to mention the selfish and downright idiotic trend for people to panic buy everything. I lie awake worried about how I might feed my children, when so many are booking up supermarket deliveries and emptying shelves. What about if my family become unwell? How we will give them basic medication when even the smallest and barely patronised chemists have no paracetamol in stock? How will I ensure my children don’t become stir crazy at home for so long? How on earth will we get through this? There are so many who must be terrified for the futures of their families, their jobs and their homes. Not to mention the impact of all of this on the poorest members of society.
There is no denying that this situation is probably the most serious crisis we have ever had to face since the Second World War. In my fifty years, I have never experienced anything as grave. The BBC News Channel is on permanently so that we can be updated with every single snippet of advice and information, but in many ways, this is merely adding to the fear and anxiety. How many of us weren’t terrified when we heard yesterday that the best we can hope for, is that less than twenty-thousand people will die from the virus? To me, this feels as if we are living in some sort of dystopian drama, something Kafkaesque, almost an episode of Black Mirror.
On Monday, Boris Johnson announced that the most elderly and vulnerable in society, namely the over 70s, should prepare to self-isolate in order to try and avoid contracting the corona virus. The time given was twelve weeks. I can’t tell you how terrified I was to hear this. My Dad is into his seventies and he recently has had a few health issues. I’m very close to my Dad and I have always buried my head in the sand about the fact that one day I may lose him. My initial fear was that not only might he contract the virus, but he might suffer in isolation and I might never see him again. My Dad lives in Nottingham. Although it isn’t that far, it is still far enough to prevent me from just nipping round to check up on him on a daily basis.
My husband and I came up with an action plan and decided we would call my Dad to talk this through. The first thing I said to him was that we needed to discuss what we were going to do to help and protect him. I honestly couldn’t stress enough the gravity of this situation.
“Why’s that?” he answered somewhat casually. I wondered if my Dad had been living in a bubble for the past few weeks. Had he suddenly lost his marbles? Perhaps he had gone completely deaf?
“About the elderly and self-isolation to avoid the corona virus.”
“Oh that!” He replied with almost carefree disinterest.
“But Dad, you’ve got to protect yourself and self-isolate.” And with that my Dad summed up his reaction to the situation.
“I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry. I’ve got plenty in and I’ll keep busy.”
“But what if you get it, Dad?”
“Then I’ll get it.” I was concerned that perhaps my Dad wasn’t taking this serious enough. He could tell that I was troubled, but he kept telling me to focus only on my family since I, “had enough on.”
As if to placate me, my dad rang back later that night to tell me that his neighbours had agreed to keep an eye on him and do shopping for him if necessary. He had given them my number so that I wouldn’t worry. That was the key phrase to all of this – so that I wouldn’t worry. And that was when I realised how much better equipped my father and his generation are to deal with this.
On Facebook, I have several friends and connections with people who are over seventy. Over the past few days, they have been posting their thoughts on the situation and what unifies them all is an inherent stoicism and positive resolve. This appears to contrast significantly with the younger generation continually posting fears over the use of ibuprofen and fake news explaining how to combat the virus by drinking gallons of water to wash it away. I’ve seen many comments which are using this as an opportunity to push forward their own political agenda by slagging off the Government or claiming that our nation is responding incorrectly by deliberately putting people’s lives at risk. In complete contrast to this, the older generation have accepted that this is the situation and we now need to get on with it. To reiterate that much used poster of modern times, we all need to Keep Calm and Carry On.
Amidst all the panic, there is much selfishness in how many have chosen to fight this virus. That is evident from the copious amount of people buying up toilet roll and tinned goods, as if we are facing Armageddon. For the older generation, this is a crisis that we must respond to collectively. To them, this is more something best dealt with by joining forces. Hence the messages of support and the unselfishness of people such as my Dad telling us to focus on protecting others.
My Dad was born in 1946, just after the Second World War and is part of the Baby Boom Generation. Although the War had ended by his birth, he felt the after-effects for many years and grew up with rationing. We often tease my Dad about his loathing of seeing anything go to waste. My teenagers can never understand why he will eat something if it is a day past its best before or sell by date. His generation are definitely used to dealing with shortages and fewer comforts. My Dad had very little until much later in his life. He’s not into consumerism at all; a further example of something my children struggle to comprehend. My Dad and his generation learned how to deal with a crisis from looking to their parents who had to deal with War. I can recall my Grandfather telling me that he experienced many horrific situations in the Navy, but he was told when he was discharged and returned to civilian life, not to speak of any of these and just get on with life. What he experienced enabled him to be thankful for peace. Of course, we are aware now of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and we now know that it is not a good thing to suppress feelings. But in not being pandered to, his generation learnt to be grateful for much less and this was passed onto their children.
My Dad doesn’t need Netflix, television on demand and a pile of DVDs to keep him entertained. He’s not bothered about Facetime or Skype. He has no idea what an app is, let alone how to download one. All he needs is his mini transistor radio, a couple of good books, a bit of gardening and a tinker down the shed and he’ll be fine. He doesn’t need huge shopping hauls from supermarkets, a million toilet rolls and an endless supply of tinned goods. He’ll be quite happy with what he’s currently got in his pantry. If he needs more, then he will ask his neighbours.
It is this, that is so admirable about the older generation. Their lack of needing things to comfort them along with their ‘let’s do it’ spirit. Not only are subsequent generations heavily in need of materialism but they have never had to deal with anything quite like this. To the older generation it’s just another obstacle to overcome in their lives. To the younger ones, it’s pretty much the end of the World.
We really do need to look to the older generation for our wisdom and guidance in these difficult times, as well as their understanding of how best to survive a crisis. The most important thing we can learn from them is acceptance of the situation coupled with a positive outlook. It is acceptance we find most difficult, since we are so conditioned to being able to control every aspect of our lives and to complain at the slightest discomfort. Now is not the time to expect others to pander to our needs or to wallow in self-pity, but time to make the most of the situation. For it is only in doing so, that we have any hope of overcoming this.
Therefore, if you are facing isolation, use this as a chance to do all the things you have never had the time to do. I shall be gardening, reading all those books I never had time to read, spending time as a family playing board games and watching films. If you do not need to self-isolate, consider those who live alone. Knock on the door of that neighbour. Offer to run them errands. Think of the small businesses who may be about to collapse and consider if you can help them in some way. Think of the families who are surviving on food banks and consider donating food and toiletries. Of course, we all need to protect our families, but we also need to think of others.
And…. Above all else… “Don’t panic Captain Mainwaring!”
I hope that you are able to stay safe and that this crisis will soon be over for us all.