It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Charles Dickens penned these words just over 160 years ago and although his novel was set during a time of revolution, his opening words seem strangely apt for times such as these. It has not been the best of times of late for many people. Notwithstanding a pandemic that just keeps on giving, war is continuing to devastate the people and land of Ukraine, political instability threatens democracy in some places and the impact of climate change is being felt in others. Closer to home, housing and energy crises and the increased cost of living are starting to bite, a third wave of the Corona virus is throwing airports into chaos and the chill of a colder than usual winter makes life under the blankets far more appealing.
It has not been the best of times either for us. Just over two months ago we lost our dear mother and grandmother, Joy, and since that day we have been experiencing a time of grief, mourning and remembrance. After the funeral was over and the visitors had returned home, it was time to move on to the next stage in our lives, the new normal, a life without Joy. I know that Joy would want us all to live on with hope, love and happiness, and so our main task has been to help Paul’s dad, Hedley, as he comes to terms with the loss of his life partner and this next stage in his life. All along Joy’s main concern had been for Hedley and so we take very seriously the promise we made to her, that we would care for him and always ensure that he was safe and well.
It has not been easy for Hedley. Losing a life partner is not easy for anyone, but after more than 50 years of marriage, how strange it must feel for him, for Joy not to be there. Some times he sees something and thinks, “I must tell Joy”, and then remembers that she won’t be there waiting for him when he gets home. It doesn’t necessarily get any easier, but as each day passes we slowly get used to the new normal, and we discover all the little things that Joy did that we noticed but didn’t notice, the gaps we now need to fill.
One of the hardest things in losing a loved one is the special days that take on a new significance. Just days after Joy passed away it was Mother’s Day. Then barely a month after the funeral came their Wedding Anniversary. Two weeks later it was Hedley’s 80th birthday. Coming fast on the heels of her passing, this run of the firsts without Joy was emotionally draining for all of us. Every year from now on we will feel the heightened emotions of the run of these days. But this is life. And as difficult as it is, it is evidence of a life filled with love. For if we did not love, it would not hurt.
In other ways, the last two and half years have also not been the best of times. Border closures and covid restrictions have kept my family apart. My Mum and Dad live in Adelaide, South Australia, but my siblings and I all live in different states. While I live in Queensland, my sister lives in New South Wales and my brother lives in Western Australia. As you can imagine, it takes a great feat of planning and scheduling to get us all together in the same place at the same time. In fact, it has been nine years since we were all together. However, this year was Mum’s 80th birthday and so, with restrictions easing, we decided it was the ideal opportunity to plan a family reunion in Adelaide to celebrate.
Due to work commitments, my sister and her children were only able to be there for the weekend, so we decided to make it a day to remember – a day out in the Barossa Valley. We would have lunch at the Vine Inn in Nuriootpa, followed by some wine tasting and ten pin bowling for the cousins. The six cousins, including Dan and Bec, had not been together for nine years so we thought an activity like bowling would help break the ice, as well as be fun entertainment. Then we would end the day with cake and candles and probably wine as well. For months we had all been looking forward to it and it was a weekend to remember – but for all the wrong reasons.
Ten days before we were scheduled to fly to Adelaide, Dan’s flatmate tested positive to Covid. At that time Dan tested negative, so we decided to bring Dan home. So close to our trip to Adelaide we thought we were doing the right thing. It turned out to be the wrong decision. Two days later Dan tested positive and it wasn’t long until the next two dominoes, Bec and I, fell too. And that was the end of that. No trip to Adelaide. It was bitterly disappointing for us, but we hoped that everyone else would at least have a good time and take many photos for us to see.
On the day my sister and her kids were due to fly to Adelaide, their flights were cancelled. Frantically searching for options, the best that the airline could offer was a 7 hour trip from Sydney to Adelaide, with a 3-4 hour wait in Melbourne – the next day. They would have completely missed the whole day in the Barossa. The only other alternative was to get last minute flights with another airline at an exorbitant price. We told her to save her money for another time. Naturally, they were all devastated. They had been going through a tough time too and were really looking forward to a few days away.
My brother and his family, and my aunty from the Sunshine Coast, were the only ones who actually made it to Adelaide. They had a nice lunch at the Vine Inn, but the weather was bitterly cold. Still, they enjoyed the cake Mum had organised – I’m still waiting for my piece! But disaster struck a couple of days later when my nephew tested positive. Plans for the rest of the week were immediately thrown into disarray. They scrambled to get my sister-in-law and niece back home on a flight that night, while my brother stayed in Adelaide with my nephew – in isolation. They were fearing they might get caught in Adelaide for weeks otherwise. Fortunately my aunty also flew home that day, and so far, with all our fingers and toes crossed, it looks like she might just have dodged a bullet (still hoping!!). As expected my brother soon went down with Covid, followed by Mum and Dad. Fortunately Mum and Dad had all their boosters plus the flu shot so they have had extremely mild symptoms – not like the rest of us who have had a range of all the symptoms! Having that fourth dose really seems to make a difference.
So the longed-for family reunion ended up as a complete disaster. It was really disappointing for all of us, but probably in time we will be able to look back and laugh it off as the price for living with Covid. But it wasn’t funny at the time. The only silver lining for us is that we realised that even if we had made it to Adelaide, we probably would have still ended up with covid and be stuck in Adelaide in isolation! I guess we will remember this and it will become part of our family folk lore to be retold time and time again. Fortunately for my sister and I, we did at least get most of our money back from the flights we didn’t take. In the mean time we have set our sights on the family reunion take 2 at Christmas.
Rereading Dickens’ opening words, I think they sum up just about any time in any era. At any time there are people experiencing the best of times, while others are going through the worst of times. Some nations seem to be turning away from inaction and dysfunction, while others seem to be heading for anarchy. While some parts of the world are in the heat of Summer, others are in the cold of Winter. And round it goes, from one season to the next. The good news is that Spring is drawing closer and hope always springs eternal.