We’re in lockdown. It’s late at night, deathly quiet and like most of South Africa, I struggle to fall asleep. I lie in bed with the covers pulled up high, my eyes closed and my iPhone by my side.
I listen to the New York Times’ Modern Love, Tiny Love Stories.
Modern Love has inspired me ever since I discovered them. I read them daily, look out for their podcasts, watch the television show and I believe a movie is coming out too.
I’ll be the first one at the theatre.
I’ve often dreamed of writing my own Modern Love story. Right now, I’m in one and it’s beautiful, sexy and inspirational.
But that is not the love story I would like to write about. I would write a different kind of love story.
I would write it to my 91-year-old dad.
My dad is here in Johannesburg, Orchards, not too far from me in Melville, in a retirement and frail care home. He is on his own in a little room with a little bed and a little window. He has dementia and suffers from terrible anxiety. I find talking to him on the phone stressful. He’s deaf and I land up yelling.
“Hey Dad”, I say, “How are you doing?”
“What? What?” he says, drops the phone, holds it the wrong way around, forgets who he’s talking to. I’m on the other side, I ask questions but can’t hear the answers.
We both land up frustrated and it’s awful.
Now, instead of phoning, I’m sending email notes to him, through the staff at the retirement home. I asked if they wouldn’t mind reading to him.
The staff are busy. They’re working triple shifts, they are stressed and they are exhausted. They are putting their own lives at risk, because of the outbreak, and they too are in danger. They are also looking after old people who are mostly confused and upset and lonely and needy and angry.
I am wary of overloading the staff, knowing that old people often take their frustrations out on them. And my dad is not always an angel.
Never was really.
“I know how busy you all are,” I say, “And I honestly understand if you can’t read to him.”
But this is what they do.
In between their 36-hour shifts and their hand washing and scrubbing and sanitising and caring and loving and more sanitising and more washing and more caring and loving, they sit with him and they read him my emails.
Remember there is this horrible virus going around and we all have to stay indoors.
As soon as it’s all over we’ll go shopping for Allergex at Dischem, because that’s what we do. We’ll look at avocados and you’ll say “jeepers” how can it be three billion rand an avocado? And then we’ll eat toasted cheese on white bread and complain about how bad it is, because that’s what we do too.
In the meantime, get some sun. I know you love the sun.
Use sunblock. I promise I will too.
Take care. We all love you.
My dad was a pharmacist. Dischem is his comfort zone. Sometimes he doesn’t remember my name but he still knows every single drug on the market and every single active ingredient. Especially for Allergex, of which he is extremely fond.
I also mention the sun because his happiest moments are sitting outside, on their veranda, an old and frail man who loves to rest while tilting his face up towards the sun.
I send the emails and I never expect replies.
But I get them. Again, thanks to the staff. They find the time, in the sweetest most lovely of ways.
Dad loved the message today and had a good giggle about the sun. The twinkle in his eye tells me he is going to hold you to the promise of toasted cheese. We’re looking after him well. He sometimes thinks he’s working in the pharmacy and we play along. But he’s doing well and so are we.
Feel free to write any time.
My dad is in good hands. And I think the fact that he doesn’t quite understand Covid-19 may be a blessing. There are amazing people looking after him. He has a good stash of Allergex. He has my sister and I from a distance. And he has the sun.
This is my Modern Love Tiny Love Story.
It’s not just to my dad though.
It’s to the nurses, caregivers, cleaners and all other workers at the retirement home where he stays. It’s also for those people doing similar work, the hard work, the difficult work and the emotionally shattering work, all around South Africa, and the world at large.
Thank you so much for everything. DM/ ML
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Looney Tunes was established to promote its music. Thus why it is called "Tunes" and not "Toons".