by Natasha Hatherall-Shawe
I went back to my home country recently for the first time since Covid and many things struck me as changed, generally most was for the worse, with one of the most shocking to me being how much older my parents seemed.
Of course, we speak regularly and I see them every week on Zoom, but it’s only when you spend a significant amount of time with someone that the changes become so obvious and honestly pretty darn scary. What on earth happened during these past two years? When did our parents suddenly become so old? And more to the point, when did we become the ones to have to take over “parenting” and any major decision making? I’m not sure I signed up for this!
I don’t think Covid was anyone’s “friend” really, but definitely not for the older generations, many of whom found themselves spending significant periods of time on their own to avoid catching Covid as they were high risk and dealing with the stress and uncertainty of the Pandemic largely alone. The aging effects of Covid are only just starting to be documented and understood, but it does seem to be a real thing that many of us are experiencing and seeing with our elder relatives and loved ones, especially when living further afield makes the changes being more glaringly obvious which can be quite upsetting to say the least.
My mum isn’t old. She’s in her 60s, which to me in this day and age is not old. I mean, with good health and luck on your side, you could still have another 40 years ahead of you! But all of a sudden after spending a week back home with my family, 60 seems more like 80 and I have no idea where my ball kicking, career driven mother has gone, as she seems to have been replaced by an old lady that I don’t really know at all and I’m not sure I want to keep.
I’d never seen my parents like this. They loved to be out and about and to be social. But when Covid came they were hit with no gatherings, no travelling and everything they could do was limited. The lack of social interaction is clear to see, and this Is definitely one of the biggest areas of change. They didn’t seem too used to company and small talk anymore. They were very insular in all they did and the habits of those used to long periods on their own became apparent. They had a routine which they didn’t like to deviate from. Watching quiz shows for hours or doing a puzzle book “to keep the mind active” was the norm for at least a good portion of the day and dare I say it they’d become super selfish in all they did, from food choices to tv selection, to pretty much every daily bit of routine you can think of.
My frustrations only got worse anytime I asked my mother to make a choice or decision, as she now seemed incapable of even the most basic of decisions – you know like what to choose in a restaurant, what shall we do tomorrow or even what to wear. Covid has so much to answer for as I saw first hand how it had snatched every bit of confidence or decisiveness from my parents. I truly was glad I didn’t have to ask them to make any significant decisions right now, although that worry remains with me.
Patiently, I found the right time to address this with my parents, who both when asked agreed Covid had not been an easy or kind time for them and that they didn’t feel themselves either. They felt drained from the isolation and they admitted somedays they just stayed in bed all day. When questioned on how often they saw friends safely or spoke to them on the phone even, they both looked a bit sheepish, which said it all. Neither was anything like their former selves. “I’m not loving life any more” my mother admitted.
Just as I was feeling quite emotional about it, my brother who lives very close to my parents reminded expat me that I don’t get the half of it and that he deals with it on a daily basis, including many daily calls asking him to help make a decision for them. He had a point and my distance only made me feel worse.
Whilst the worst may be over for Covid, or so we assume, the effects of it linger on well after. The reality is we’re all changed from the last two years, which were like none of us had experienced or could imagine. But sadly, the older generations seem the most significantly affected by it and it’s yet to be seen if this can be reversed or whether they can bounce back to their former selves. My parents are left with decision making anxiety and the new uncertain world of learning and adapting and perhaps this is the “new normal” for them and well for all of us.
Covid – you truly are the thing that keeps on giving.