Therese and Gretta


Therese Kieran in conversation with
Gretta Kieran

Gretta Kieran is my mother. She lives in south Armagh, Ireland, and will be 85 years old on the 27th May. She’s a retired teacher and the most selfless person I know. Gretta’s own mother died aged 50, when she was just 24.

Note 1: March-May

Feeling..? An emptiness, fatigue. Sorry for less fortunate people. At first the social distancing was difficult; not going for a coffee or the shops but we soon learned to stick to the rules. The telephone tires me out. I go at a slower pace. Support local business – it’s important. Meals give the day structure. The human body is frail enough. I’m trying to get up a bit earlier, decide what needs to be done. I keep the worktops clean, use tea tree oil; dust doesn’t annoy me but I can’t stand crumbs. It takes longer to get dressed. The bird table is the best thing we got. There’s a certain freedom too – no make-up and no need to feed anyone who calls. Thank God the early morning palpitations have gone; before, I’d wake up thinking I’m going to die. I take one paracetamol and half a Panadol every night.

Note 2: May-July

She’s complained of low energy for weeks, but on her 85th birthday, surrounded by family in the sunshine, she’s beaming, suddenly restored. She’s been painting stones for a “Covid snake” in the woods, and can’t get enough of the television drama Normal People;

is now reading Sally Rooney’s award winning book.

“I love Connell,” she declares, many times. “Well you’ve seen enough of him,” my sister replies. We reflect on her improved mood.

“You just have to get on with it, I felt so weak, until I decided, less of that would do. I still miss my cappuccinos, but people are decent and your father is good, brings me up tea and toast in the mornings, oh I love that, he’s looking after me well.”

I admire a crystal vase I’m arranging flowers in.

“Waterford,” she says, “over a hundred years old, nicer than that other stuff.” And then, “Would you like it..?”

“I’d love it!” I say.

“And what about the pink Belleek set, who might like that?”

I suggest dividing this antique retirement gift between her grand-daughters. She’s not keen on it being split up. Or how about my sister in Glasgow? She says she’ll think about it.

Note 3: July-August

Socially distancing in the woods

My mother’s “new normal” amounts to a bit more freedom. The opportunity to drive to local towns, meet friends, attend chiropody appointments, get a hair cut, and even a couple of nights in a seaside hotel. “I needed my feet done badly,” she says, an expression that might confuse anyone unfamiliar with her syntax. Another favourite is dad’s, “I’m going up the stairs to throw myself down.” A nap in other words. And whilst he has grabbed this new found freedom with gusto, back to swimming and regular jaunts to Lidl, mum is more cautious saying, “I liked it better when he stayed home during lockdown.” On the phone, I shout, “drive safely!” as he sets out again, “you might as well tell him to go at the speed of sound,” she says. She’s enjoyed getting out but finds plenty to do at home. In her loft studio she continues to paint stones, adding some to ‘Mr Covid’ snake in the woods across the road. There’s a painting planned too for a neighbour, a wedding present. She’s become more focused on her physical fitness, and has added daily stretching exercises to her routine. My niece set her up with a step counting App for walks in the woods. She tries to extend her target saying, “I’m in competition with myself.” She’s 85! She’s amazing.

Gretta with her daughter. Down from Glasgow, this was their first opportunity to be together since lockdown

2 replies on “Therese and Gretta”

Lovely account of Therese’s mother’s uplifting response to lockdown. Tell her she’s impressive

Gretta is inspirational, stoical and pragmatic. I love the painting of stones and creation of the snake. Small things, like small steps moving us forward.

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