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'I can't visit grandchildren in Australia... my heart is bruised and battered'

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Barbara Scully

Barbara Scully

Barbara Scully with granddaughter Emie

Barbara Scully with granddaughter Emie

Barbara Scully

With a new grandson she has yet to meet, and a granddaughter she misses more than she can bear, Barbara Scully is distraught that she doesn't know when she'll see them.

Back last March when we were still wet behind the ears in relation to pandemics, I cheerily wrote quite a lot about the upside of the lockdown. I wrote about how grocery shopping, once you got into the supermarket, was an almost zen experience. I wrote about the silence, about the slow pace and the birdsong. I was relentlessly optimistic even though the experience of having my husband's business fall off a cliff, was slightly terrifying. But we could cope, because I genuinely thought, in my innocence, that we would be back to normal (real normal that is, as opposed to the 'new' normal) by June, at the latest.

June was a beacon of hope and light, most especially because that was the month when our second grandchild was due to be born on the other side of the world - in Perth, Western Australia. I spoke to my daughter (mother of the expected grandchild) every few days.

She was fascinated at our total lockdown with everything shut and our not being allowed further than 2km from home and then only once a day for exercise. Western Australia was originally behind us in the coronavirus sweepstakes and so our tales of this weird new world were of great interest to her.

April became May and was beautiful, sunny and warm. I was tanned and felt healthy from all the walking and cycling and gardening. June started well weather-wise too. We parked our mortgage for a while and felt we could breathe a bit.

But the realisation was slowly dawning on me that my flight to Perth booked for June 19 was most likely going to leave without me. Western Australia had granted me special permission to enter the country but only if I undertook their 14-day enforced quarantine in a hotel room.

Even if I thought I could do that, I would obviously have to do a further 14-day isolation on my return to Dublin, which made the trip no longer a viable proposition.

And so instead of packing the gifts I had bought for the new baby and my almost three-year-old granddaughter, I cried as I packaged them up and sent them on their way without me. I don't know, now, when I'll ever get to meet my new grandson.

I know I am not alone. There must be thousands of grandmothers who have had new grandchildren born to their offspring who emigrated during the last recession and who have made new lives abroad.

Thousands of grandmothers whose hearts ache in a visceral way to smell these new babies, to hold them, to bury their noses in their necks. Instead, we find ourselves cooing into our phones hoping that maybe these precious little ones will learn to recognise our voices, to somehow understand that we are important people in their lives and that we love them in a fierce way that only a grandmother can.

When my daughter left this country in the summer of 2011, I went through all the emotions of grief. Although now I wonder if, in fact, I got stuck midway, at the 'bargaining' stage. Because I only made peace with her far-flung emigration by comforting myself with the fact that she was only 24 hours away. In 24 hours, I could get from my home to hers. Sure, it could take that long to get to Donegal on a bad day.

Her old bedroom became the means by which I could raise the funds to travel down under as I rented it out to a series of third level students. Since my granddaughter was born, those trips have become more frequent and more urgent. They are not holidays; they are important family visits. I made a vow that I would have a relationship with my granddaughter, Emie, regardless of the distance that separated us, and I have seen her about every five months since she was born. I was there for her birth and was the third person to hold her.

I have spent many, many happy hours cuddling her, feeding her, reading to her, telling her stories, baking with her and talking to her on the phone. She recently learned how to call me on the iPad and those calls when all I can generally see is the top of her little head and the ceiling are pure joy. She asks me to take her around the house here, waking up my adult daughters if they are still in bed, checking what her granddad is doing and most of all seeing the dog and the cats.

I last saw my precious Emie in January when I said goodbye to her at Dublin Airport as they left after spending Christmas here. My daughter's early pregnancy bump was barely visible. I promised Emie I would see her in a few months and be there to mind her when her mam and dad had to go to the hospital to get the new baby.

In early June we explained to her about the 'bad germs' which were now worse here than in Perth and which meant that I couldn't get to Australia. I had to stay home. She accepted it in the way that three-year-olds do. Although every time she saw an aircraft in the sky she asked if maybe I was on it.

And so, here we are in July. My newest grandchild, Max, was born on June 24 and I met him shortly afterwards via Facetime. Both he and his mother are doing very well. Being well is a mantra that I find myself repeating ad nauseum at the moment.

"How are you, Barbara?"

"Fed up, scared, angry... but sure we are all well and that is the main thing."

In the absence of having any control over when I can see my daughter and my treasured grandchildren again, it's all I have to cling on to. We are well. Physically well. But my heart is bruised and battered.

For the first time in almost a decade I feel that Australia is drifting away from me and there is nothing I can do about it. It's like watching from inside a spaceship, as my world floats away. "Planet Earth is blue and there is nothing I can do," as a wise man sang once.

And I in my innocence thought we would be all done with this virus by June. I am a fool. A fool who is now holding out for Christmas in the hope that my airline voucher can bring them home and maybe I will finally get to hold my grandson, nuzzle his neck, and make up for lost time with my special girl.

Belfast Telegraph