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So close but so far away... how coronavirus crisis is forcing us to spend Mother's Day apart

This Sunday is a day for treating mums to cards, presents and a meal, but for many families in Northern Ireland the occasion will be tinged with sadness as they celebrate in a markedly different way

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Siobhan McGarry and her mum Bridie

Siobhan McGarry and her mum Bridie

Emma Garrett and her mum Phyllis

Emma Garrett and her mum Phyllis

Siobhan McGarry and her mum Bridie

Freelance TV and radio journalist Siobhan McGarry is heartbroken that from this week she has been unable to visit her mother Bridie McNiece (85) who has dementia and is in a nursing home.

Siobhan, from Lurgan, who has two grown-up sons, Ruairi and Eolann, and a younger daughter Mainie (17), has been working with Manor Court nursing home to set up a group for relatives to contact loved ones via WhatsApp and FaceTime.

Not being able to take her mum out this Sunday to celebrate Mother's Day as she has done for many years will be hard, but it is not being able to see her at all that is causing Siobhan a lot of distress.

She says: "Mum has had dementia for over three years and it mostly affects her short-term memory.

"She still recognises us and we refer to it as being 'pleasantly confused' and we feel lucky in that respect.

"I call with Mum every day and my sister calls every evening, and my two brothers also are in and out when they can.

"When you are there in the moment with Mum she is so full of chat and has great craic and sings songs but she can forget five minutes later that you were there.

"Now we are in a situation where we are being asked to stay away and I'm not going to be able to hold her hand or give her a kiss.

"Just thinking that I can't give her a hug is very difficult, and all you can do is trust in the wonderful care she is getting in Manor Court home in Lurgan."

Aware that many others are facing the same situation, Siobhan has been working with the home this week to develop a way of getting relatives together with their loved ones via video link.

Not being able to take her mum out or spend time with her has hit her hard, and she hopes that at least she will be able to see her mum via the internet to chat.

She says: "At least with a video call I will be able to speak to Mum and have a chat although it won't be the same as there is no substitute for being with her.

"I am hoping it will be set up for Mother's Day which was always a day we celebrated with Mum. We would have taken her out and had lunch or dinner together just like Christmas or Easter or any other special occasion.

"Needs must this year and it will be a very different Mother's Day. I hope to be able to leave a card and present for her."

On previous occasions when the home has had to go into temporary lockdown, due to the outbreak of flu or bugs, Siobhan and her family have been able to arrange to talk to her mother through the window of her ground floor room.

Although this also requires some organisation with the already pressurised staff, Siobhan is hoping that it will be another way of seeing her mum in the coming weeks.

She adds: "Mum can look out of the window and we can see her and talk by the phone and we have done that before, although you always knew then that it was going to end and the lockdown was usually just for seven days.

"What we are going through now is unprecedented and we don't know how long before we get to see her again. There are so many people in the same position as us and I just hope we all get through it and there are good times at the other end.

"Mum used to say that worrying was a useless emotion, that it doesn't get you anywhere, and I am trying to do something positive by helping residents and their families stay in contact

"Most people have a phone and if they can get even a cheap tablet to their loved one, it is one way to be able to see them. You can talk on the phone but seeing them is the big thing."

Emma Garrett from Co Down is coping with not being able to spend quality time with her mum on Sunday by already looking ahead and planning an extra special treat for next Mother's Day.

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Emma Garrett and her mum Phyllis

Emma Garrett and her mum Phyllis

Emma Garrett and her mum Phyllis


Emma's mum Phyllis Dyer (74), who lives in Carryduff, has to self-isolate because she is the main carer for her brother Ronald Carroll (68) who is in the high-risk category due to health problems.

Emma, who also lives in Carryduff, says she is devastated at not being able to spend quality time with her mum this weekend.

Emma (38) is chief executive of Mallusk Enterprise Park. She is married to Richard (45), a self-employed landscape gardener, and they have two children, Joshua (9) and Myles (7).

"Mum and Dad split up when I was 10 months old and Mum brought me up on her own. We have always been very close.

"I have a brother and sister who are 11 and 14 years older than me so it was always me and Mum, and I feel it is my time to look after her and now I can't even visit her which is really hard.

"She is such a huge part of our lives. She comes with us on all of our family holidays and looks after my children and would even have dinner ready for us at night when we come home from work.

"The kids can't understand why they cannot see their nanny as they are very close to Mum.

"We usually would have dinner together on Mother's Day and I'm devastated that we won't be able to do that.

"I have ordered her a hamper and flowers and a couple of bottles of wine and will leave them at her door. I hope to talk to her through the window with the kids, keeping a good distance away."

To make up for the disappointment of not being able to celebrate Mother's Day with her mum, Emma is trying to remain optimistic and plan ahead for next year.

"While I am disappointed not to be seeing my mum, I am aware that people are losing their mums and there are many who worse are off," she says.

"I am thinking about next year and planning something really special so that Mum has something to look forward to.

"I think we have to be optimistic and look forward and also come together as a community and try and help each other out."

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