Pandemic separates elderly siblings
Mary Darrell longs for life the way it once was. For more than 30 years she and five of her siblings have met every Thursday for dominoes, a meal, and lots of chatter about “the good old days”.
That all stopped in March, when Bermuda went into lockdown because of Covid-19.
Vulnerable at 97, Ms Darrell is yet to see her brother, William Darrell, and sisters Ada Darrell, Thelma Bulford, Lucille Webb and Cynthia Woodley despite the more relaxed restrictions that are now in place.
“I know it really, really hurts her because she wants to be with her family,” said Ms Woodley, who keeps in touch with her sister by phone. “She says to me: ‘These people [who are flouting the physical-distancing rules] need to stay home, because they're getting on my nerves. I can't get my sisters up here. They need to stay home, so we can all get back together again.'
“She gets angry sometimes. I try to tell her we've still got to wait a while.”
Ms Darrell was one of 17 children born to Samuel and Geneva Darrell. Eleven of the siblings are still alive.
The gatherings began after Ada Darrell started hosting a dinner for just two of her siblings, calling them “the golden sisters”.
“When I found out there were three sisters getting together, I said to her, ‘You got some nerve leaving the rest of the sisters out!',” said Ms Woodley. “We all decided to get together. Everybody used to take turns cooking every week — complete meals and desserts.
“That's how it started more than 30 years ago. We talked about our children growing up, and camping — we all took them camping when they were younger — all of that. There was so much laughter, so much fun. That's what we enjoyed.”
For the past 12 years Ms Darrell has lived with her daughter, Sylvia Smith and her husband, George.
It fell to Mrs Smith to pick her up when the dinners finished, usually around midnight.
“She never wanted to leave. We would have so much fun,” Ms Woodley said. “I used to say to her sometimes, Miss Mary, you want me to call Sylvia now because it's getting late? She would say, ‘She'll come when I call her!' So I just used to leave it at that.”
The dinners turned into five-hour lunches at the Smiths' Paget home after Ms Darrell had a stroke. At times forgetful, it falls to her daughter to remind her why the get-togethers had to stop.
“The last meeting was March 12,” Mrs Smith said. “The following week we had the lockdown. She wondered why they couldn't come and I told her at that time that it was the coronavirus.
“I tried to explain to her what it was like and how it affected you. And then, of course, the next week it was ‘Oh, I can't wait to see my sisters' and then I'd have to explain all over again.”
Ms Woodley recalls her sister sharing stories of how her movements were similarly limited during the Second World War.
“I know they said they all couldn't go to the grocery store at that time.
“I think they said the Government had to come around and issue a piece of paper if you wanted to go to the grocery shop to get food for your family.”
Despite the clean bill of health Bermuda has been given by Kim Wilson, the health minister, the family are reluctant to expose Ms Darrell to whatever germs they might have unknowingly picked up from their children or grandchildren.
“She can't wait for it to finish,” Mrs Smith said. “She's convinced that this government don't know what they're doing.
“She is very upset with the Premier [David Burt] and [Ms Wilson]. She asks that this pandemic move away quickly.
“Each day she asks is there still a lockdown, because she misses her sisters.
“At one point she asked if Mr Burt and Ms Wilson know what they are doing ... My husband and I constantly inform her how serious the situation is and she is satisfied with the answer at that time. The next day she mourns for her sisters' and brother's visit.”
To make up for the loss, Mr Smith said he was spending time with his mother-in-law, listening to the tales she would have otherwise rehashed with her siblings.
“I see she's in the doldrums a bit, I try to make her laugh,” he said. “I've let her talk. I've learnt a lot about her childhood, her school days, how she brought her children up, her relationship with her parents, her siblings — and it's been a joy.”
The family also arranged a Zoom meeting so Ms Darrell, the family matriarch, could see relatives here and elsewhere around the world.
“She hadn't seen a lot of her grandchildren — there must be about 30 — and a couple of great-grands and great-great-grands,” Mr Smith said. “How many people at 97 going on 98 have as many as six and seven brothers and sisters with them? That is a great miss, her not seeing her brothers and sisters.”