Melanie

How are you feeling today?

I’ve been for a walk, so I’m feeling better than I was when I woke up. I think I’m feeling really overwhelmed. My uncle died of covid-19 last weekend and his wife, my auntie – who called me every other week last year as I was going through my cancer treatment – is all alone. They don’t have children, their daughter died many years ago, and she’s all alone, nobody can go and see her. She’s trying to deal with the logistics, she’s been told the funeral will happen without her, the ashes will be returned to her at some point but she’s not able to be there. I lived with them in London when I first moved there when I was 23, my uncle Bill was a kind of cantankerous old git but he adored me and he always loved chatting on the phone. He’d been ill for a while but he took a turn and he was taken in on Saturday morning and was dead that afternoon. So it’s hit home.

Also, my children had been living with my father in law for two weeks before this, I’d been recovering from an 11 hour surgery after a year of cancer treatment. I’d go over and see them, I was so grateful to my father in law and then all of a sudden, in 24 hours they’re here, all of them, off school… I’m feeling it all, put it that way. We sort of had our own pandemic last year, January last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s been a whole year of treatment. I feel like I’ve been thrown from one weird trauma to another.

What do you miss most right now?

I miss my sea swims. I have a group of girls that I’m friends with here in Bangor and we call ourselves the water babes. They got me through cancer last year – even though I wasn’t able to swim for most of last year, we have a whatsapp group and they just kept me going because they’re filthy, filthy hilarious. They kept my lights on, kept me giggling. I was just so excited to get back swimming after my surgery. The first day I came back swimming with the group, we were 2 metres away from each other because social distancing had kicked in and then we were told we could only be twos and now we can’t swim at all. So I’m really missing my girls, my swims, that giggling in the water. The sea just takes all your troubles away.

I miss my sister and I miss my dad. Weirdly, just before this hit, I took a notion and went to Dublin for the day. I honestly think it was God or whatever telling me, just go and see your sister and your dad because we had no idea this was going to go on as long as it has. So I’m so glad I did do that but I miss them.

What’s somethign that you’ve gained?

Wisdom, maybe? I don’t know what you’d call it but I’m being very reflective, I’m trying to see my responses to things, I’m watching myself and watching how I deal with things. I really believe, after all of last year and the impact it had on our family, having us all together again in such close proximity is quite healing and it’s probably what we need most, even though it’s hard at time. I’m gaining a new perspective. I’m going to have them all  here until September so I really want to make the most of that, even though I also need to balance it with some serious alone time! They range in age from 6 up to 12. My tip for families, invest in the board game ‘Throw Throw Burrito’, it’s the most fun. It’s a card game with dodge ball built in. I haven’t laughed so hard. My 12 year old uses it to get rid of all of her aggression!

Who are you most worried about?

I’m worried about my father in law and my dad. My father in law is coming up 83 and he’s our rock. He’s had our kids, essentially for the last year, for the most part. Even when they weren’t staying with him, he’d be down at the school to say good morning, he’s really involved. And he’s now spent 4 weeks not seeing his grandchildren. A couple of times he walked down and stood at the garden wall but I think he just found it too hard because he couldn’t hug them. I’m a bit worried about the long term impact. I’m kicking myself that we didn’t just all move in together at the time. I’m also concerned about my dad, he’s self isolating with his partner. They don’t live together, they’ve got a lot of freedom usually so I’m more concerned they’re going to die from killing each other! Or that he might die from boredom, all his activities – he’s in the national philharmonic choir, he plays the saxophone, he’s in two different bands, he’s an amateur dramatics director and singer – and all of that’s just been cancelled so he’s bored and I’m concerned that that will have an impact. Those two men are so, so significant and so important in our lives.

What are you most hopeful for right now?

I’m hopeful for a new wave of confidence in female leadership and female visibility. Like Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel – there’s some phenomenal female leaders who are just really owning this moment and dealing with it in a new way. I’m hopeful that that will trickle down to the rest of us feeling confident to stand up and speak. I’m really keen for women over 40 to be seen. I work as a camera confidence coach and the one thing women say to me again and again is ‘I hate my face’, we’ve got to get over that because if we can’t see each other, we don’t think we exist, so I’m hopeful that elder-women and women in their middle age will really step forward into that space of leadership, with their wisdom and their experience and lead the way for young men and women. There’s a lot about how to raise girls at the moment, I’ve got one girl and two boys but there’s actually tonnes to be thought about in how to raise men who are comfortable in their own skins and are compassionate and nurturing. I’m lucky, my parents in law raised four incredible men, who are nurturing, gentle, kind – so I’ve gotten a head start because how Simon fathers and parents is beautiful and the boys are so great, but there’s a lot more. So I’m hopeful for that.