t’s been more than 13 months since I’ve seen my mum (or to use her proper name, mammy). It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing her. We have been separated before – there was that year in Australia when I was 19, then six months in South America in my mid-twenties, which I’m sure felt long for her, but flew by for me as I was so busy having fun.
But this latest period of separation has felt tougher in so many ways. Not only because we’re stuck at home and time has stretched on relentlessly, but because she’s vulnerable. She’s been in hospital twice during all this (once with pneumonia) and I’ve been left feeling redundant at the end of a phone line. And also, because this time there are kids involved – my own and my brother Thomas’s kids – it’s just not fair that she doesn’t get to see them and that they don’t get to see her.
For the past 20 years, mammy has been back in her home city of Derry, in Northern Ireland. Though I’ve never actually lived there, Derry is very much a home city of sorts for me too.
It’s where I returned to during university holidays, where Christmases have been spent squabbling, laughing and getting drunk for a couple of decades and, more recently, it’s where my brother Eoin died and where he is buried…