Friday, 1st January

For the last weeks, it seems I have been living almost constantly in the dark. I wake and work and walk Tasha before the sun comes up, and often don’t go outside again until the dog’s late afternoon promenade, when the day is well on the wane. Even at noon, bad weather has meant the sky rarely brightens beyond a dull lead grey. It’s been an appropriate way to see out a sombre year.

Just as aptly, 2020 finished with all too many reminders of how quickly Covid can close in.  

Our daughter and son-in-law had to cancel their Christmas visit with us. They live in London, where a 70% more contagious variant of the virus began to rage, and all travel to and from England was banned (oddly just days before the British politically, socially and economically isolated their country via Brexit). As Georgina and Amal are expecting a baby at the end of February, their absence was especially disappointing for the grandparents-to-be.

A day later my husband David woke up with body aches and a fever. The night before his Covid test, we learned that his 94-year old mother had come down with the coronavirus and was being hospitalised. After nine months of almost complete isolation from family and friends at her assisted living facility, it seemed a particularly cruel blow.

David luckily tested negative, and a few days after Christmas, his resilient mother appeared to have survived Covid and was almost ready to be discharged.

Though we are not officially locked down here in Paris, it has often seemed so. Partly thanks to a lot of rain, Tasha and I have found ourselves alone in the Tuileries Gardens on many a morning. It is both eerie and magical, having the heart of this great city all to myself.

In keeping with the gravity of the times and to discourage outdoor gatherings, the French government cancelled the fireworks last night. With an 8pm curfew that has been in place for the last several weeks, here is the boulevard St Germain on New Year’s Eve.

It is now Saturday morning and I have just deleted the rest of what I wrote yesterday. We got the news last night, New Year's Day, that David's mother had died, I guess you'd say from 'Covid-related complications'.

1996, Château Gaillard, embracing grandchildren and step-grandchildren

Beth was one of the most gentle and loving souls I have ever met; I would be suspicious of anyone who didn't like her. She had a long and mostly happy life, but what an end. All those months of solitary confinement to protect her from the disease that somehow got through the door anyway. Even her daughter Julia, who lives 10 minutes away and has faithfully cared for her over the years, could not be with their mother in her final days. The circumstances deepen the ache considerably; the thousands of similar Covid stories do little to alleviate the pain of this personal case.

But I cannot end on a negative note. Beth would not have stood for it. Buttressing her resilience and benevolence was an unfailing optimism. She would remind me that the sun has shone these last weeks and in its oblique winter way, quite brilliantly.

She would insist I point out to you that hard as it has been to be separated, we can still find joy in virtual togetherness. Your beloved family has flourished, she would say. You can see it in their smiling faces on the New Year's Zoom card.

The mother of four, grandmother of four more and great-grandmother of three, would add: Think of your radiant daughter and the little person she is bringing into the world. You have no idea how much that new life will enrich all of yours.

Beyond lots of bad, Beth would conclude, you have to look for the good.

In loving memory of you, dear Elizabeth Carney Morrison, here's hoping for 2021.

2011