When Lynn Shouls, 57, a retired solicitor from Kent, was a baby, her lung collapsed. Her mother, Eileen Bryan, noticed straight away. “If it wasn’t for her, I might not be here at all,” Lynn says. “She was very quick about it. It must have been terrifying.”
Eileen grew up in Peterborough, in an ordinary family. She married a bank manager, Patrick, whom she met on holiday in Torquay, in 1951. “It was a very happy marriage,” says Lynn. “They’d go about everywhere hand in hand.” The couple had two children, Lynn and her sister, and Eileen worked part-time as an accounts clerk after she had children, which was relatively unusual at the time. “She knew her own mind,” says Lynn. “Most women stopped work completely when they married and she didn’t want to do that. She was quite determined and strong and was never going to be persuaded otherwise.”
Lynn had lifelong problems with her lungs, but Eileen never made a big deal of it, instead encouraging her daughter to achieve anything to which she put her mind. “I could have been mollycoddled as a child, but instead she gave me this attitude that I could do almost anything,” she says. “It was about just getting on with things – that was her whole mindset.”
When Lynn came home from school, she would sit at the kitchen table for half an hour and tell her mum about her day. “If I was upset about something, she’d always tell me that things would be better in the morning,” says Lynn. “And they always were.” Eileen loved sewing and gardening. “She could have judged The Great British Sewing Bee.” She was meticulous: when Lynn bought clothes, Eileen would inspect them and could tell if they had not been made properly. Eileen made almost all her clothes herself.
When Patrick was diagnosed with dementia, Eileen was his carer. “It was hard,” Lynn says. “Dad would get frustrated sometimes. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t do things like before.” Sometimes, Eileen would intentionally let his car battery run down, to stop him driving off. Patrick died in 2015 and Eileen lived on her own for two years, before moving into a care home in Cambridgeshire.
“She accepted the home quickly,” says Lynn. “I admire her for that. She said the food was good.” She grew closer to her mother in the last decade of her life. “That’s one of the upsetting things about this,” she says. “We were getting so much closer. It became more like a friendship.” When she visited, Eileen would always notice if she was wearing something new. They’d do crosswords together. Eileen was in good health: she had had a small stroke in 2018, but recovered well. “She was not remotely approaching her death.”
Lynn says Eileen was sounding wheezy and feeling unwell on 11 May; she tested positive for Covid on 15 May and went downhill rapidly. She died in hospital on 19 May. Lynn could not visit, because of her lung condition. A nurse held a phone to her mother’s ear, so she could say goodbye. “I thanked her for always being my greatest supporter and told her how much I loved her.”
She has considered trying to investigate how Covid got into her mother’s care home, but ultimately decided against it. “I’ve thought about it, but I’m not sure if it will help me.” She is angry at the government, for not locking down sooner or providing more personal protective equipment and clearer guidance to the care sector. “My mum was the most straightforward person you could wish to meet,” she says. “And she was badly let down by our government.”
Lynn is also angered by the dismissive tone with which some people talk about fatalities among older people. “It’s disgusting to say that they were old and going to die any way,” she says. “The vulnerable deserve our care and attention. These people have given so much to society. They should be the most protected.”