Mum posts me emergency tea bags with advice to use one for two cups, so I don’t run out again

Life is good in Oslo, but the mail is the closest I have been to my family in nine months

Claire McAree has lived in Oslo with her husband, Gordon Ryan, for seven years. A sustainability consultant, she is originally from Shankill, Co Dublin. Covid-19 means she won’t be coming home this Christmas

Oslo, Christmas 2020

Today I have checked my postbox three times. This is not like checking for mail on my phone; to check for my post requires finding the key to the postbox, descending flights of apartment stairs and risking interaction with the neighbours.

I have also rung my mum twice to ask if her post has yet arrived. I’ve even talked post with my younger brother: we discussed the joy of the weekend post. Letters and parcels have made their way into my morning meditation. My monkey mind sees travelling parcels journeying through Nordic skies to arrive on Irish shores.

I reflected the other day on my current concern (some might say mild obsession) with post. I came to the conclusion that these thoughts are valid. Post is the closest I have been to my family in nine months. To hold a package that previously lay on the kitchen table of my childhood home takes me back there for a few moments. Seeing my parents’ familiar handwriting, the script that filled notes to my primary-school teachers and has adorned birthday cards and presents year upon year, is beautiful. It is a dependable penmanship.

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Life is happy here, yet these posted packages marked with my name and current address catch me off kilter. They make it evident that I am not there but away. It is a fleeting feeling, a tilting feeling.

Sometimes the parcel will contain the Gloss magazine, nothing else. My husband laughs at the absence of a note, but I love it just as it is: my parents thinking of me, saying to each other “we’ll pop that into the post, Claire will love that”, hoping that these thoughtful actions will ease my longing to be back.

Other parcels contain tea bags. After their arrival my mum will advise on how I should use one tea bag per two cups of tea “to ensure you don’t get stuck, and run out”, she’ll say. She is trying to salve the anxiety I feel during times of Irish tea scarcity. In fairness she has received photos from me on WhatsApp of our empty tea caddy with the words EMERGENCY typed underneath. But I cannot do it, I’ve yet to make two cups from one bag. Disruption to my tea-making ritual may just be that thing that is too much and the resilience needed to conquer this time of separateness will be lost to me.

And so what is the post that I am “on about” to my younger brother, and checking to see if it has arrived yet?

To try and feel more connected to family through this Christmas apart, my husband and I created a family advent calendar. An Excel spreadsheet was used to randomly distribute family members’ names who you were responsible to send post to. It is the sending that is at the heart of the process; it is not a buying thing. We have sent drawings, photographs, homemade face masks and pre-loved finds all of which I have been lovingly wrapped, addressed, stamped and posted.

To precede the arrival of these parcels the advent calendar itself has been posted. The calendar is a photoshopped image of “The Last Supper”, reworked to include facemasks, hand sanitiser and a Christmas tree. Once created, we realised that rather than “The Last Supper” maybe we should have used a nativity scene, but we supposed that subconsciously “The Last Supper” was more fitting, symbolic of the Christmas dinner we will not all be gathering for this 2020 Christmas day.

The image has been divided by my husband using his Stanley knife skills into the days of December. Each morning we opened a cardboard door to find the face of a loved one behind it, this beloved person was then allowed to open their post.

A simple act, but one that was filled with gratitude for having loved ones to send post to. We have clapped, banged pots and pans, lit candles for our healthcare workers and rightly so, but now as the rarity of this Christmas apart approaches, my admiration extends to those working in the postal service. This Christmas it is they who are the glue keeping us anchored to those we love and miss so very much.