‘HELLO!’ such a simple word. Five letters, two syllables. Spoken several times a day without much thought. Thrown out in passing, shouted across the street, as we enter a shop, greet someone in the local cafe, throw open the front door – ‘Hello’ we call out, ‘Anyone home?’. I never gave the word much thought, it had never held much significance – until recently.

It was on a Skype call to my Dad, across the miles. Miles that seem bigger in magnitude than ever before, now that our borders are tightly shuttered due to this pandemic.

We call regularly, a couple of times a week, but rarely when Mum’s awake. Alzheimer’s disease has robbed her of conversation, when I call in the daytime she’s frequently distressed, pacing, muttering non sensical things. Over the past eight years words have slipped from her grasp. At first she repeated them, told stories from her past, now she has just a few and is rarely able to use them to communicate with any clarity.

Dad calls her over, tells her I’m there, but it’s all too hard. She’ll step into his study, hear our voices, then wander out again. So I call him at nighttime, when Mum’s asleep, when he can relax after a busy day caring for her.

And then last weekend my sister was visiting. I let her and Dad know I was free to call, whenever it was easiest for them, after Mum was tucked up in bed. But she was awake and was calm for a change.

Claire led Mum through into the study, where Mum sat agreeably next to Claire on the piano stool. I called out, ‘Hello’ and waved enthusiastically, almost willing my hand to reach through the screen and touch my Mum’s hand. To our delight Mum called back with wonderful clarity, ‘Hello’ and then waved her hand, over and over again, much like a ‘Royal’ wave or as though she was conducting an orchestra.

Mum looked at me, really seemed to ‘see’ for a moment and repeated the word and the wave, causing tears to well up in my eyes and a warmth fill my heart. My sister stroked Mum’s arm with one hand, whilst cradling her in a close embrace with the other, smiling and also deeply touched by Mum’s response.

It’s been months since I’ve seen Mum, though I think of her all the time. The last time I touched her hand was in March, before I had to return to New Zealand. To see her acknowledge me and to hear her say ‘Hello’ was overwhelmingly wonderful and bittersweet all at once.

I don’t know when I’ll touch her hand again, but that one word, ‘Hello’ meant the world to me.

‘Hello’ meant more than a greeting, it held all the other things I know my Mum feels but can’t communicate. I heard, ‘I’m still here, I love you, I know you care and love me too, I have so much to say – if only my brain could process the words’.

‘Hello’, five letters, two syllables, made the miles between us dissolve into nothing – just for a blissful moment – and carried the power of love.