Crosswords and crochet might be new hobbies for some people during the coronavirus pandemic, but they have kept Grace Greenwood mentally agile for some time.
Her daily exercise regime could help explain the 104-year-old’s recent recovery from coronavirus.
For almost three weeks, while in her residential care home, Grace was unable to get out of bed as she had difficulty breathing.
Fortunately, with no underlying health conditions, she did not need to go to hospital and her family are relieved that she has now recovered. They put her strength down to her difficult past.
Grace was born in Burma, worked as a nurse in India, and came to England in 1946.
She has spent much of her life caring for people but during the past couple of years she has been cared for by others at a residential home in Faversham, Kent.
“She was ill a few weeks ago. The home called us and we feared the worst, as we’d hear that some residents had died,” says granddaughter Crystal Apollonia, a make-up artist in London. “But when she found out she’d contracted coronavirus, she wasn’t bothered at all!”
She’s clearly made of strong stuff, which Crystal puts down to her grandmother’s optimism and determination to maintain her daily stretching routine, as well as crossword solving. A glimpse into Grace’s past reveals exactly how robust she has had to be over the years.
Growing up in a mixed heritage family – Irish father, Burmese mother – Grace and her sister were considered outcasts and were sent to an English-speaking boarding school in the rural hills of Kalaw, in the country now known as Myanmar.
At around the age of 20, Grace left Burma to look for work as a nurse in India. She and a friend walked through swamps during the night to cross the border, both arriving with leaches all over their bodies.
In India she worked in field hospitals looking after the soldiers of war. There she met her husband-to-be, Douglas Griffin. They were married and had a four-week-old baby when they travelled by boat to England.
Not long after the birth of their second child, her husband Douglas left and eventually returned to his homeland, South Africa.
Crystal says Grace had a hard life but managed to do everything for herself, including working nightshifts at a London hospital as her two small children remained in care for six months while she settled.
In 1957 she married Tom Greenwood who served as a major in the Army during World War Two. They were happy together but Crystal says he “drunk himself to death” after suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
She survived breast cancer in 1960, after insisting on having her breast removed. At the time, a mastectomy was quite a radical operation.
Sadly, Grace’s daughter died, aged 40, with a brain tumour. Her son, Adrian, Crystal’s father, lives nearby and visits Grace as often as possible. He was able to see her after her recovery from coronavirus.
“Most of her relatives have died apart from me, my parents and my new-born daughter,” says Crystal. “We’re so grateful she’s still around.”
Grace’s son Adrian visited her recently in the care home’s garden – at a safe distance.
Crystal cannot visit as often as she’d like, and Grace is hard of hearing, so the two communicate the old-fashioned way – handwritten letters. The written word has kept the two in touch, as Grace is not that interested in modern technology.
“I have all of her letters in a box. She has really neat writing.” Crystal reveals.
Grace writes a verse of poetry a day, which Crystal says is testament to her positivity and strength.
“Age is irrelevant sometimes. The reason Grandma Grace still stands today is down to her mind and soul.”