HOW I AM CHANGING WITH THE PANDEMIC
It has taken a pandemic for me to find my voice. Ordinarily, I just go along to get along, rarely taking a stand, and that has certainly been true in my 52-year marriage, but the COVID threat changed that. My husband, Larry, has had this part-time job where he takes older clients who can no longer drive to their doctors’ appointments. It has been good for him because it allows him to see up close and personal how folks fight to stay independent as they age.
He had become “the new best friend” of Mary, one of these clients, who had him take her grocery shopping after her doctors’ appointments. They were both diabetic and were sharing their shopping finds. In March of 2020, just as we were all trying to get our heads around what this COVID virus meant, hubby got a call from his agency asking him to sign on to take Mary to dialysis three times a week, which immediately got my attention. I felt in my gut that this was a threat to our safety. I knew it was important that Mary go for her dialysis, but I was determined that my husband wasn’t going to take her. Communications in our household has never been our strong suite. I told him how I felt, and I didn’t think he was processing the information. That was when I said I would protect both of us as best I could from COVID, and if he wasn’t going to allow me to protect him, then I would do everything necessary to protect myself. I said if he took this assignment, he wasn’t welcome back in our house. I knew at that point that COVID had been brutal on an older population whose health was compromised. The idea of his being in a dialysis facility three times a week for hours at a time was risky, not only to him, but to me.
At that point, I was running on sheer adrenalin. I called Frank, the former owner of the company hubby worked for to get his take. When Frank retired, he held onto the van and had been giving rides to clients who needed a wheelchair. Hubby had been doing some work for him as well until we understood he was an independent contractor and was responsible for insuring himself. No insurance company would cover us for that arrangement. Frank said he wasn’t running the service at that time, at which point I took a deep breath and called Larry’s current employer and told them they weren’t following CDC guidelines putting someone Larry’s age in a risky environment where COVID could be contacted. They assured me it would be fine. I was sure they were delighted that they had found someone for the job so that was one more thing they could check off their “to do” list. I advised them to check with their corporate counsel, because I believed they would advise them that they had a liability issue. That got their attention. When they got back to me, they said they would find someone else to take Mary to her dialysis. I knew I had overstepped what I would ever consider doing under normal conditions, but I didn’t feel these were normal conditions. I felt that our health, safety and our well-being were on the line. Mary later got in touch with Larry. The gal at the agency had told her that we had moved out of the area. Larry wasn’t sure what the mix up was, but I heard him say that I had him on a very short leash….
Since that exchange, everything in our relationship seems to have changed for the better. Our communications have improved. We are paying more attention to how each other feels. We are enjoying the time we spend together. At least once a day we meet on the deck to take a break and play with the dog. In the middle of a pandemic, life is good!
I was looking forward to 2020. It was going to be a very special year for me. Usually we got to visit our families only once a year, at Christmas time, which, in Australia, is synonymous with the summer holidays. However 2020 would be different. I had three trips planned.
First of all, our daughter was due to give birth to our first (and only) grandchild in April. She herself was born in England, far from any other family, and I promised myself that I would be with her to help in those first difficult weeks when her turn came. Now she and her husband are living in South Australia far from any relatives or close friends. I had my suitcase packed in our spare room ready to go when the time came.
Covid came first. We were sent to do our work from home where everything took much longer. Australia shut down. I reluctantly unpacked my bag and instead stocked the spare room with everything that a covid patient might need. We bought a digital thermometer and an oximeter. I was absolutely certain that at least one of us, and probably both would get the virus.
And by summer, I expected, we would be back at work with covid a distant memory.
I had found it extremely hard to break my promise and not be able to be there after Ambrose had been born. Still I expected to be able to make the second trip I had planned which was to attend my mother's ninetieth birthday celebration in October. I had made a special trip ten years earlier for her eightieth. October came and went. Then it became clear that we would not even be able to make our regular Christmas visit.
Each Australian state is only accepting a limited number of people on repatriation flights. For example, Western Australia only takes in 512 a week, set by the number of beds available in quarantine. The flights are very expensive (e.g. cheapest US$6,119 per person), as is the two weeks' quarantine (AU$2520 or $3360/couple). And now it appears that it will be another 18 months before we can be with our families.
A year or more seems to have gone by in a flash. It's as if there has been a pleat in time. Time has folded back on itself so we have jumped straight from 2019 to the present.
How did I get through this time?
Firstly I had the companionship of my husband, the person I would have chosen to be with. He helps me get through those really low times. He takes me out for an hour's walk each day, rain, snow or shine.
Skype had already been our way of keeping in touch with both our children. Now we were able to watch Ambrose grow from a helpless newborn to a toddler with a big smile, climbing up on everything, waving to us and getting frustrated when things don't go the way he wants. This contrasts to the time when Alix had been born in England and phone calls were a pound a minute with rent at eleven pounds a week. So a week's rent would give us an eleven minute call. Those calls were few and far between. Now I use Facetime to talk to my mother and sister. The internet has been essential. I started WomenExplore on Zoom and I am now running my art group on Zoom too.
I should also mention the absolutely amazing work done by multitudes of people around the world coming together to create numbers of vaccines in record time. I would not have believed that my husband and I could have been fully vaccinated by now. Vaccines provide the hope that covid will finally be overcome.
People have been kind, such as the friend who gave us a packet of surgical masks at the beginning when we didn't know what to do.
But always in the background is the sadness caused by not being able to be there for my daughter, my mother, my son, and our sisters and other family members.
Resilience and Contentment during the Pandemic, March 2020 - May 20, 2021
Leigh Sherrill - May 20, 2021
We, my husband and I, are very lucky. We have medical workers in our family and close by who helped us quarantine efficiently in mid-March of 2020, answering questions as time went on. We were able to get vaccinated very soon after the clinic opened up in our town. We have remained healthy during this period of time, although my husband continues to need to manage his Parkinson’s Disease.
Through the computer and IPad we have maintained contact with friends and family, the technology allowing me to play bridge online and write my weekly column for the local newspaper. Our library developed a system to phone in a book order with the book then packaged and placed on an outside bench for pickup. Our librarian is especially good at procuring books the collection does not have and suggesting books I might like. In addition we have shelves and shelves of books here at home that I can reread or read for the first time. A special treat has been the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, of which we have 16 books that before the pandemic I had not read.
Although I am a fairly consistent housekeeper, neglected spaces received some more thorough attention such as the shed, the garage, and the attic with more work to do to clean out the attic. We are very poor at throwing things away as they carry so many memories, but even handling those items and allowing the memories to surge into our thoughts brings pleasure.
Most of all I relished the unscheduled existence. Yes, we have been retired for 20 years, but having always been involved and therefore busy people, once retired to Maine we jumped into life here with relish, never stopping to think that retirement might signal less action.
But the pandemic did give us that signal. And with less action I found more time to observe and enjoy. I love music and have a large collection of CD’s, but I rarely play them because I have come to enjoy the quiet more.
We have always, in retirement, had bird feeders, but checking them only for refill. Now we delight in watching many varieties of birds feed and fly and return for more.
Watching the seasons change and completing the concomitant chores has brought pleasure because time is flexible and plentiful. Especially this spring watching the humming birds return and the tulips and daffodils grow to flowering, and the trees bud and then burst into leaf has brought much joy.
An evening routine of watching local news and then international news, and then eating dinner and then watching two sessions of MASH, is a good combination for us, first bringing us up-to- date with the world and then nourishing our bodies and then relaxing with humor we appreciate.
In 60 years of marriage we have grown to know each other very well. We may prick or rub a tender spot now and then, but love and need for each other soon mends the wound. With two out of three of our offspring in Maine and not far away, we have backup forces with friends to back them up if necessary.