I know that this is not an unfamiliar story during COVID. Elderly parents are isolated from their children and grandchildren and the subsequent heartbreak of not seeing them. So many children and their parents are separated by space and time and a virus that stands between them and the joy of family, friendship and love. I am not the only one. My nephew who greatly adores his Grandma, feels the loss of her presence all the time, at our family gatherings at weekend events and the special visits with just the two of them.
My mom was born in 1927 to immigrant parents from Italy, desperately poor as they came to the United States with little or nothing. My grandfather, who became a conductor for what is today Amtrak, suffered with intermittent ulcers and was often unable to work. When he was too ill to work my grandmother went into the glove factory and worked as needed. They had a great love affair and a common goal as they came here in their early 20’s to begin a new life and escape the fascism that began to pervade Italy. They quickly understood what America had to offer. They loved this country, and they knew how important family and community was in their lives. They were progressive for their time, as the imprint of fascism and the ability to flee it became their salvo, and their joy.
Today, my Mom at 94 years old lives but 10 miles from me and 15 miles from my brother and his family. My Mom is the hub of our family, not just in her touch points with each of us but also as the hub of wisdom and worry for our well-being. “Have you spoken to Mom?” we ask each other. We speak with her all the time. Pre-COVID weekends were spent with her for dinner, a visit, or for one of my nephew’s basketball games. We found ways to be together all the time. For years a restaurant called Carlos in Yonkers was our clubhouse.
As COVID hit and the communicability of the virus became apparent, our visits and our touchpoints became fewer and fewer and there was a four month stretch where we didn’t see her at all. She has a caregiver who spends a few hours with her every day, an RN who is smart and who cares for her deeply.
We saw Mom outdoors three times during the summer including her August birthday. I went to her home two additional times to help with paperwork. The best day for all of us was when we ate outdoors in late August and then went to the park to watch my nephew play basketball. For Mom, that was pure joy.
We ask her all the time if we could help her or come down to be with her (anything to make that family piece work). Her wisdom takes over and she says:
“Respectfully I don’t want your germs. I’m only letting in here the germs I know.”
So, we continued to abide by her “germs I know” theory, and we stayed away, speaking with her a few times a day, always worried about her well-being as she worried even more about ours in a COVID world.
“Do you have to go to work?”
“Please make sure you wear a mask today, maybe even a double mask”
“Do you really have to go to the grocery store?”
She is far wiser than we. She has never complained about the isolation or the Thanksgiving or Christmas she spent by herself choosing to stay in her bubble. Sure, we made certain that she had Thanksgiving dinner and that her Christmas presents were handed to her through the door, but that is not the same as being around a Christmas tree with her family.
And now she is vaccinated. You want to talk about joy? That vaccine to her means she can safely be with her family again. Indeed, with all of us vaccinated we spent time together on Easter. It was pure joy. So, while my Mom did not have to survive fascism like her parents, she had to survive through the tyranny of COVID. The seemingly indiscriminate intent, killing people with aplomb, one victim after another, and the disproportionate target of the vulnerable. All mimicking the tyranny of fascism. But she survived!
Dr. Fauci, Dr. Walensky, and my Mom’s “germ wisdom” is clear. I am volunteering her as an example of how to survive a pandemic. How to do it with social distancing, a mask, and gloves. How to sacrifice seeing the people you love now for a time beyond this. But mostly how to survive the pandemic with incredible grace and joy.