Almost every day I receive a comprehensive email update from the director of the nursing home where my dad lives. He’s been there a couple years now, since his last stroke, and it is his home – the nurses and personal aides, custodial and maintenance staff, and his friends and neighbors there, are all another family to him. At this time, of course, nursing homes seem to be almost in a different world as we go through this COVID-19 crisis. As the numbers in Connecticut just start to improve overall – and here in Vermont they’re already getting ready to reopen the state – nursing homes continue to be in a very desperate situation. As I watch the news and see improvements around the country, my worry only grows, as the cases in my dad’s nursing home, and in his own unit, grow.
He is in good spirits. He has always ultimately answered difficulty and tragedy with some kind of open acceptance, that allows not just for the given pain and sadness, but also for the welcoming of joy and renewal; underlying his suffering is an insistence on positivity, that he must eventually come to. He doesn’t always understand what is going on in this situation. Some days he recalls there’s a virus, some days he recalls how serious it is because he’s had the news on all day. Some days he has forgotten why everyone there is on lockdown and unable to go outside or have loved ones visit. Most days he sounds good, we laugh frequently during our talks, and he may get tired of us asking him day after day, how he is feeling.
This is the toughest part of the pandemic for me, so far. I’m fortunate to have not lost income through this (at least not yet), and although the availability of food and other supplies has been a bit strained at times, I have enough on hand to not go hungry. But, this toughest part is tough enough. I have come close to losing my dad before, quite a number of times since I was very young. Just last fall the doctors at YNHH were telling me he may not survive the pneumonia he had. A week later he was home and recovering, and had forgotten his stay at the hospital. This is different, because this is so horrible and unpredictable an illness for so many, and given stay at home orders and obvious limitations in health care settings, I could not even be by his side, or even one room away.
I hesitate to even talk too much about this. I felt it was inevitable that his home would be struck with this. I don’t feel an inevitability with anything else, but I’m aware it’s all possible, of course. Unlike much else, it is truly entirely out of my control – there is literally nothing I can do about this situation to change it, and that makes me realize that giving in to worry is pointless. The worry is there, always, but it is not governing my actions.
I do sometimes wish I had the ability to meet every hardship with easy laughter, with a sort of innocent, trusting bravery. My bravery is different. Cautious optimism and confidence underlie much of how I approach difficult times, humor to some degree. I also tend toward the proactive, determined, and passionate approach. Those things will make little difference in this case. So, I am left with a sense of surrender. It seems to be all that is really available to me, as each day comes.
photo: Sandy Point State Reservation, Plum Island, Ipswich, MA; one of my favorite places anywhere.