The headlines tell the big story: hundreds of thousands of people struck ill; residents of senior facilities dying in huge numbers; children unable to go to school; many workers losing their jobs; and people evicted from their homes. But there are smaller hardships from the pandemic, things that go unnoticed over time but can add up to big losses.
I think of friends who are grandparents who either don’t see their grandchildren or see them rarely and under controlled circumstances. Hugs and overnight visits are things of the past. Over the long term, it means missing out on key elements of a child’s life: their first words, when they start school, when they make friends. These are life events that, once missed, can never be recovered.
I have friends who haven’t seen their adult children in more than a year because it’s too dangerous to fly during the pandemic. Phone calls and Zoom interactions can’t make up for being together for several days of intimate conversation and sharing favorite meals, going through old scrapbooks or visiting treasured places together.
The isolation is hard on every age group, but because older people are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, we are less inclined to get together with friends or family. Under even normal conditions, isolation increases as we get older and the rest of the world gets younger. But now, as we need to work harder to stay connected to the world, the pandemic is removing or lessening our connections. Research has shown that isolation negatively affects our health. How many people who are stuck home alone are slowly dying?
I’m a firm believer in exercise, and I’m lucky to live in a place where the sun shines nearly every day, so I can go for a walk. But before the pandemic, on cold, windy days, I would get my exercise at the local rec center. It was a way to get out of the house, be around others and fight the physical deterioration of old age. But with the rec centers mostly closed, I’m unable to join classes that would improve my posture and balance or attend yoga classes that push me harder than I do at home. How many of us, even doing our own exercises at home, will suffer the consequences later, with more osteoporosis and muscle loss, and poorer posture that will follow us into our old age?
I think of the canceled class at the local Y for people with Parkinson’s. The class consisted of physical exertion mixed with mental exercises, like taking steps across the room while counting backwards. Not only was it designed to keep the disease at bay for as long as possible, but the classes also brought together people who found comradeship with others going through the same ordeal. Without these classes, how many will see their Parkinson’s symptoms get worse?
The local senior centers, now all closed, offered classes on everything from writing your family history to making your will. Seniors came together to play bridge, learn a new language and discuss world affairs. These activities keep the mind sharp, plus we’re challenged to voice our opinions while listening to and learning from others. Without that stimulus, our minds suffer.
For those of us who love traveling, the hopes that we would see Alaska again or Budapest for the first time are dimming. Every year, as our physical and mental capabilities diminish, it becomes more difficult to negotiate airports and foreign cities, and comprehend different languages and currency. For those of us who are still physically and mentally able to withstand the rigors of travel, we have a limited amount of time to see the world.
Not being able to see Budapest is a small loss compared to what many people are experiencing, especially those who have lost loved ones to Covid. But for those of us with dwindling days, the losses pile up.
And in addition to the things we’re missing is the time we’re losing. I was okay having Thanksgiving at home alone. But while other people were thinking “There’s always next year,” I couldn’t help thinking “But how many Thanksgivings do I have left?” I’m still in pretty good health but that sort of thinking does rear its head occasionally. And I am missing once-in-a-lifetime events like my grandson’s high school graduation and my granddaughter’s “Continuation” ceremony marking her move from middle to high school.
I think along the same lines: how many more years do I have? It’s especially hard to miss your grandchildren’s major life events.