That Could Have Been Me

Sometimes you hear a story in the news that you can’t get out of your head. A friend is obsessed with the story of an older couple who refused to leave their homes during our wildfires this fall, because they thought they would be safe in their cement bunker. Tragically, they didn’t survive the intense fire, and my friend wants to know why their children or officials didn’t make more of an effort to persuade them to leave.

A story that has obsessed me for the past month is the senseless death of a 71-year-old man who was attacked while riding on a bike path not far from where I live. Apparently, his assailants wanted his bike, something scarce and valuable in a time when people feel the need to escape their homes.

Two days before I read the article about his death, I was on that same bike path, although on the opposite (west) end. I’m also the same age as the victim. I can’t help but think that easily could have been me. It’s a reminder that death can come any time, out of the blue and in the least likely places: a public bike path on a warm day, to someone just enjoying the fresh air and sun.

After the initial reporting, I searched the newspaper every day to find out what exactly happened. Although the details were sketchy, it sounds like three men went to grab the victim’s  bike, and in the process the victim was injured badly enough that he died a week later. Did he fall and crack his head or did they rough him up enough that he couldn’t survive his injuries? Or did he have a heart attack in the process?

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The Pandemic’s Unseen Toll

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?

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