Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

While I wait, impatiently, to get the Covid-19 vaccine, I can look back at the last year with some appreciation. I’ve learned a lot, although the victories have often been hard won.  

I’ve never been good at technology. Designing my own web site was pure torture, which is one reason it took almost a year to complete it. But with the pandemic, I (and the rest of the world) have had to live most of my life online—chatting with friends, talking to my doctor, and now signing up for the vaccine. (For seniors who don’t have computers, this part has been a challenge.)

I think I’ve mastered Zoom (except for the white light from my webcam that makes my face look ghostly), although it probably took a good six months to become comfortable with it. For the first few months I found myself staring at my image on the screen: was that really how I looked?

Since the pandemic, I’ve attended online conferences and talks that I probably wouldn’t have gone to in person for a variety of reasons—too late at night, too cold out, no place to park. Now, from the comfort of my home, I’ve learned about Boulder’s watershed, been inspired by spiritual teachers from around the country and listened to two of my favorite nature writers talk about the climate crisis.

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Dodging a Bullet

Everyday, almost the first thing in the morning, I read the local newspaper to find out the most recent number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 in my county. The daily tabulation belies the pain and tragedies of this pandemic: 145 new cases, no deaths on Monday; 180 new cases, one death on Tuesday; 110 cases, two deaths on Wednesday. Although no names are given for the pandemic’s latest victims, the news reports give their ages and whether they were residents of a senior group home: one in their 70s; one in their 60s; two in their 80s; two of the deceased in a long-term facility.

Almost all the deaths are people over 60, with many in their 80s. Because I’m 71, it feels like death is knocking on doors all around me, that it comes blowing down the streets and paths of my town, skirting the edges of my house. I shut myself in, close the windows, lock the doors and try to turn away. But it’s out there.

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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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