Pandemic Journal: The BeforeTime and The AfterTime

Have you ever lived through a life-dividing event? Something where your life is truly divided unquestionably in half? The “before life” and the “after life,” pardon the very bad pun.

Let me give you an example. My life changed in an instant in 1993, when my former husband experienced a massive stroke. There was life before the stroke, and then there was life after the stroke. Everything changed in the blink of an eye, literally everything.

I won’t linger on this topic, but you assuredly get the idea.

Sometimes these events are absolute lines in the sand with a before and a very clear after. A car accident, perhaps, or a traumatic death that occurred suddenly.

And then, there is the other kind, like we’re living through now. It’s more like before, followed by a slow-rolling purgatory.

In my state, the first death from Covid-19 happened precisely a month ago today when Michigan had a total of 55 cases. Today, the confirmed Michigan cases approach 31,000 and the deaths, more than 3,237. On March 23rd, when we had 263 cases and 6 deaths, the Michigan governor issued a stay-at-home order – and it’s working because we see the curve begin to flatten, although we are a LONG way from out of the woods.

The stay-at-home order began less than a month ago, although I had already been self-isolating because of exposure to some very ill people at RootsTech. Other than when I’m traveling, I actually don’t go out much anyway. I work from home, but I’m telling you, life before the pandemic seems like a very, very long time ago – even for a homebody like me.

That former life existed back across that divide – sometime in the BeforeTime, which seems somehow disconnected from today.

Uncertainty

What’s making this more difficult, aside from the horrible devastation of Covid-19 itself, of course, is uncertainty:

  • Anxiety about who will contract the disease and who will die.
  • After-effects on those who get it, become very ill and survive.
  • Economic stress, including lost jobs, lack of insurance, medical bills, food insecurity for many, etc.
  • Mental health toll.
  • Testing, or lack thereof, for both active cases and antibodies. Concerns about immunity.
  • Responsibly lifting the stay-at-home restrictions so that we don’t experience a resurgence.
  • Ongoing risks before a vaccine is available.
  • When will a vaccine be developed, and will it be effective?

All of these things are ingredients dumped into the mother cauldron of worry called, “What Will the AfterTime Look Like?” Really, there is no going back to normal. Normal will have changed – we just don’t yet know how. Nor do we know when the AfterTime will arrive. As someone said this past week, “the most difficult part of this is the uncertainty.”

This experience has made me think about several things from an entirely different perspective. You might say I’m seeing with new eyes. Nothing like walking that mile in someone else’s moccasins.

I’m Now a Dog

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Never in my life have I been so excited about going for a car ride. Why, I even changed to my good sweatpants from my “other sweatpants,” although I can barely tell the difference anymore. I’ve just about devolved to the point that I no longer care if my t-shirt matches by sweatpants or leggings.

I’m now excited about the prospect of taking the trash out too. When you’re feeling deprived, anything and everything seems like a good idea. “Here, hold my mask!”

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My husband has been dropping off finished face masks or shipping them where they need to go. Yes, this is an essential service – just ask the medical personnel who are the recipients.

Today, I told him I was going along (and staying in the car) because I just had to get out of the house and “blow the stink off,” as we used to say back in Indiana.

And then the memories began pouring back in.

Blowing the Stink Off

I realized that I take having a car for granted and driving as well.

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When I was growing up, we owned a car, and of course, my mother drove. She was a single mom and there was no choice in the matter. However, many of my friend’s families only had one car, and Dad got dibs because he’s the one who went to work every day. More mothers didn’t work, then, than did.

Our neighbor lady didn’t drive at all. When she needed to go someplace, her husband drove when he got darned good and ready. Eventually, her kids learned to drive and they took her when the family car was available.

That old joke about Sunday drivers was rooted in reality.

“Blowing the stink off” was just our way of saying we need to go for a ride, not to do an errand, but because we’d been cooped up in the house for at least a week – or maybe most of the winter, also known as “cabin fever.”.

More often than not, we rolled the windows down, let the wind blow through our hair – and on a good day, we stopped at the drive-in and got an icy cold Rootbeer. If all we could afford was the ride, that was fine too.

Today, my husband and I had a picnic in our car in a parking lot, after our errand. Living large, I’m telling you! And you know what? It was WONDERFUL!!!

I had my nose pressed up against the window on the way home and tried not to drool down the window.😊

He wouldn’t let me stick my head out and pant.

Shut-Ins

Hey, let me out!!!

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The progression of life at that time in rural Indiana was that as one aged, assuming the grim reaper didn’t visit suddenly, a person would slow down, stop doing as much and eventually stop driving. As their health deteriorated, they became what was known as a “shut-in.”

That term wasn’t used derogatorily, just descriptively.

At the little crossroads country church we attended, the preacher would record the sermon on a cassette tape for each shut-in member. The congregation dutifully bought several recorders, and they would be lined up in front of the podium as the preacher preached and the choir sang.

The church ladies, including Mom, would then take the tapes and recorders to the homes of the “shut-ins” so they could hear the sermon.

Of course, Mom always took something else too, usually food, and always helped out and visited when she dropped off and picked up the tape and recorder on Friday or Saturday so the next Sunday’s sermon could be recorded.

I realized a few years ago that the reason Mom would not give up her incredibly expensive Avon routes until she no longer had a choice, more than 25 years after she retired from her job as a bookkeeper, was because Avon wasn’t a job to make money, although that’s what she tried to convince us of. Her Avon routes were her mission for shut-ins. That’s also why the routes were so unprofitable. You can’t continue to drive to visit people who either ordered nothing (because they couldn’t) or small things like Chapstick, week after week, taking things to them, and expect to make any money. Avon was an excuse to walk up to someone’s door and knock.

Mom provided her customers far more than Avon, and they gave her life purpose too. Often, she mixed church tape delivery with Avon. Eventually, her Avon and work with the elderly and needy simply became a big blur. We were always doing something with or for someone. That’s just how we lived our lives.

Eventually, other shut-ins who weren’t church members began to ask for tapes. The congregation was thrilled, spreading the gospel and all, until one woman finally admitted, when asked what she thought about something specific that the preacher had said, that what she really wanted was the visit, twice a week, because that’s the only time she really saw or talked to anyone.

Imagine that being your destiny – not for another week or month, or even a few months – but the rest of your life. Unlike now, for us, there was no prayer of it ever getting better.

I have a new appreciation for shut-ins and their plight – after only a month. A call once a week might be a slight bother to you, but it could well be the highlight of someone else’s entire week. Does someone seem to talk and talk, which is why you don’t want to call? That’s a sure sign of loneliness. I often put off calling Mom because I knew it would take an hour, and now I really regret that.

This is a good opportunity to coordinate Skype or Zoom meetings and involve other family members too. They will love you for it.

Jail

I know this seems like an odd topic, but hear me out.

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I have ancestors who spent time in jail – and they may have deserved their sentence. Of course, incarceration has three aspects; deterrence, punishment and depending on the crime, protecting society from the convict.

In my case, based on Covid-19 isolating, deterrence would be quite enough. However, 30 days in jail would cure me of whatever it was that put me there – guaranteed.

I now have a new appreciation for what those ancestors experienced, regardless of why they were spending time in jail. I also understand why solitary is so incredibly cruel.

Inmates and staff members are terrified of contracting Covid-19 across the nation because social distancing, wipes, and hand washing is simply not possible in that environment. College kids got sent home, and schools have closed, but there’s no place for inmates to go and no way for them to protect themselves. You may have little sympathy, but incarceration is not supposed to be a death sentence, at least not by accident.

While we may not think of it this way, if jails and prisons become a hotspot, they can and will infect others in the outside population.

Soldiers

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Not much has been said about the military, probably for security reasons. Still, social distancing in the military, especially in close quarters like barracks, submarines, and on various assignments simply isn’t possible.

Not only are our military personnel already risking their lives, now they have the added onus of Covid-19 and attempting to keep themselves safe from an invisible enemy to contend with too.

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My Dad survived the 1918 flu pandemic in the Army, which was nothing short of a miracle. Many didn’t. His letters to his sweetheart said that he thought sure he was dying.

I already had a great deal of respect for our soldiers and armed forces, and it just went up another notch. Know a soldier? Don’t let them be forgotten in all of this.

Animals

Because I seem to have become a dog, I now feel incredibly bad for all of the pets who are left alone at home all day, every day, and then we wonder why they are incredibly excited to see us. They chew out of frustration and boredom, jump on us when we FINALLY arrive home, too tired to play with them after they have spent their entire day waiting for us. We are their only companions.

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This is incredibly difficult for social, pack animals like dogs – and some cats too. Those “naughty” dogs are then crated during the day so they will go to sleep and not destroy things, unable to even relieve themselves for hours on end. Can you last for an entire 8 or 9 hours, or more, without going to the bathroom? They have to soil themselves or “be bad” to do so – risking disappointing the only bright spot in their lives – their human.

I’m comparing my own circumstances to theirs, of course, but all they have for their entire life is us – and we have so much else.

We don’t mean to keep them in isolation – but now I’m realizing that the effect is pretty much the same if you’re a person of fur.

I’m to the point where I’m excited to see the mail delivery person too and a food delivery person, WOW!!!!

Empathy

What will the AfterTime look like? I don’t know, I genuinely don’t. I’m trying not to obsess too much because there’s nothing I can do about it right now – except stay home so that we can all be released from our Covid-jails sooner than later. Yes, like when the entire class had to stay inside if one kid misbehaved. Except now we’re adults, and it’s no easier to convince adults to all behave at the same time – even when faced with potential death – than it was to convince a roomful of rowdy grade-schoolers.

I must admit, I don’t have much patience with rule-breakers today – this isn’t fun for anyone, but most of us are just gritting our teeth and doing it. At least we know that this will end – and the sooner we all behave – the sooner we can all go outside for recess.

But I do and will have much more empathy going forward for anyone and any creature that is confined, jailed, or otherwise restrained – whether of their own volition or not. Of course, this doesn’t mean that children and animals should roam freely. It does mean that I’ll be more sensitive to the plight of others, even if they deserve to be where they are, like inmates, or we’re keeping family members safe in the most loving of ways, in assisted living facilities, for example.

Recalling my mother’s fear of “being put in a nursing home,” and how she fought tooth and nail when we removed her car because she was having multiple unexplained fender benders – I fully understand her terror in a very personal way. I can deal with anything for a while – but an unending “forever” facing isolation with no freedom would be quite another matter entirely. And that’s what Mom felt she was facing.

Perhaps, as a result of our own experiences going stir-crazy this past month, we can all improve those “most loving of ways” that we approach and interact with others in the AfterTime.

Maybe, just maybe, we can all be better and kinder, and something good will have emerged from our forced timeout and introspection.

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35 thoughts on “Pandemic Journal: The BeforeTime and The AfterTime

  1. I loved this article and took lots of comfort from it that I am not alone in the world .I am one of the lucky ones living in a home with what we need, but my husband has dementia and that can be very lonely

    • Yes, dementia is it’s own living hell. Another kind of isolation. For both of you. My heart aches for you both.

  2. Thank you for sharing.

    My “New Normal” will be to wear protective gloves at least to the grocery the rest of my life. I have a compromised immune system and I am tired of picking up colds. I am now a great grandmother so guess I can choose my own New Normal.

    There were some “very ill people at RootsTech?”. Oh, dear……..What were they thinking? Or, were they not thinking?

    • They weren’t ill when they arrived, and it’s flu season. They isolated as soon as they knew, but by then many people had visited.

  3. Another awesome and heartbreaking post. We as a society are condemning many jail and prison inmates to death sentences for minor crimes, because of this virus. It’s also a shame that military members are being exposed in high numbers because social distancing is so difficult –and mocked today by the POTUS. Young and seemingly healthy people are dying or being adversely affected.

    And I mourn for the animals in human captivity as you describe.

  4. Excellent article,Roberta. You really hit one out of the park with this. Good thing,since “the park” is off limits now!
    Thank you

  5. Another great article – the life-dividing events, the ongoing uncertainty, the effects of incarceration, the isolation and loneliness of the elderly; and the joy a simple outing can bring (like going for a drive, or an isolated walk). The military situation is also difficult; although not incarcerated they have no control over where they can go, or when. The infection and confinement aboard the USS Roosevelt comes to mind. Still, it’s always uplifting to read your take on things, thanks!

  6. Thanks for writing this, Cousin Roberta Jean–in my earlier comment I said how what you wrote was comforting to me–in that it’s a virtual “visit” and also knowing all of us are going through some sort of life changing experience–everyone’s will be different–and to what degree it will affect each of us. I loved reading about the taped sermons and those who delivered them–from all you write about her, your mom sounds to me like she knew what was important in life!

  7. My life has suddenly been turned upside down when my husband slipped while shoveling heavy snow on Easter and broke his hip. Now he can’t walk for 12 weeks! We had been going for walks and to parks to exercise and get out of the house during the covid-19 pandemic, until his accident. Now he’s stuck at home.

    All of a sudden, we have lots more company at home, in the form of caregivers, nurses, and physical therapists, than in the pre-covid-19 days! Praying that he will recover and be able to walk again. We are in our mid-60s. I can imagine you felt that way when your husband had that stroke. My service dog is finally getting practice answering the door!

  8. As always, Roberta, your love and compassion shine through. Whatever our new “normal” turns out to be, I know I can count on you as my friend! Thanks for sharing; we all need to be thinking!

  9. Thank you Roberta for allowing me to be a loved and pampered canine, if only while reading your thoughts through a dog’s eyes. Yes, this Co19 hits us, where ever we are, and pets as well 💞

  10. I consider my family very lucky. My husband can work from home, at least for a while, and my retirement job is in a grocery store, which gets me out and also makes it easy to do the shopping, although I tend to keep well-stocked all the time anyway. And here in Ohio, we are allowed to go to parks for exercise so hub and I have been hiking a lot. (Side note: We went today and were stunned by the number of people who made no effort to maintain distance, even we obviously stepped off the path to maintain some distance. They continued walking, two abreast, which is rude even without the pandemic. Completely oblivious!)
    But the hiking has kept us sane (and hopefully kept me from gaining 100 pounds from sitting around doing genealogy!).

    But what your post really reminded me of was growing up, when we had at least two neighbors who didn’t drive. I couldn’t imagine being in that position and was highly motivated to pass my test for that reason.

    • Roberta’s empathy is sorely needed.

      I have been quite shaken by the number of my Facebook friends (and their friends), who are not only grossly misinterpreting the situation, but also show an utter lack of empathy for those who live in institutions or areas that have been hard hit.

      I am autistic, and as such, I have measurably lower empathy in the sense that I don’t have theory of mind. It’s the ability to understand what people are thinking, which leads to taking every word literally and so forth. However, it’s not the kind of lack of empathy that leads you not to care about the welfare of others (physically, mentally, etc.).

      (And I do have the special skills, aka. “superpowers,” of autism, which makes me great at genealogy, funnily enough… I see patterns.)

      Ironically, my self-esteem has been greatly enhanced by this crisis by reading what this network of people write in the social medias. I thought that I had curated my circle better than that. A significant portion of my online contacts clearly lack empathy, but not in the way that I lack empathy. As long as death is not knocking at their door step, or as long as they are not seeing all those patients lying in the hospital, they are apparently completely oblivious to the problem. “The elderlies die anyway,” they say, etc. Sigh…

      I think that you may be able to guess what I am thinking in terms of what diagnosis these people should have.

      A crisis-management expert, who is also among my friends (thank goodness!), told me that the way people behave in a crisis shows who they truly are. Right! Time to curate some more.

      Roberta, YOU are a gem, and your writings are among the many other contributions that the rest of us have to make to ensure that this situation doesn’t devolve in the real world!

      And thank you for being part of keeping me sane! LOL

      • I love the way you look at this process as “curating.” And I completely believe what your crisis management friend says. I think a crisis brings out the worst and best in people. In past days, they would refer to this as showing your “true colors.” I think age and difficult times tend to distill our character to its truest form. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet figured out what my true form is, likely something along the line of “OK, let’s figure out what we need to do and do it,” (after some initial disbelief). But I could be wrong.

        Enjoyed your perspective immensely. Thanks for writing about it.

  11. Thank you Roberta for an insightful article. 4 months ago I planned to sell my house and move into a retirement apartment to participate in the ‘luxurious senior living’ they advertised. I was consumed with sorting, getting rid of, giving away my ‘stuff’. My mind thought about which real estate agent to choose, what is a good price, when is best time to put my house on the market? I had a timeline in my head. My plan was perfect. Now I have no idea when or if I will ever move. I am 87 so although I am in pretty good health, I am vulnerable. So I too wonder what will life be like in the future. I cannot obsess with those thoughts as that leads to worry. I have learned again during this time that my life can change in a split second. Now I have been given opportunities in the past to learn this lesson however it is a ‘life lesson’ that recurs. Now my days are filled with who shall I call today, what tasks shall I put on my ‘to do’ list, what will I do to keep my body moving. Each day I FaceTime with my brother who lives in assisted living place in Virginia and cousin who lives with her so in Kansas. Yesterday 3 of my children met on GoToMeeting to discuss the book we are reading. Thank you God I have another day to be the best version of myself

    • We were talking about selling our house too. For now, we’ve decided to stay right here. Thankfully we built home offices.

    • That’s awesome you’re making the most of your time. We never know when the Lord will call us home!

  12. Thank you for this article. My prayer is that the lessons we learn during this pandemic, lessons about relationships and what is truly important in life, are not soon forgotten when the danger is behind us. My prayer is that each of us will become better people as a result of this.

    I also had to chuckle. My grandmother always used to express a need to get out and “blow the stink off” and it’s something I say to this day. So apparently it’s a Michigan saying too, or at least it was in her day.

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