Pandemic Journal: It’s Been (One Heck of) a Year

My first Pandemic Journal article was published on March 7, 2020 – a year ago, just a few days after returning from RootsTech. Talk about dodging a bullet.

I still think several of my friends had Covid at RootsTech, and after. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time.

In that article, I explained the symptoms that every living human on earth knows by now, and drew parallels with the Spanish Flu pandemic a century ago.

I still remember the people who said I was overreaching and fearmongering and was irresponsible. How I wish they had been right.

Of course, back then, we couldn’t get diagnostic tests, didn’t know if face masks were effective (they are) and didn’t know exactly what to do.

Since then, we’ve made masks by the thousands, shipped them across the country by the boxfulls to front line medical teams and essential workers, and isolated ourselves to protect ourselves and others.

Hand sanitizer has become a gift of love and the Amazon driver or food delivery person is the highlight of your day, week and month.

Never, ever in my wildest dreams or most horrible nightmares did I expect what has happened, nor that we would still be isolating a year later.

Are we perched on the edge of yet another surge as more and more people celebrate “opening up,” gathering again, and going maskless?

I don’t know. I surely hope not, but given the variants and the understandable “pandemic fatigue” going on, I fear that we are.

Comparison

This New York Times tracking graph shows new daily cases along with the 7-day average of new Covid cases. On March 8th, a year ago, we had 119 new cases. Today, we’d be grateful for that number.

Think about the fact that 119 cases were enough to begin isolation.

Today, a year later, we have 40,000+ new cases, just today.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that we are way, WAY higher in terms of new cases now than we were when we began the shutdown initially. Yet, some states have removed restrictions entirely and many others have loosened them substantially.

Unfortunately, we were never entirely shut down across at the same time, and the virus burned and continues to burn its way throughout our population, sewing death in its path. The grim reaper, indeed.

More than half a million souls have perished – and it’s not over.

We are perhaps in the third quarter of the game, but we aren’t yet victorious.

Devastating Loss

A couple of months after the first article, I published another where I said that not only had my cousin’s uncle died in an assisted living facility, but that my friend’s neighbor, a 6-year-old girl, had died.

People asked if this was “really” true, obviously doubting. Again, I wish they had been right.

That was followed shortly by my friend’s mother’s death from Covid. Then, more and more and more people. So many more.

Now, I suspect everyone knows at least one person who has succumbed and even more who have been ill.

So far, I’ve lost 7 family members to Covid, unless I’ve forgotten someone. I should have started a list. How sad is that.

As I write this, my cousin’s husband is recovering, and my cousin herself is still gravely ill, three weeks into their illness.

One cousin lost both parents within two weeks.

Another friend lost her mother and step-father within a week of each other.

My husband lost his best and longest friend in January and couldn’t attend the funeral.

I’m ashamed to admit I’ve lost count of the people I know who have been devastated by this life-altering illness and death. Every single person who dies or is severely debilitated has family members who love them – whose lives will never be complete again.

The death count may be 525,000 and counting, but the grief count is much, much higher.

And those numbers don’t even begin to account for the long-haulers. I know several and many are young, in their 20s and 30s. A year ago, “long-hauler” was a term we weren’t even familiar with. It didn’t yet exist. Now the term does and the long-term effects of the disease as well. There’s still so much we don’t know.

We still can’t afford to take chances.

Giddy

Despite this, I’m literally giddy today.

We’ve fully vaccinated about 10% of the population.

About 20%-ish have had at least one vaccination.

The CDC issued their First Set of Guidelines on How fully Vaccinated People can Visit Safely with Others, here.

I’m actually going to get to see my family soon.

But I’m not, and I repeat NOT going to engage in risky behaviors that put others at risk. I’m still going to avoid public spaces and wear my mask to protect my community and others.

I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be responsible, whether I know it or not, for infecting others and killing someone else. Everyone got it from someone else and most people have no idea who, when or how.

The vaccine improves your chanced immensely, but it’s not 100%, and people can still become infected. Even if you don’t know it, the more of the virus that’s out there replicating, the more chance of a new, more deadly, variant occurring.

We absolutely HAVE to get ahead of this and every little bit helps.

Social Media

Social media has been the proverbial double-edged sword this past year. It spreads critical information but also, just as easily, misinformation that people are likely to believe.

It’s ironic – the ying and yang of social media meant that I found out that cousins were ill and died that I might not have known about previously, at least not as quickly. I checked constantly to see if there was any news about their conditions.

Social media is also the medium that has allowed me to connect with those same family members much more real-time.

In a very substantial way, social media has allowed me to survive this pandemic without feeling entirely isolated!

There are always cat and dog and quilt pictures to sooth the soul.

One of my good friends, Appalachian storyteller, Stephen Hollen, has written and published a chapter of a story every single day. And yes, I mean literally every single day – for more than a year now. Bless his soul is all I can say. Gave me a reason to open my eyes on days when everything else seemed endlessly bleak.

The Vaccines

I cried tears of joy. Tears of relief. I didn’t anticipate such an emotional response to a shot. I couldn’t wait to roll up my sleeve. And yes, I had minor side effects with the second one – but absolutely nothing compared to Covid which is utterly terrifying.

Hopefully, the vaccines will protect us both individually and as a population – so long as enough people take the vaccine. We need to reach that critically important herd immunity.

But vaccines aren’t 100%. We don’t know if inoculated people can still spread the disease to others.

If we still get sick, even with the vaccine on board, it’s certainly possible that we could be left with debilitating long-haul symptoms.

We still need to take precautions not to expose ourselves and others unnecessarily.

That vaccine is what is allowing is to gradually expand our horizons once again.

I saw my daughter in a parking lot, outside, in December and my son-in-law briefly a couple of weeks ago. That’s been it for months and months other than waving at neighbors.

Spring is emerging and I can hardly wait to go for a walk with my children and actually sit down and have a meal together. I’m fine with that meal being in someone’s home. I just need to see my family of blood and family of heart again.

I surely hope that by summer or maybe the holidays in 2021, that things can safely return to something resembling normal – whatever that new normal will be.

Year Lost – Or Year Gained?

Some people are referring to the last 12 months as the year lost. We wonder if we’re going to wake up out of the bad dream, and if so, will we still be in the same time and place we went to sleep, or will we wake up sometime in the future or past. Is this collective “bad dream” ever going to end? I bet our ancestors felt the same way at various points in history.

This past year has been dystopian, that’s for sure.

But, is it really a year lost?

I prefer to think of it slightly differently.

For Some, It’s Forever

For those who perished unnecessarily, it’s not just a year lost – it’s their entire lifetime of opportunity gone forever.

For them, it’s not a year, because there is no recovery. No redo. No reconsidering their behavior if they took unwise risks and lost the Covid-roulette.

I am particularly devastated for those who did “everything right,” followed all the rules, and got it anyway. Life is not always fair.

I will continue to light candles to honor their lives and hold their families close in my heart.

I will also continue to take precautions to reduce the number of candles that need to be lit.

Year Gained

For those lucky enough to be reading this, we haven’t lost a year – we gained not only this year because we are still here, but the rest of our lives – assuming we manage to continue to avoid Covid. We are the lucky ones, no matter how crummy this year has been.

Yes, the lucky ones.

Don’t misunderstand me – along with everyone else, I’ve grieved lost family members and lost opportunities.

  • Holidays with family
  • Seeing friends
  • Quilting with my quilt sisters
  • Quilt retreats
  • Genealogy conferences
  • Travel

Many have lost jobs and income as well, gravely affecting their families.

But, for the most part, if you’re alive, you have the opportunity to regroup.

The keyword here is “opportunity.”

I had a difficult time adapting to isolation. Thankfully, I’m quarantining with another human and someone I get along with pretty well. Plus, my fur family, of course.

I never realized how much I miss people.

My husband and I go on a weekly drive-through Culver’s lunch date where we pick up food, then drive to the grocery store parking lot down the block, park and have an in-car picnic.

We watch people come and go.

A few months ago, a shopping cart was plowed into a snowbank and yes, we’ve been going weekly now to watch the pile get larger and now to watch it melt out. Hey, look, we found something else too!

You know I just had to do this, right? Let’s face it, it hasn’t taken much to amuse us during the past few months. Anything that made us laugh was a good thing!

Do you see it? Where’s Carto? Like everything else this past year, things got a bit worse before they’ve begun to get better.

If you’re laughing and thinking this is about as exciting as watching paint dry – you’re right – but it gives us something to look forward to. A mental break. We joked that someday we will remember these dates fondly. Maybe those good old pandemic days.

When one of us is gone, these will be priceless to the one left remembering.

The key here is that we, those of us who survived this year, have the opportunity to remember what we did during the pandemic. It’s not lost to us.

So, here’s the bottom line – if you’re alive and survived – you’ve gained a year and the opportunity to do something with the rest of the years of your life.

How Are You?

Truthfully?

If your first response was “I’m fine,” but you said that because you’re fine compared to people with Covid, and you actually feel like crap – you are probably suffering from pandemic fatigue.

You’re not really fine, you’re “pandemic fine,” which is entirely different.

I think I’ve cried at least once every single day for the past year – at least once. The bad news just keeps coming and we feel so helpless.

Truth be told, in the US and countries that are locked down, I don’t know how you can NOT suffer from this in some form. If you’re interested in the science behind this phenomenon, the article, The Pandemic Changed You. It Also Changed Your Brain explains a lot and may help you understand why you feel the way you do.

Feeling Better

I’ve found three things that help us feel better.

  • Music – Find your favorite songs on YouTube and make yourself a playlist with the link below each video.

You can then play these from anyplace. Here’s one of mine You’ll find more scattered through the links in this article. Share with me some of yours! 😊

  • Movement – Walk. Around the house, up and down the street, upstairs and downstairs. A treadmill maybe. When do you need to do this the most? When you feel the least like it. Movement releases “good natural drugs” into your bloodstream.
  • Dance – Dance like no one is watching. Because, literally, no one is. Put that old disco favorite, Celebrate, or whatever moves you (pardon the pun), on your playlist and start twirling in the living room, in the driveway or maybe in the yard. Warning, this may serve to entertain your neighbors, but hey, beats the heck out of watching shopping carts melt out of the snow.
  • Books – You can lose yourself in a good book. History is amazing when in pertains to a time and place where your ancestors lived.
  • Do Something for Someone Else – In my case, I make “care quilts” and participate in other volunteer work that I can do from a distance. My husband is a CERT team member and has been volunteering to help in the vaccination process for several weeks now.
  • Pet Something – Not only will your furry family member love this – you will too. For them, this has been a WONDERFUL year with you constantly present. You’re literally all they have.
  • Dream – Your physical activities may still be somewhat constrained. But this gives you more space to dream – and maybe time to do something to move you towards those dreams.

What Have You Been Doing?

What have you been doing this year?

Some people took the opportunity to deep clean and reorganize.

I had good intentions, but I pretty much hate both of those things, so I didn’t actually get either done.

  • I wrote a LOT of articles – 154, now 155, to be exact.
  • I learned how to use Zoom and other platforms to work with others remotely and visit with others.
  • I recorded webinars, conference sessions, participated in podcasts and in Facebook LIVE events.
  • I focused on genealogy.
  • I took a deep dive into genetics – specifically mitochondrial DNA and ancient DNA. More to come in the future on those topics.
  • I made face masks. Hundreds and hundreds of face masks. I never want to see another face mask in my entire life. Yes, I’m still wearing mine.
  • I quilted for sanity. My sanity.
  • I quilted for others too. Care quilts. Although at one point I had to delay shipping them due to postal issues and fears about receiving something that might be Covid-infected.
  • I weeded and planted in the garden last spring, summer and fall. I hate to weed. It’s kind of like cleaning – never stays done. But right now, I can’t wait to get out there again.

I love color and flowers and joy, so weeding is a necessary part of that equation.

Color and sun and warmth brings joy and along with it, hope.

Hope is where I am on the pandemic spectrum today.

Hope

Today, on this one-year pandemic quarantine anniversary – spring has decided to, well, spring. That’s highly ironic, but hey, I’ll take it. Perhaps an optimistic message.

It’s in the 50s here. I can hear the snow melting, dripping in the downspouts, and running in rivulets down the street.

The yard is soggy in some places but still frozen in others.

The sandhill cranes are back. I heard them.

The birds are beginning to do “bird” things that will lead to nest building.

I just had to go outside today and walk in the yard.

It’s warm and sunny and it just FEELS SO GOOD as I bask in the warmth of the wonderful sunshine!!!

Come take a walk with me.

Labyrinth

The labyrinth walk is so symbolic.

We started down this path a year ago not knowing where we were going or would wind up – but we had no choice. This journey was not of our own making.

All we could do was to protect ourselves and survive as best we could.

We need to stop and enjoy moments of joy, of renewal, wherever they appear.

Today, we walk to celebrate a year of survival and to say a prayer for those no longer with us.

Along the way were rocks and bumps and things we didn’t anticipate. The path was not straight or even.

We navigated as best we could. Sometimes we need help seeing the path.

We may have had the opportunity to help others along the way, in person, or virtually on social media offering support.

You may be the angel someone else needs to make a difference in their life at the minute you’re in the right place at the right time.

We are all angels for others when we wear masks.

I hope, really hope we are rounding the corner on this monster. Some of us have barely avoided disaster. Some didn’t.

Just keep on keeping on – just a little longer.

Life is returning, slowly emerging from beneath the frozen snowscape.

Hope springs eternal.

We’re not quite there yet, “there” being in the center of the labyrinth, but the goal is on the horizon.

Together

Oh, this road has been rough and rocky…

With so many obstacles in the way.

The path has been narrow

Painful

Winding.

We’ve tripped.

But the end is within sight now.

Glory Hallelujah.

Give us strength and raise us up so we can lift others!

We can all get there.

If we just keep cooperating.

Encouraging each other.

There’s the horizon.

That flag is life.

The prize.

People.

Activities we love.

Family.

Without the threat of Covid.

Without taking our very lives in our hands.

Or someone else’s.

We are winding through those rocks

In the final turn if we stay steady.

We can do this.

It’s the big picture that matters.

The end game.

Just a few more weeks now.

We’ve come so far.

Don’t give up.

It’s all worthwhile.

Hang on.

We’re all walking on this journey…

Together

26 thoughts on “Pandemic Journal: It’s Been (One Heck of) a Year

  1. Dear Roberta, Thank you for always looking to inspire us. You are a treasured best of what is good in the for certain and the not so certain days . Stay well wishes to all.

  2. Roberta, you continue to be a positive influence on all. Thank you.

    I have some comments and a question – rather pointed, I’m sorry to say, but possibly an emphasis to some of your thoughts:

    You tell people to wear masks, distance, wash, sanitize, etc. You also say that you lost seven family members to Covid. I don’t recall wear you live but I believe you said much of your family comes from the midwest – maybe Indiana. The question is whether your lost family took any precautions whatsoever, or whether they chose to believe what has been shown to be politically-motivated foolishness, something that has taken root in so many parts what is often termed the “red” parts of the US (digression: does anybody remember when “red” referred to the Communists and think it ironic that the term is now applied to what once was the most anti-Communist political party?)

    I don’t wish to start any political or religious discussion but it might be useful to mention that Covid doesn’t care whether you are left wing, right wing, Catholic, Evangelist, Baptist, Methodist, Muslim, agnostic, atheistic, conservative, liberal, black, white, Hispanic, Caucasian, Asian, support Trump, support Biden, gay, trans, straight, or anything else. Regretfully many have fallen into the trap of not thinking for themselves but only following their chosen leaders like lemmings over the cliff.

    For God’s sake and your own – wake up and get vaccinated at the first opportunity. When we are all safe, then we can resume our foolish, self-destructive, divisive blasted battles.

    Thank you.

    • I don’t live where my family was from. My cousins who perished lived in Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. One of those did not believe that precautions were necessary and did what he pleased. He paid a very dear price and gave the virus to his family members (and who knows who else) as well. One person took all the precautions and went to an event that was supposed to be outside, wearing masks, in the south last fall. It was hot. The hostess moved it inside and one person refused to wear a mask. My cousin didn’t stay long. The non-mask-wearing person developed symptoms that night. Many in attendance became ill. The rest is history. I can’t even begin to explain how this has split the family and how devastating this has been. Three more were in assisted living facilities, one quite early, but one quite recently. Another one was following a hospital stay for something else, then to rehab, then back home. He became ill, was taken back to the hospital where he was diagnosed with Covid and died very shortly thereafter. He was already weak. His wife became sick too and she died as well. There’s now an 8th cousin. She died in assisted living in PA. I just hadn’t heard until today when I heard from her child. The staff got it and then so did the residents. It happened a few weeks ago, probably from holiday exposures. My two cousins who have been so ill these past few weeks are now recovering, thankfully.

  3. Thank you for another eloquent post. Your words are very comforting and I enjoyed your photos. I had my second shot last week and this week found myself feeling hopeful – I didn’t know how I would feel. Feeling the warmth of the sun probably contributes to my optimism. (I will never understand why some continue to be in denial about the severity of Covid, but I try not to think about it because it puts a damper on my good mood). You’ve had a productive year and I look forward to reading more about your mitochondrial and ancient DNA findings.

  4. Your post of you and your husband’s lunch dates sounds just like my and my husband’s “outings” as we call them. Actually, our outings have been so fun!!!
    We really enjoy our together time….. one nice development coming out of the pandemic.

  5. Nice to know that others enjoy ordinary pleasures, too. We’ve been married for 55 years and still like each other!! We have been very lucky in the last year. Two close family members had Covid with.no apparent lingering effects. There have also been vast differences in points of view about Covid, masks, social distancing, etc.It’s hard but we all love each other, even so. We are looking forward to getting to know our toddler great-granddaughters, in person. I’m confident that they will not even remember this “gap” in time. We are now vaccinated and it won’t be much longer before we can resume much desired family get-togethers. I’m sure that most of you feel the same.

  6. I really enjoy your “personal” posts! They are so well written and thought provoking–and the photos are beautiful also. Thank you for your insight.

  7. My mother’s view on Spring.

    Spring In The Country

    Unrolling the records of the seventeen springs which I have spent on this earth, I can feel safe in saying that no scene is lovelier than springtime in the country.
    Mother Nature begins her spring house cleaning with rain clouds for water buckets and the wind for her brooms. She dashes every dirty corner with rain drops until the whole country side has been cleaned, and then she covers it with a new carpet of lovely green grass. Soft new leaves are hung on the forest trees by Mother Nature herself.
    The most beautiful season of the whole year is this one, with the birds singing, the wild flowers blooming, the green grass growing, and the sun shining through the tall green trees on the country hillsides.

  8. Roberta, you really gave me a lift up today, thank you! It has not been easy this past year, but I know it could have been so much worse. During this year, I discovered that I had a cousin and his wife who both died within hours of each other of the Spanish flu in 1918, leaving 2 small children to be raised by paternal grandparents. How heartbreaking both then and now, yet we must keep hoping, for what do we have but hope?
    Thank you for a beautiful post!

  9. Ah, Roberta you have helped all of us get through this past year. Much thanks for your Pandemic posts and continuing genealogy articles.

  10. I enjoyed reading today’s blog. I have come to realize several things – I love the peacefulness of my home and having time to think by myself. I love zoom and not having to put on my face, fix my hair and go somewhere. Wearing sweatpants is a wonderful uniform.
    I started a COVID journal on day 1 of the lockdown. 14 pages later it continues. Graphs, charts, major events, and photos. I hope my ancestors will enjoy reading all about the great pandemic of 2020!
    I feel the end of the lockdown will be behind us all but part of me will miss the solitude as we jump back into the chaotic lifestyle we had before. Onwards!

  11. Well said my friend! we must all stand tall and keep protecting each other – and our families. Hugs and love,

  12. Thank you for your thoughtful post. Hopefully this pandemic is on its way to winding down, so we can all get on with our lives in a better way.

    I still have concerns. I live in a rural “red” state in the middle of the United States, and my viewpoint does not coincide with the majority living here. For this reason the pandemic has been in many ways worse psychologically for me. We have a mask mandate, but many people ignore it. Schools have been open, with masks, except for about a month last Spring, and I babysit my grandchildren because my daughter and her husband are essential workers. I am considered part of their household although I live separately. My daughter is an ICU nurse. Covid news is not reported properly here, and what is reported is skewed. I know because my daughter is there watching people die, and I get to hear about it. The covid rate of infection has not been as high as I would have thought because this is a rural area. But, there are not the social supports here as in other places. I have to do my own grocery shopping at 7-8AM when no one but other old people are shopping. Walmart has curbside pick-up, but only for certain items. I rarely go there, but shop at the smaller local market. I have had to stay out of most businesses. People at the hardware store and garden shop do not wear masks. I think the whole town police force came down with covid. They put up a billboard wanting new police officers. Many of these “red” leaning people have been the ones in the ICU that my daughter nursed. She refrained from spiteful words, but it cost her. I have missed traveling, shopping, eating at restaurants, church and visiting other people, the library, and doing research on site.. I have been able to see my small family, since my son and his teenage son live with me, and my daughter lives in the same small town. I am tired of hearing my grandsons screaming at X-Box live in the background with their headphones on (in two houses), but it keeps them out of trouble. We have been living in our own bubble. We had one scare a few months ago when my son-in-law’s brother and family caught covid, and my daughter’s family had visited with them outside before they knew they were infected. They all recovered without hospitalization. We quarantined, but no one became ill. My daughter had previously received full vaccination the first day it was available. I have now have my first vaccination, and my provider is a few days late in scheduling me for the 2nd one. Vaccination scheduling is a bit chaotic and haphazard. The vaccination did make me a bit ill, but it was likely worth it. My main concern is that the “red” leaning people are not getting the vaccination for covid. I fear covid will remain a threat in this area longer than in other parts of the country. And, I fear the new mutations will take hold here and not let go. I am concerned we are not done with this pandemic in the near future. Please vaccinate.

    How did we keep from catching covid, besides prevention measures? We all have type “H” bloodtype, which scientists say helps. My daughter is H negative, which is the best. We also have a Mt-DNA type that European scientists have experimented with because people who carry this were not getting ill or as ill in the past with other diseases. I could find little information about the research online that was not highly technical, but I suspect this has helped in the past as a reason my family lived long lives.

  13. I meant “O” bloodtype and a variety of “H” Mt-DNA.
    Sorry, I cannot seem to do anything without getting interrupted lately.

  14. Thank you for so exquisitely expressing the experience of our past year and especially your message of hope. I sometimes wonder if I’m sheltering from the virus Covid or from the storm of selfish anger, impatience and intolerance in my community. I too miss being with my fammily but will wait for this storm to pass and look ahead in gratitude to the time we can all safely gather together once again. Rise Up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AnzWa4AJ1w&list=PLbZbFzswCQbK_froSbzI-8Hq8YgvORBWA&index=6

    • I love this video.

      “The storm to pass.” The pandemic will, one way or another. But the storm of ugliness may be another matter. 😞

  15. It is great that you are sharing your experiences and pictures. The more we all can stay in touch and continue to share thoughts and pictures, the better off we will be. B Rawls

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