Monday, March 23, 2020

What if it was the last time?

The kids and I have been home for longer than most. My daughter has a compromised immune system and my son has a disability that limits his ability to tell me how he feels. I’ve kept them as much in a bubble as I can. That isn’t exactly new to them – it started shortly after my daughter’s diagnosis at the end of last May and jumped into high gear at the start of flu season, knowing what the flu could do to her. I work from home doing freelance marketing and social media work for small businesses, ghostwriting, and have a side gig baking the best cupcakes you could imagine,– my work has come pretty much to a halt which has left me a lot of time to think.

A lot has me scared right now. I’ve been paying attention to this virus since it started spreading through China. I tried to convince myself that the US would take the steps to prepare and have more than enough testing kits and medical supplies available as I watched it ravish through Italy. I thought of the little things – picking up an extra box of goldfish crackers or extra 6 pack of my son’s favorite lemonade when I was at the store, sometimes I’d grab an extra pound of hamburger or bread for the freezer which came in handy when the stores started to become aisles of chaos and hoarding. I don’t have a lot, I certainly didn’t hoard, but I have enough to get us through a couple of weeks which is something I’ve always tried to do.  Although, I overlooked picking up an extra can or two of Lysol or hand sanitizer because I thought we were good there, it turns out I was good on Febreze, not Lysol, but we have enough Bath & Body mini sanitizers to last us awhile so I’m not going to panic about that one yet – but it is a crucial part of our day to day as it is with many with autoimmune diseases.

What I didn’t think about was saying goodbye. I didn’t think that this may be the last time I see people I love and care for. While I saw what was happening elsewhere, I couldn’t grasp that part – or maybe I just didn’t want to think about or consider it.

And then last Sunday afternoon happened. I called my dad after not being able to reach my mom. On the other end, I heard him gasping for air and trying to talk. He was barely saying anything, and he didn’t need to. He said they were calling the ambulance and that was all I needed to know. I told him to hang up and have mom call me later. And I told him I loved him.

If you’ve never heard someone gasping for air in an attempt to breathe, I pray you never do. It’s a sound you don’t forget, especially when it is someone you love. I’ve heard it before that call with my dad and it is one of my bigger fears with my daughter’s autoimmune disease, the only thing I fear more than her lungs being attacked is death.

That moment on the phone with my dad, my entire world started to crash around me. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw them – although I’m sure it wasn’t too long ago, or the last time I saw my sisters, my grandma, my cousins, aunts, and uncles. I couldn’t think of when I last saw my friends. All I could think was that I wouldn’t have known it was the last time we would see each other, and the feeling crushed me.

I thought of all the times I could have done or said more, of all of the things I wish I had never said. I wondered if they knew how much I loved them, how much I love our memories and how much I want more than anything for us to make more. I wondered if I hugged them enough to get us through until I could hug them again. And I wondered what if there isn’t an again.

My dad was diagnosed with double pneumonia and the onset of congestive heart failure. Hospital visitors are now very restricted, understandably, but I cannot begin to put into words how much it hurt me, and my sisters, to not be there by his side. He tested negative for COVID-19, it took several days to get the results back, but we were thankful he was able to be tested as many others are not. Test kits are incredibly scarce.  He is home now, recovering, with my mom – a nurse – and their black lab, Jessie, by his side. I still can’t go see him and it hurts. I want to hug him and tell him how much I love him. I really just want to hug him. My dad gives the world's best hugs. Right now, I need one of those.

My daughter is high-risk for COVID-19 to be detrimental or deadly to her. My dad is also. So is my grandma and while none of us have admitted it, my mom likely is too. If I leave my house, I risk picking it up and taking it to any of them. My parents live an hour and a half away, it would include a gas station stop. There are simply too many factors to risk any of their lives even though it hurts.
It hurts not knowing who I will see again. It hurts knowing that if I lose someone I love, we won’t be able to gather to mourn them or celebrate their incredible life. It hurts to know that I can’t remember our last goodbye and I certainly didn’t think it would be our last. I hold out hope, still, that it wasn’t.
I watch through the view of social media the hate that has filled our country and our lives. I look at how this crisis, which will take the lives of many, hasn’t brought us closer together but torn us further apart. I hate that people aren’t taking any of this seriously, either feeling invincible or not caring who they could infect. I can’t help but wonder if it is still possible to save this country that I love.

I remember after 9/11 how the world came together, how our nation came together and stood strong. I miss those days. I miss the unity. I miss how we cared for each other.

This virus won’t be that much different, it is its own form of terrorism. Innocent people will lose their lives. Families will suffer. All of us will forever be changed. None of us, not even those of us watching what was unfolding in other countries truly grasped the magnitude of this, some still don’t. So, why can’t we let it unify us?

Is it because we can’t see it? Is it the political divide? The lies? The constant vetting of information to really know what is happening?  The blindness to what is clearly not true and what is true?

We have sunk so far from the lies and the hate that it’s like we’ve been trekking through the mud and we are now so deep that making the next step feels impossible, or like our foot will come out of our boot that is trapped by the suction of the mud and we will fall.

How do we fix that? How do we free our feet from being trapped and pull together again, as a nation, as a world sharing one planet?

Maybe more people need to stop and think – when was the last time you saw your parents? Grandparents? Best friend? Significant other? Cousins? Aunts? Uncles? Friends? Did any part of you think it would be the last time? And what if it was?

I see people who have lost someone unexpectedly often post to social media asking, “if we knew we would be saying goodbye, would this have been easier?” I don’t have that answer for them or for us, but I can tell you it is on my mind a lot more these days.

If we knew this virus could be goodbye for someone in our lives, or for us, are we doing all we can, so they know we love them before they are gone?

Our world has been turned upside down in a way that none of us have ever experienced. We have the opportunity to use this time to rethink our priorities and come together. We have the opportunity to use this time to be kinder, to reach out (virtually or by mail) and tell our family and friends we love them. We have the opportunity to help the most vulnerable be safer in this time of the unknown by picking up groceries or medications for them or even simply checking in on them or sending a card to say Hello.

I know it won’t solve all our problems, but I have to believe that in a world filled with hate that love will win… again, even if we have to fight for it.

For my friends and my family, I love you so much. I love you more than I can find words to express but I promise to keep trying. I am thankful for every single memory you’ve given me, the times you lifted me up when I had fallen, and the times you let me lift you. I pray each night that every single one of you makes it through this horrible time we are living in and we have the opportunity to see and hug each other again. I’m thankful for the life lessons you’ve taught me and the ones we’ve learned together. I wish you and your loved one’s good health and the ability to unite again. 

While I understand wanting to get everyone together for a party when this is over, I really just want to hug each one of you and remind you that you are loved now and always have been. I want some one on one time to catch up, to reminisce, to just pause in the moment of being together.

If you take nothing else from this, please take away that this virus could take the life of any of us at any given time. Use the time you have now to tell people you love them, are thankful for them, or just that you are glad they are in your life. Don’t wait. We really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. And, if tomorrow or next week or next month brings an end to this all and we are all here to talk about it and tell our grandchildren about it – what did it hurt to tell someone something important?

Please, be kinder. Be more patient. Be more understanding. And please, don’t take any day for granted.

And, just in case it needs to be said (again) say it by text, phone, email, mail, any way you can that keeps you in your home and away from each other for now. Please follow the guidelines for social distancing and the shelter in place. 

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