I Was an Optimistic, Active Senior. That was Before Covid.
As I write this, it has been 282 days and 6,768 hours since my world shut down. I know that exactly to the hour because I calculated the time one afternoon when I was bored and restless, which basically describes how I have felt since the door to my life slammed shut, hung with a large sign: DO NOT ENTER. COVID QUARANTINE!
I am by nature an optimistic, very active senior (or as the world sees me, an energetic 80-year-old lady).
I like to dress up, put on makeup and keep busy. That was B.C. (before Covid-19). Now, exploring new recipes for dinner has become the focus of my days. I have traveled to 62 countries and 48 of the 50 states; now, the only trips I make are to the food market or the drugstore. A Zoom cocktail date with friends has morphed into a major event. A new ache or pain that would have been ignored sets off an alarm bell.
In the beginning, the pandemic was a novelty. I did all the things we tell ourselves we will get around to when we have time, like cleaning out closets. But laundry and cooking and cleaning soon lost their luster, and little by little the realization sunk in that I’ve been cut off from just about everything that makes me happy: my friends, my children and grandchildren, my activities. Zoom shivas, bar and bat mitzvahs and lectures are a sorry substitute for the mental stimulation of in-person social interaction. Getting lost in a novel or movie proved only a short-term fix for emptiness. The highlight of my week has become a recurring Saturday Zoom session with my 11 treasured book club girlfriends. Sometimes we chitchat and sometimes we explore a probing personal question. Outside my bedroom, it is the closest thing I have these days to intimacy.
“I keep reminding myself that things work out the best for those who make the best of how things work out.”
Still, I am luckier than most. I live in a lovely apartment in Philadelphia; money is not a problem. I am beyond grateful for my husband, whom I not only love but like and who makes me laugh and feel safe. One upside of the pandemic is that I no longer take for granted the casual touch of his hand or the soothing comfort of his hugs. Each night as our bodies align under the covers, I tell him how thankful I am that we are braving this ordeal together. The words “to have and
to hold” have taken on a much deeper meaning.
For my elderly friends living alone, the absence of human touch imposed by the pandemic is another burden added to their struggles. Covid has heightened their sense of vulnerability and deprived them of their usual options for companionship. One told me, “This is more threatening than just being a widow by myself. I’m scared of having nobody to take care of me if something happens.”
I make a conscious effort not to be depressed. But I am sadder than I have ever been and constantly fearful because I have a type of blood cancer that makes me particularly susceptible to infection. I cannot quell a low-level anxiety that the virus is lurking unseen all around me, an invader waiting to attack. I find myself more irritable and less patient. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my waning days would be so joyless.
I keep reminding myself that things work out the best for those who make the best of how things work out. So, I smile and find satisfaction in a call from a grandchild, in a beautiful sunset, an uplifting concert (albeit streamed) and the glory of the changing weather—from autumn leaves to winter snow. But I am haunted by the words of the poet T.S. Eliot, “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Carol Saline is a journalist, speaker and author of the photo-essay books Sisters and Mothers & Daughters.