When mom’s Alzheimer’s emerged, she already had challenges that isolated her. Her hearing was bad, she had lost most of her sense of taste and smell a few years earlier, and one of her eyes wasn’t working quite right. Isolation is awful for Alzheimer’s patients, and the isolation of the lockdown was especially hard on mom and challenging for dad because he was her only person.
I visited after the first two weeks, but masked up, didn’t touch, and didn’t linger. Remember those days? Mom didn’t understand the rules, so I constantly reminded her, holding my arms out, hands up in a “Halt!” It became a game, and sometimes she laughed, but she hated it.
Did Covid escalate the progression of her disease? I don’t have any scientific proof one way or the other, but it makes sense to me that it did. How much longer would she have had? At least long enough to enjoy a few more ice cream bars, walks through the field, and idle chatter about little nothings that would become everything after she was gone.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023
We’re two weeks in: shelter in place. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll do this, but I think we have a long row to hoe.
I see the frantic posts as friends and family settle in to work from home, not work at all, isolate with children and parents, or isolate all alone.
I read helpful posts about how to cope, how to disinfect, reminders for self-care, poetry to lift us up, naming this grief.
But honestly, I don’t feel most of it.
I do feel something because this is a collective anxiety, a collective grief and confusion. For the most part, however, the coronavirus has not changed my life.
- I’ve shopped in bulk for thirty years so I didn’t need to make a special run for groceries or toilet paper.
- I’ve worked from home for twenty-four years, so 1) I still have work, and 2) my workspace has not changed.
- I’ve been stocked up on supplies for all the little projects I want to tackle, and when I don’t have something, Amazon Prime delivers.
Yet, my life is different. Not necessarily in bad ways. I’m more mindful. Mindful of my movements through public spaces, of going into public spaces, of the surfaces and clothing I touch and use, of where and how I spend my time. I’m alone less, with my partner working from home now. I stay home more. These aren’t bad things.
Staying home means staying away
The last part, staying home more, is probably hardest for me. I usually spend half my time on the farm, close to my folks, so I can help mom and dad as needed. Now I can’t risk giving this invisible enemy a ride to the farm. So I won’t go back for a while.
Last week, I made a grocery haul to the farm to make sure mom and dad have enough.
I don’t stay long.
Mom asks questions and seems to understand, but then asks again.
When are you coming back?
I’m not sure. The virus, remember? But Audrey and Jason are staying here. They’ll be safe to spend time with you soon.
What are you going to do?
I’ll stay in Baton Rouge with Steven. Work.
When are you coming back here?
Back to the garden
Before I leave, I go with mom to check on the garden and greenhouse. I remind her gently, Don’t get too close to me.
We check on the plants, decide to transplant the zucchini. I didn’t come prepared, so I hoe a new row for the zucchini in flip flops and a sundress. We water. We talk. Mom asks questions. I hold my hands up: No closer!
I planted the garden with mom hoping to give her manageable tasks that help occupy her day, help her feel useful. But some days, she tells dad How am I going to do this!? Some days it’s a little much. Especially now. The virus and isolation.
When I’m with her to help, she enjoys gardening. Tugging at the hose just so, making sure it’s straight so it won’t scrape across the plants in the neighboring row. Pulling up the weeds and rogue grasses. Muscle memory and meditation.
A long row to hoe
I watch her knowing I may not be back for weeks, months even.
When are you coming back to do something with those tomatoes?
I don’t know, but I’ll make sure Audrey helps you.
My life hasn’t changed much because of the virus. I still spend about sixty hours a week in front of my two computer screens, working, writing, paying bills. I still cook most of my meals, go to the garage for paper towels when I use the last towel from the roll in the kitchen, plant seeds in my garden, pull weeds, move rocks, dig holes. My life is pretty much the same, except I wear gloves to the grocery and disinfect the containers when I come home.
Mom’s isn’t the same. She’s more isolated than ever. Little doors are closing in her brain. No church; no grocery runs; no PT.
When are you coming back?
We have a long row to hoe, Mom. But we’ll be okay. And I’ll meet you on the other side of this. I promise.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.
I work in surgical services and not allowing family in for patients, especially those facing serious surgeries such as brain or transplant, were just terrible. So much of healing is having a support system.
I am very sorry that your mother and you had to go through this.
We will never know just how much harm the isolation did to our seniors and those without full mental capacity (like my autistic brother in law), as necessary as it was in the early days. One of my co workers lost her father, who was exposed to COVID in his nursing home, and did not recover. We are truly social creatures. Alana ramblinwitham
So true. I also have a friend whose father contracted Covid in a nursing home and died. Alone. I have a little bit of survivor’s guilt around Covid, because, except for my concerns about mom and dad, Covide was NOT hard on me. I enjoyed the isolation and excuse to show up for myself.