Returning to Life

What have we learned from the last two years? For those, like myself, who hoped we would somehow change for the better from this experience, I am chagrined. I am firmly in the camp of weary souls who doubt that possibility anytime I turn on the news. Yet I felt a glimmer of that hope returning when I heard that Ukraine is fighting back, and winning, along with the rest of the world against those committing war crimes. All while we still are in a pandemic that is ever changing and persevering.

We’ve reached the two year anniversary of the pandemic and, for our family, the lockdown for COVID. I had a brief moment of silent reflection on how relieved I am that we survived the last two years without being infected, how much I miss those I’ve lost, and a wishful prayer for the days ahead. That silence ended quickly as my kids commenced with their typical morning noise. Yet for that I’m most thankful of all. That my kids didn’t get sick. That we can breathe free of illness. Not with COVID, not with anything. Wearing a mask has saved us from even the sniffles for over two years yet at what cost? We’ve survived the pandemic so far yet not unscathed. The mental illness of the pandemic wore down and took the lives of a friend and my mother. Neither died from COVID but the pandemic was fuel to the fire of their health problems. The loneliness and isolation sped up their decline.

Masked or not, supporter of vaccines or not, are we truly safe as some would like to believe? Safe from viruses or not, we all have to survive the consequences of this pandemic. I was fortunate enough to say goodbye to my mother in person. She was unconscious but I had many conversations with her leading up to her passing and I could hold her hand to reassure her she wasn’t alone. It is a gift to have those moments as difficult as they were. That is something that was stolen from many who at the height of the pandemic were lucky enough to even get to say goodbye via video chat let alone in person to someone on a ventilator at the last moment.

The rush to return to the lives we once had feels hollow as if we’re children playing house. At any moment the adults in charge are going to ask us to resume our lives in reality and the charade will fall away along with the characters we played yet again.

History is repeating itself and all the while I’m trying to stay calm and reassuring for my children who sense that, though the pandemic is over to some, the struggles of the last two years might be a sign of the era to come and not a mere phase that we survived. More importantly, that the pandemic hasn’t ended despite mask mandates lifting or headlines wanting to reassure that the end is in sight. The pandemic isn’t truly over until we’ve reached herd immunity and even that is up for debate.

Please let us not repeat history in the days ahead.

What will our children remember of the COVID pandemic? What will they learn from these two years beyond how to wear a mask or wash their hands properly (she says crossing her fingers and chanting “please”)? Or will it simply be forgotten as a footnote much like the Spanish Flu of 1918 or the “forgotten pandemic” of tuberculosis that lasted for centuries? The financial losses have impacted countless lives through loss of jobs and homes in addition to the loss of those we love. In some strange twist of added cruelty we’re now on the brink of a possible world war.

So I ask again, what have we learned? I posed this question to my children and found their responses much like their behavior can appear to others; startling, insightful, and humorous.

My son related that he’s learned how important friends are and how much he misses them. That he’s really good at building his “creations” and math. That he doesn’t mind wearing a mask because he worries about others.

My daughter gave me this summation that brought tears to my eyes, “I don’t want to stop wearing a mask. I like not having to worry about what face I’m making.” She wants her friends, restaurants, outings, but will miss the social distancing of people not crowding her. Her brother added, “Yeah! I wish people shared space better.”

Is it as simple as that? None of us ever really outgrow our childish urges. We just learn to control them. So is it a matter of convincing everyone to play nicely, wash their hands, and stay out of each other’s yard when told to leave? Could it ever be as simple as that?

Yet I feel as if I can’t return to the life I had prior to the pandemic. It’s a distant memory now. A chapter that I can revisit but never relive. It’s me before the death of a friend. Before the loss of a sense of normalcy for my children and their regressions. The loss of our family pet. Before the loss of my mother. All endured in isolation in the last two years. Even if I wanted to be the person I was before all of this, it’s not possible. Grief is a bad tattoo that you simply wear or hide but it never can be washed away or removed without further pain. You adjust and are reminded of it in the most inopportune moments.

At the first of each loss, it was in every thought. Then the shock would wear away and the truth would become part of my reality. There wasn’t time to fully accept it though before the next loss was upon me in these two years. Yet I didn’t have the luxury of curling up into a ball and staying in bed as I wanted to do. Life had to continue, meals had to be prepared, appointments to be kept, children that needed me. The world betrays the dead by continuing on without them. 

Every morning I would remember that the school bus wasn’t coming, I couldn’t message my friend, and my mother was gone. The heaviness would sink in and I would reach out for our cat who was gone as well. All of that may seem trivial in comparison to the loss that others have experienced but it doesn’t lessen the pain. Much like the love that I’m capable of, I have learned that I’m able to endure and sustain through far more than I imagined. My heart aches for what others have gone through these past two years and what we’re still learning to endure.

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