I am fascinated by how we’re all coping so differently with this unprecedented situation. Some folks are listening to politicians, physicians, pundits, journalists, and any/everyone else putting forth predictions. I can’t count the friends who have confessed that they’re “watching way too much news.” On the other hand, I am, as usual, the ostrich with its head in the sand, or up its butt, as the case may be. I have not listened to one word of verbiage, broadcast, streaming, or other forms masquerading as “news”. I monitor my reading intake, starting with the New York Times’s daily “California Today” feed, and clicking only on carefully selected links. I may well be missing important developments, but I’m also not spiraling into the pits of depression and panic by exposing myself to articles which do little more than fan the flames of fear. I do my morning meditation, read books (mostly historical nonfiction) and watch Netflix documentaries and movies of an evening. I’m snacking too much, sleeping a lot and not exercising enough. I’m unfocused, frequently discombobulated, and my flat is in untold disarray. I am grateful for my privileged situation and grieving for the many losses of others. I’m inspired by the examples of thoughtfulness and generosity (one example: my in-laws are busily making masks for postal workers) and appalled by the hoarding, price gouging, and insider trading exhibited by others. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people behave admirably or abominably in a crisis.
Some of my octogenarian friends are refusing to leave their living spaces for any reason at all. Others, in the same age bracket, are running what to me seem like non-essential errands, zipping around for the sake of getting out and about. I am fortunate to have a large flat and a lovely garden, so it’s easy to stick close to home, except for a weekly walk with a friend who lives a few blocks away (keeping six feet apart at all times, of course). My partner is sequestered separately across town, so we talk and text frequently through the day, but our time together has been limited to the romance of… grocery shopping. When I magnanimously offered to “kidnap” another nearby friend to stave off cabin fever, she declined, saying that she was in her 70s, asthmatic, and a caregiver, and didn’t want to take any risks.
Having co-hosted a Death Café for nearly five years, I was wary of attempting a virtual version in this new environment. While I have learned that people are starving for a safe place to share fears, beliefs, and resources around the stigmatized topic, I didn’t know what to expect. I needn’t have been apprehensive; my very first experience using Zoom was remarkably successful. I was anticipating that it might devolve into a COVID Café, and though the pandemic was a topic of conversation, the discussion amongst the 15 of us was balanced and respectful. One unexpected advantage was that attendees didn’t need to be geographically proximate; one participant was in Santa Barbara, one in Sausalito, and the remainder of us in between.
I continue to volunteer for a national organization committed to supporting people exploring their end-of-life options. I talk to people throughout the Southwest who are terrified of going to the hospital, being placed on a ventilator, having CPR performed, or risking other invasive procedures. Many live alone and/or in what one caller described as her “rinky-dink town.” Now that travel is curtailed, the difficult decision was made to temporarily stop accepting new applications, leaving people one less option. I commiserate with each person’s unique predicament. I can recommend online resources for self-deliverance, but can’t offer the expertise and experience of our Exit Guides. I explain the pros and cons of Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking and discuss the challenges of identifying a hospice that might support such a plan. The irony is not lost on me that while most of the world is desperately seeking solutions to staying alive, I’m supporting others’ desire to hasten their own death. My brother is a palliative care physician in Tacoma and his son, my nephew, reports, “The COVID death now thought to be first in the nation occurred at Harborview Medical Center [in Seattle] where I was working at that time.”
Perhaps the worst part of all this is not knowing how long this situation will continue. Will it be weeks or months? And what will the world look like when we (some of us) are able to return to it? Only time will tell. Until then, I find solace in watching the birds soar across the sky, the clouds change color and shape, trees shimmy in the breeze. We can only take this moment by moment, one day at a time.
A slogan developed over eighty years ago, in response to another world crisis is still, or again, apt: “Keep calm and carry on.”