The Two Lives That Wait for You On the Other Side of the Pandemic
My mother died almost three years ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. Pretty soon, many of you may have the same problem, too. Let me explain.
My mom was 68 years old when she died, seventeen years earlier than I had expected the event to occur. The only details about her passing that matter for the purposes of this story are that it was sudden, preventable, and traumatic. It took me two years to claw myself out of the pit I hurled myself into after she died. Some days, it feels like I didn’t actually climb out. I’m just doing a good job of pretending I’m not in there anymore.
Ever since she took her last breath in my arms, I have often found myself living two parallel lives. The first life is the one I currently live without my mother. The second life is the one I should be living: The 1st birthday party for my oldest daughter, where my mom should have been helping her grandchild open her presents. The family reunion where I should be sitting next to my mom as she reminisced about old times with her cousins. The random Sunday where I should be calling up my mom to recount the funny thing my daughter said on our latest hike.
The next fifteen years, I will be thinking about that parallel life and what I would be doing with my mother in it. And now, as a global pandemic has slithered its way silently through my community for months and is set to overtake the rest of the country, I am living another parallel life: the life I should be living if there hadn’t been SARS-CoV-2.
Right now, my family should be at our timeshare condo in Lake Chelan, playing putt-putt golf, splashing in the pool, and sneaking off to go on a wine tasting date with my husband. Then there’s the Easter celebrations when we returned, filled with Easter egg hunts, watching my aunt sing in her church choir, and brunch with family. And finally, the creme de la creme, our two-week vacation in Hawaii visiting the Big Island for the first time before hopping over to Maui to catch up with friends and visit our favorite haunts. Spring 2020 was all set to be F-U-N!
Of course, all of these events are canceled so that we can stay home and prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Instead of fun outings, we have hardly left our house for almost a month. Our days are filled with continuous internet scrolling, trying to stay up to date on the virus’s spread, the current infections in our county, and any scientific developments to combat the disease. All the while, I can’t help but mourn the parallel life I should be living, the one that does not include a global pandemic of a virus that is unpredictable in its lethality.
Does this sound familiar? It should, because I’m seeing it all over the internet. Everyone is grieving, from people on Instagram who I don’t know in real life to Facebook friends I’ve known forever. Having to stay home for an indeterminate amount of time, with the knowledge that bad things are happening outside our four walls and even more bad things are going to happen in the future, is enough to produce anxiety in even the most stoic of souls.
Our Parallel Lives
During this grieving, people are rallying around the command to stay home, posting pictures and writing posts about their “quarantine life”. But even amongst the believers that this pandemic is a serious situation that calls for the need to self-isolate and limit our movements, some people still haven’t given up on the parallel life they should be living. They have “quarantine families” that include people beyond the members of their households. They come within six feet of people in the grocery stores or when picking up take-out food. They go hiking on trails that look more like a busy ant farm than open wilderness perfect for social distancing. In short, some of the people I thought “got it” haven’t gotten it at all. They still want to be normal. They still want that other life, the one they should be living but can’t, so they take shortcuts in this abnormal new world. They social distance 90% of the time. Everything’s good, they say. It’s all going to be fine.
Everything’s not good. And everything’s not going to be fine for a lot of people. We need to realize that right now. This pandemic is not going to “blow over”. Things are not going to go back to business as usual in a couple weeks. No matter how this situation is handled, this experience is going to have an effect on everyone’s lives when it is finished. And the longer you ignore this new life, the one where you have to view everyone as infected and everything as possibly contaminated, the more likely it is you will have to deal with a frightening parallel life down the line.
That frightening parallel life can hold a hold a multiple of terrors, but just one is enough to fear it: A parallel life in which your mother is out gardening on a sunny summer day, or your friend is watching the game with you on TV in your living room, or your child is walking across the stage at her high school graduation. These are all frightening scenarios, of course, because if they are in your parallel life, that means those people are no longer living in your normal life. The unimaginable can quickly become your new normal if you don’t accept the ways we all need to be living during this pandemic to prevent the worse from happening.
How to Keep Your Family and Friends Safe During the Pandemic
How do you stop the preventable deaths of family and friends? You need to go 100% in your social distancing and health hygiene. Stay home as much as possible. Maintain a six feet or more distance between you and others if you must leave your house. Order your groceries online and have the grocery store employees put the bags in the trunk of your car. Have delivery people place your packages or take-out orders in front of your door and ring the doorbell. Wait to open the door until they are gone. Sanitize all packages that enter your home. (Please see the YouTube video below on how to sanitize your groceries and take-out food.) Wear a mask out in public, even if it’s only a homemade one. (Wearing a mask will help prevent you from spreading the virus if you are asymptomatic or presymptomatic.) Wear gloves and take them off like a doctor. Don’t touch your face with or without gloves on. Wash your hands. Wash your hands again. And again and again. Regularly wipe down frequently touched surfaces in your house with disinfectant. Act as if the virus is on everyone and everything.
Covid-19 is mercurial in its choice of victims. While most deaths occur in the elderly population, it is not unheard of for remarkably healthy young people to be hospitalized or even die from the virus while some very elderly patients are able to survive it. And SARS-CoV-2 is incredibly contagious. After one choir practice in my community where members practiced social distancing, increased hand washing, and no physical contact, 45 out of 60 members present contracted Covid-19. Two people in that group have now died from the disease. It’s a stealth virus and, where I live, it can be anywhere and everywhere.
The Two Lives That Wait for You On the Other Side of the Pandemic
In terms of your family and friends’ safety, there are two possible lives that wait for you when this pandemic is over. The first is that everyone you love is safe and healthy. This is the ideal and what we all want. The second possibility is everyone you love is not safe and healthy. Alongside the unimaginable reality of your new daily life, you will find yourself, like me, living a parallel life contemplating your loved ones’ “should have been” moments.
The life you find in a few months’ time depends largely on what you do now. If there is one true thing I can tell you from my pit of grief, where I watch the movie of my parallel life in which my mother is still a main character, it is this: If you do not do everything you can to prevent this virus from entering your house and spreading to your family and friends, you will never forgive yourself if you find that unimaginable life, the one without your loved ones in it, waiting for you on the other side of this pandemic.