Last week was rough as I wrote about for Stream of Consciousness Saturday yesterday.
Today is Father’s Day in the United States. I was able to speak briefly with my dad this morning, but he was pretty confused about handling the phone and they were about to change one of his dressings. There aren’t visiting hours until Tuesday evening, so there is no chance to see him. We did drop off a card yesterday and he has gifts and cards already from my sisters.
He can’t really remember that it’s Father’s Day anyway…
Meanwhile, it is also Father’s Day for B here at our house but I’m having trouble focusing enough to plan dinner or much of anything else. It’s taking effort just to make my eyes focus to write this.
I did sleep quite a bit last night after very little sleep the night before.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, we went out to dinner for our 39th wedding anniversary and opened some cards. Originally, we were going to go away for a couple of days. We still might, once I get through the initial care conference for Paco on Tuesday. I need to write notes and questions to prepare for that. Oh, and also get ready to deal with all the insurance folks.
I had planned to post about the pandemic anniversary today, so it was fortuitous that Linda took the occasion to have us write about our past year. She also gave us permission to edit if we chose, so this post will be only stream-of-conscious-ish. I’m hoping to only need to do light editing.
So, compared to most other people in the US, I have been fortunate over this pandemic year. My spouse B has been working from home so we didn’t take a financial hit. He and I and daughter T have been safe in our home. My state, New York, was initially hit very hard by the pandemic, although not as much so in my home region of the Southern Tier. While we did have a period of time as a local COVID “hot spot,” we followed the precautions on masking, avoiding gatherings, handwashing, etc. and stayed safe.
This is not to say that we didn’t have to make changes in our lives. T’s job search has been on indefinite hold. Grocery shopping and meal planning became a major endeavor for me, due to shortages and restrictions. Some of my poetry activities moved online, but the year hasn’t been as productive as I had hoped. The Boiler House Poets Collective annual residency at MASS MoCA was cancelled due to COVID, although I did craft my own writing retreat in North Adams in late summer which turned out to be a perfect time, given the sooner than expected fall surge. (Additional posts from that time are here and here.)
There are two big personal impacts for me as a result of the pandemic. The first is the separation from daughter E and her family, who live in London, UK. We visited in December, 2019, with plans for several 2020 trips, including a visit to meet our new grandchild, and a plan for them to visit us here in the States in December 2020. None of that happened, due to COVID. While we have been in touch virtually, we have all been largely confined to our respective homes. It’s been hard watching from a distance as they dealt with likely cases of COVID in their household at a time when there wasn’t even testing available unless one needed hospitalization. We missed granddaughter ABC’s third birthday and the birth of granddaughter JG. We missed ABC starting nursery school, which has been variously in person and virtual depending on how viciously the virus was spreading in London at any given time. JG is now seven months old and we have no idea when we will be able to visit. She may be a toddler by the time we get to meet in person.
The second personal difficulty has been trying to care for my almost-96-year-old father, known here as Paco. Before the pandemic, we visited him every day in his apartment in the independent living building of his senior community. His memory was poor, but we were able to keep him safe and on an even keel. Once the pandemic began, though, we needed to limit contact, so we reverted to handling most things by phone with screened staff handling some tasks that had to be in person. This proved to be difficult but when Paco developed a medical problem that required a few days in the hospital, it became impossible for him to be safe in his apartment. In December, he moved to the health care building, first for three weeks of rehab in the skilled unit and then permanently to the assisted living unit. This is where he needs to be at this point, but due to state COVID rules, it was very difficult to visit in person. I am happy to report, though, that yesterday and today we had our first visits to his new apartment; before that, we had to meet in the visitors room or do window visits where we spoke by phone on either side of a window. We still have to mask and distance, but we could at least organize and tidy his rooms for him.
The greatest difficulty that is more universal is the sorrow at the immense cost the pandemic has exacted. So much illness. So much death. So many without even the most basic essentials for a secure existence. So much social isolation. So many who risked their own health to meet the needs of others. In the United States, the bewildering politicization of the crisis.
As we have been commemorating this first anniversary of the pandemic, though, I am feeling hopeful. We are about seven and a half weeks into the Biden administration and vaccine distribution has seen a big boost. Although the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is still much too high, it is lower than it has been in months. In New York State, we are able to continue our gradual, science-and-metrics-driven increase in public activities. I went to church in person for the first time in a year today. It feels like we are making real progress toward ending the pandemic.
Real hope after a year of fear.
I’m very grateful for the vaccines and the people who are being diligent in observing public health measures. I’m grateful that B, T, and I were able to be of public service as participants in the Pfizer vaccine trial, which I’ve written about frequently here at TJCM.
I admit the fear isn’t totally gone. It’s upsetting to see people who are ignoring public health advice still. Especially with so many variants of the virus active and so many people unwilling to be vaccinated, it’s possible the virus will start to surge again.
Still, for the first time, the hope outweighs the fear in my mind.
Please, everyone, be careful. Stay safe. Protect yourself and your neighbors. We can end the pandemic after this awful year.
Like many people, we have a coin jar at home. When our daughters were young, when the coin jar was full, I would roll the coins and bring them to our credit union for deposit to the girls’ accounts.
That was a long time ago now, but I still have a coin jar. I didn’t fill it very fast in recent years because I would only take coins out of my wallet when it got over-full. I used to do a lot of my everyday shopping in cash, so I would spend my coins. Since the pandemic, though, I seldom use cash, so I’m not accumulating coins.
I was concerned this spring because there was a coin shortage caused by lack of commerce and I was anxious to find a couple of 2020 pennies. Two of my long-time friends have penny boxes that I gave them for their birthdays. The idea came from a book for children titled “The Hundred Penny Box” which had a centenarian who had a penny from each year of her life. Each year, on my friends’ birthdays, I would send them a penny for that year.
My friend with a May birthday had to take an IOU, but I was pleased to pay cash at the grocery store self-checkout one day in late June and receive three shiny 2020 pennies in change. I sent a (very belated) birthday card to my first friend and had a penny to send to my friend with an August birthday on time.
I used to supply pennies to two other boxes. One was a birthday box for my friend Angie, who passed away in 2005. (If you search her name, posts will come up about her here at TJCM.) The other was an anniversary box for my parents, known here as Nana and Paco. We added the last penny to it last year, a few weeks before Nana passed away.
Someday, I may make a penny box for B and my anniversary. Maybe in two years for our 40th. That was when I gave my parents theirs and they wound up making to their 65th.
Earlier this month, I wrote about June birthdays and mentioned B and my 38th wedding anniversary while writing for Stream of Consciousness Saturday here.
Our celebration of our anniversary was different this year. We usually try to go away for a couple of days, usually to a small inn in an historic, picturesque location where there are nice places to stroll and good restaurants.
This year, B did get to take most of the day off from his now-working-from-home job. We did go out briefly for a couple of socially distanced errands and an afternoon visit to the walk-up window at a favorite local ice cream shop, but we made dinner at home with T and had a quiet evening in. All of which seemed right for this somber time.
Thirty-eight years is a respectable amount of time for a marriage and gives me hope that, if we can keep life-threatening disease at bay, we will be able to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, as we were able to do with our own parents.
Perhaps because we are hearing so much about people changing the date or plans for their weddings, I find myself thinking about B and my wedding, the changes in plan that it entailed, and how it was perceived.
Because B and I were planning to marry shortly after I graduated from Smith College, my mother and I did most of the planning the summer before my senior year. Those were still the days where the tradition of the bride and her family doing most of the wedding arrangements (and paying the costs) was still observed, especially when the bride was young and not established in a career. I chose to be married at Helen Hills Hills chapel on the Smith campus. I had been involved in the life of the chapel throughout my years at Smth, as an organist, choir member, and accompanist and was close to Sister Judith, the Catholic chaplain. The reception would be at the Alumnae House, a short walk down Elm Street from the chapel.
There was no resident priest on campus, so an associate from one of the Northampton parishes presided at mass on Saturdays. I asked him to preside at our wedding ceremony and he agreed. In January, he was re-assigned to a nearby city and decided that he would not come to the wedding. A young priest who was assigned to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst was filling in at Smith for the spring semester became the default priest for our wedding.
This turned out to be very problematic.
He didn’t know me – that I had been serving as a Catholic church musician for over seven years, that I took my faith seriously, and that I had also studied the history of Christianity in the United States and around the world. He also didn’t trust me, which was hurtful. When I met with him to do the questionnaire that is required, he made me swear on a bible to tell him the truth, as though I was going to lie to a priest.
In May, during the reading period before my last-ever final exams, the priest and I were taking a walk on the Smith campus to finalize some of the details. Because B is not Catholic, we were having a ceremony, not a mass, which should have made things more flexible. The priest, however, would not allow any changes in wording, would not allow Sister Judith to read the gospel or offer a reflection, which should have been allowed outside a mass. As we were finishing the walk, he said to me that he thought I would be more comfortable being married in a non-Catholic ceremony.
I was devastated. It was six weeks before the wedding and I didn’t have a member of clergy to preside. I went to the chapel offices in tears. Sister Judith wasn’t there, but Rev. John, the ecumenical Protestant chaplain was. He immediately offered to preside and gave me some different prayer books to look through to find a new ceremony to follow. We had to file dispensations of place and form so that the Catholic church would recognize the marriage and the priest would still read the vows, although they would be from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The best outcome was that Sister Judith delivered a beautiful reflection.
People often say that their wedding days are perfect and they wouldn’t change a thing, but there are some things I would change if I could. I would have made a recording of the ceremony because Sister Judith spoke without notes, so I have only memories and not a record of what she said. I also would have ignored the advice of the wedding gown shop and not worn heels and a headpiece that stood up on my head. Because B is about ten inches (25cm) taller than I, they were trying to make me look taller, which seemed silly at the time and even sillier now. Most of all, I would change the trauma and drama of the clericalism that led to my not having a Catholic wedding, the clericalism that still infects the church and causes so much damage.
Our wedding and reception were designed to be an adult affair, so we didn’t invite children. This wasn’t unusual at the time, but didn’t set well with a family member who wanted their grandchildren to be invited. I’m still sorry that those young cousins had a very boring day.
Some of the adults were bored and upset, too, although I, thankfully, was not aware of it at the time. The Alumnae House could serve wine but not liquor, which upset some people who somehow thought they were owed an open bar. We also did not have dancing; neither B nor I enjoy dancing and Alumnae House is not set up for it. After dinner and our delicious spice cake with buttercream icing, a break from the super-sweet white cake with white frosting that was traditional at the time, B and I went from table to table, visiting with our guests. Strangely, after we talked to people at a table, most left, so that, by the time, I changed to leave for our honeymoon, only immediate family and a few close friends were left to wave good-bye.
I don’t regret our reception choices, which reflected our personal style and preferences. I was sad that some guests gave my mother grief, although I didn’t realize that was happening at the time; it was very rude. I was also sad that people were putting their expectations over our true-to-ourselves choices.
My biggest take-away in looking back on the not-entirely-perfect wedding day that B and I had 38 years ago and in hearing so many stories of couples re-defining their own weddings due to the pandemic is that, while weddings are important days in our lives, they are just one day in a marriage. The accumulation of those days, each presenting joys and challenges, is what is most important.
Today is the first anniversary of my mom’s death. She was known as Nana here at TJCM and she appears in many posts from the past years.
Her death followed a long period of decline from congestive heart failure. In some ways, it seems that I lost her much longer ago because, as her illness progressed, she was not the same mom, the confidante with whom I spoke nearly every day of my life. She also wasn’t able to keep up her active social life in the senior community where she and Paco had lived since its opening ten years ago. She had a special gift for conversation, for listening attentively, and remembering each person’s stories. She also kept up with current events, so our conversations were often wide-ranging.
With so much changed in the world these last few months, I’ve often felt thankful that it was last year rather than this that we were dealing with Nana’s final months. Nana spent her last months in the skilled nursing unit of their senior community. Paco and I were able to visit as often as we wanted and my sisters came into town frequently for a few days at a time. Because our adult daughters E and T and our granddaughter ABC were in residence with us, they were able to visit often, too. This is one of my favorite four generations photos – Nana, me, E, and ABC at Thanksgiving in November, 2018.
This spring, though, the skilled unit has been in full lockdown for weeks due to COVID-19. Visitors are only allowed when there is imminent danger of death. As difficult as the last few months of Nana’s life were, it would have been so much more difficult if we had not been able to be there to talk when she was awake, help with her meals, put in calls for staff when needed, and just be present. My heart goes out to all those who are residents of long-term care facilities and to their families as they continue to contend with being separated at this critical time.
I’m also grateful that Nana did not have to experience the permanent move of E and ABC to the UK. Being able to see her only great-grandchild regularly was a joy and it would have been so hard for her to lose that in-person connection. Nana was also spared the worry when the London contingent of the family were ill with probable COVID-19.
It’s hard to say if a year is a long time or a short time in these circumstances. Mourning follows its own path and this year has submerged us in a sea of societal grief and loss, as well. I only hope that I am able to be a testament to Nana’s love and care for her family and friends in these troubled times.
The United States government authorized direct cash payments to adults in order to help people face the challenges of the pandemic economic impacts.
The implementation has been dicey, though.
Most of the payments were based on 2018 or 2019 income tax returns and were made by direct deposit, if banking information was on file with the Internal Revenue Service, or by check.
Unfortunately, the IRS didn’t cross-reference with the Social Security system, which meant that some payments were issued to people who were deceased. That is what happened with my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, who received a payment by direct deposit last month, even though Nana’s date of death was on file at Social Security.
Many others were similarly affected and, at first, it seemed that surviving spouses would be allowed to keep the full payment as had happened in a similar economic stimulus program a number of years ago.
However, a few days ago, the government issued instructions that required people to mail them a check for any payment sent on behalf of someone who had died.
I am not arguing against the principle of payments to only those who are living, but I wish that the program had been implemented with accuracy. It’s been painful dealing with the hassles and uncertainty of the situation.
I couldn’t make myself write the check and required note to the IRS on Mother’s Day, my first without my mom. I did put it in the mail today. Later this week will be Nana’s birthday and the following week the first anniversary of her death. I didn’t need another reminder of her absence from the government in the midst of it.
I feel badly for those whose loss is more recent, who may need the money to help pay funeral bills or to support surviving family. I would hope in those instances that the government would not demand that the money be returned, but I doubt that the current administration will act with compassion and competence.
In my religious tradition, Easter is about joy and light and hope.
Easter this year does not feel like that.
I was trying to get ready for Easter by viewing this series for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. They were beautiful videos and being able to watch them alone was helpful. I spent decades involved with church music and/or liturgy planning, so I have many wonderful memories of those liturgies. They are very emotional for me. Even if we had been able to celebrate at our church, though, I probably would have chosen not to attend because I would have been at risk for crying through them. At this time last year, we were in the last few weeks of my mother’s life, so this is another in the long line of “first times” we have been dealing with over these last months. In some ways, it felt appropriate to be commemorating at this time alone.
Easter Day itself was complicated by some upsetting things that happened with family and friends beyond our household. It is difficult to want to help but not be able to do anything, or even to go to see them. Instead of Easter joy, there was a lot of sadness. pain, and uncertainty. One bright spot was watching Mass recorded at our diocesan cathedral. I decided to watch because our bishop is relatively new and I hadn’t heard him preach yet. I appreciated how pastoral he is: Pope Francis has been appointing bishops who have more pastoral experience rather than just those who have worked their way up through the bureaucracy. It was also nice to hear the cathedral’s pipe organ, two great soloists, and trumpet. I especially appreciated the soprano singing the Mozart “Alleluia” that daughter E had sung for her college auditions.
This Easter Monday has been spent trying to work through some of the complications that arose yesterday. In the back of my mind, I am also thinking of my parents, who were married on an April Easter Monday, though that year Easter Monday was not the thirteenth.
It was 66 years ago and the first time that they won’t be celebrating together.
I have forced myself to undertake one of my least favorite change-of-year tasks – transferring dates onto the new calendar.
Yes, I still prefer paper calendars. I carry a small one for noting appointments when I am out and about and keep a monthly one near the phone in the dining room. (Yes, I also still prefer to use my landline; only people who may need to reach me at any time have my cell number.)
I need to fill in appointments that are scheduled in 2020 on both the pocketbook calendar and the large calendar. This is tedious, but not especially challenging. What is more poignant for me is filling in birthdays and anniversaries, some of which include the applicable number of years.
Generally, age doesn’t bother me. I’m proud that B and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this year. Maybe, we will be blessed to reach a 65th anniversary, as my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, did.
Which leads to the poignancy of writing dates on the calendar…
As family members pass away, I make commemoration notes for birthdays and anniversaries on my calendar. This year is the first time that Nana’s birthday and Nana and Paco’s anniversary will be memorials rather than celebrations.
I think that Nana fought hard for a last chance to celebrate Paco’s birthday in March, their 65th anniversary in April, and her 87th birthday in May. She died a few days after her birthday. One of the last things that I helped her eat was a fruit tart that I got as a birthday treat for her from her favorite supermarket bakery.
When her daddy was here in August, ABC started doing crafts with him – or, at least, she was crafting-adjacent.
One of the things they made was Cookie Monster’s head, made from a white paper plate painted blue with big eyes and mouth made of construction paper and glued on.
It’s pretty adorable!
Before he went back to London, E, L, and ABC went on a trip to Sesame Place. There, ABC got to see the characters perform, as well as go on rides and to the water park. She loved it! It was nice for them to get to go on a little family vacation, something that will get much easier once E’s visa comes and they finally get together permanently in the UK.
We will have to figure out what to pack for ABC for London. I think one thing that will get to go with her will be the (incredibly soft) Cookie Monster that they brought home as a souvenir from Sesame Place. It is a special edition for the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street this year. Of course, there will be Sesame Street in the UK, too, but Cookie Monster will be a wonderful reminder of her US home where Sesame Street began.
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to write about the first blue object we see when we sit down to write. Join us! You can find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/09/13/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-14-19/