200,000

The number of known COVID-19 deaths in the United States is over 200,000.

It’s hard for me to grasp the total, knowing that each of these was someone’s child, parent, sibling, co-worker, neighbor, friend.

A few days ago when I was working on this post, I needed to look up the population of Broome County, New York, where I live.

It’s about 190,000.

I am imagining the city of Binghamton empty, the University and all the other schools without students and staff, all the towns and villages without people, just the wild creatures and birds alive.

It’s sobering.

In reality, Broome County has lost 85 residents to COVID, each person a loss to their family and community. Somehow, though, my thought experiment in concentrating the loss to our country as the obliteration of our entire county has given me a sense of scale and of grief that the statistics alone did not elicit.

What does 200,000 deaths mean to you?

SoCS: penny box

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.

May we be so blessed.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to write about something of which we had more than a hundred in our home right now. Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/08/28/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-29-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

SoCS: John Lewis

When I read Linda’s prompt yesterday, I thought I would be writing about Link, a flight simulator company that B worked for early in his career, and how it went from its proud origins in the Binghamton area through various hostile takeovers, sales, downsizings, and other calamities to its current existence in our area as a shadow of its former self.

But, overnight, we got the sad news that John Lewis passed away. He was one of the last living links to the historic March on Washington for civil rights. He had been the only speaker that day who was still alive. He helped to organize the march as a young man who was the head of the Student Non-violence Organizing Committee. (My apologies if I don’t have the name completely accurate. Stream of consciousness and all that.) [Should have been Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.]

He was one of the leaders alongside Martin Luther King, Junior, in the first attempt at the the march from Selma, Alabama, to their state capital on what became known as Bloody Sunday. [Another correction. MLK was not at the first march, but joined the second march that was completed, thanks to federal protection.] As they were trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers came under attack from law enforcement. John Lewis was the first person that they brought down, fracturing his skull. He bore scars from that attack for the rest of his life.

He continued the fight for civil rights for black Americans and for all Americans through the decades, including seventeen terms in the House of Representatives from the Atlanta, Georgia area. His dedication to justice, peace, and non-violent protest is widely admired and respected.

There is a hope that the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which still bears the name of a racist as it did on Bloody Sunday, will be re-named in honor and memory of John Lewis soon.

May it be so.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “link.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/17/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-18-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

SoCS: catching some zzzz’s

Zzzzzz….

Zzzzzz…

Oh, I guess it is time to get up.

Sleep has not been one of my better skills for, um, more years than I care to count. There have been lots of reasons for this, some of which I can identify and some of which I can’t.

The last few weeks, though, I’ve slept better than I have for quite a while. I think a large part of it is having gotten through several months’ worth of firsts since Nana’s death last year, including the first anniversary of her death.

I’m sure that some of it is also that the COVID infection rate in my state (New York) and especially my region (Southern Tier) is under control and we are able to carefully progress with opening more stores and services. The vast majority of people realize that we have to continue to wear masks and maintain physical distancing and not have large gatherings, so there is hope that we can keep our case number very low, using extensive testing and contact tracing to keep any cases from becoming outbreaks.

I will admit that, although I’m sleeping better than I have been, I’m still not up to seven hours a night, which is – or, at least, was long ago – the amount of sleep that seemed to work best for me. Will I get there eventually or revert to more severe insomnia? I don’t know.

For now, I’m just grateful to be catching some more zzzz’s.
*****

Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is a word with zz, which I kinda-sorta did. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/06/19/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-20-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley! 
https://www.quaintrevival.com/

a May flower

This spring has been slower to warm than usual. Most years, we have lilies of the valley by Mother’s Day or by Nana’s birthday on May 16th at the latest. Lilies of the valley are the birth flower for May and we always picked bud vases for her while they were flowering.

Years ago, B and I transplanted a few pips from our childhood yards in New England to our home in New York. Lilies of the valley “spread aggressively” as horticulturists say and we now have a patch at least 25 square feet (2.3 square meters).

I’ve written previously about some of the hidden blessings of not having to deal with the complications of 2020 last year as we spent our final months with Nana. We were able to bring her beautiful, fragrant bouquets of lilies of the valley for her last birthday, which would not have been possible with the later spring blossoming this year and the restrictions on visiting skilled nursing facilities.

Lily of the valley, with Paco’s card to Nana and birthday card made by artist-friend Jim

Nana’s ashes are in an indoor niche at a memorial park in our town where fresh flowers are not allowed. I’m hoping someday to find some beautiful artificial lilies of the valley to leave there for her, so there will always be a bit of spring and her favorite May flower nearby.

a year ago today

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.

Thanksgiving four generations

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.

bad timing

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.

It’s sad.

a very different Mother’s Day

Today in the United States, we are observing Mother’s Day, which was originally begun as a call by women for peace, but that is another story.

I have been dreading Mother’s Day this year because it is the first since my mom’s death last May.  She was under hospice care in the nursing home, but we were still able to be with her and bring cards and flowers and treats. I keep thinking about how different it would have been this year with pandemic protections in place. No visiting is allowed. I know that is necessary to keep the virus away from such vulnerable people, but it must be so difficult today for all those moms, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers to be separated from their loved ones.

I am grateful to have daughter T here with us. We got to videochat with daughter E and granddaughter ABC. ABC showed me a special drawing that she and her dad had made for me for Mother’s Day. They were able to scan it and B printed it for me, so now it is on the mantel. It was fun to see ABC dancing about the living room, to hear her sing and “play” the piano, and hear her ever-expanding vocabulary. She will turn three next month. This is also the first Mother’s Day since they moved to London after E’s spousal visa finally came through. Though I wished E a happy Mother’s Day, the UK celebrated weeks ago.

It has also been unseasonably cold here. We have had snow this weekend, which is late in the spring for us. No outdoor flowers for Mother’s Day gifts this year!

Because of my mood and the pandemic restrictions, our celebration here will be low-key. B made Chelsea buns for breakfast, which were amazingly delicious and hot-from-the-oven. For supper, he is making lasagna, using the recipe that my mom always did. It is definitely the comfort food that I need today.

It was also comforting to watch mass recorded from television. The one I chose was my mother’s favorite when she was homebound for so many months. Of course, they mentioned Mother’s Day and included prayers for mothers. It was another way to remember my mom on this special but difficult day.

Is it Easter yet?

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.

March 17

Today is March 17, which is usually celebrated as Saint Patrick’s Day. Although it is a feast day for Saint Patrick in the Catholic church, it is generally celebrated in the United States also as a secular holiday with parades, Irish food, and, in many cases, way too much alcohol.

This year, with COVID-19 social distancing protocols in place, things are very, very quiet. Paco will still get to have corned beef and cabbage and potatoes, but he will be eating it in his apartment instead of a dining room filled with his senior living community friends wearing green and sitting at tables decorated for the occasion.

Fun fact:  Paco’s middle name is Patrick. He finally got to visit Ireland, the home of his grandparents, last fall.
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B’s side of the family had some different March 17th traditions. B’s dad was an elementary school principal who had a running joke with his students and staff. He celebrated March 17th as Evacuation Day, which commemorates the British leaving Boston on that date in 1776 after an eleven month siege, under pressure by the Continental Army, commanded by George Washington and bolstered by cannons captured from Fort Ticonderoga. Parts of Massachusetts celebrated it as an official holiday, although not the western part of the state where his school was located. He used to make an announcement on the public address system in the morning and even designed an evacuation day card which he printed with his then-new dot matrix printer.

He also used to buy an “evacuation day” bouquet for B’s mom, known here at TJCM as Grandma. After he passed away, B and I continued the tradition of giving Grandma evacuation day flowers, first ordering them delivered to her home from their favorite local florist and then bringing them in person after she moved to our area.

In 2016, we changed it up a bit and gave Grandma a planter. We had no way of knowing that she would pass away after a heart attack a few days later. Our daughter T, who has a special affinity for plants, took over care of the planter, eventually having to separate the plants into different pots as they grew too large.

Today, the African violet and the kalanchoe from the planter are in full bloom.

On the dining room table, is an evacuation day bouquet that B bought for T.