By Kim Harrell
Anyone who has been the primary caregiver for a child, chronically ill loved one or elderly parent knows how stressful that role can be when the rest of the world is operating normally. The heightened and prolonged concern of not knowing if your loved one is being exposed to a deadly virus can only take that stress to a much more damaging level. I know. I spent the two years prior to January 2019 living on high alert to germs since any one of them would most certainly infect my husband whose immune system was virtually nonexistent. Little did I know then that those two years were boot camp for the battle facing us today.
Sadly, my husband is no longer here having lost his life during the flu season of 2018/19. The silver lining is that many of the precautionary behaviors I adopted then were more readily deployed as I assumed the role of caregiver for my elderly parents. My resolve to make the best of uncertain times is restored as well. More importantly, I have developed a plan of action, which makes me feel better even if there are few guarantees that it will work.
Truth be told, my parents don’t really need a caregiver per se. Both my parents remain independent in activities of daily living and what one can’t do (e.g. hear), the other can. They generally take good care of themselves – they get annual check-ups, eat healthy and get daily exercise. They stay active and engaged – my father gardens, my mother has regular workouts with a personal trainer, and both have strong friendships with folks of all ages. Regardless, they aren’t as robust as they once were. The blessing is that they both know it.
My plan’s goal is to reduce exposure to the virus. Given all that we don’t know about COVID-19, that pretty much means staying at home. The people working the plan are myself, my brother Chris and our parents. Mom and Dad are vigilantly following the safer at home guidelines and practicing social distancing with everyone. Even their other four adult children and many grandchildren are not allowed in Mom and Dad’s house – their visits are spent sitting on the lawn and conversing with our parents sitting on the second floor screened-in porch. Chris and I are the “caregivers” albeit in the vaguest sense of the word. We practice social distancing at the grocery, pharmacy, post office and the occasional drive-through restaurant while wearing gloves and wiping down products with disinfectant before passing them off to our parents and using them ourselves. All four of us continually douse ourselves with the hand sanitizer or wash our hands until raw and continue to fall short of keeping our hands away from our faces. Emotional wellbeing is important too. When not working at home, any one of us can be found reading, talking with family and friends over the phone or FaceTime, learning to play the ukulele (me 😊), taking daily walks and otherwise spending as much time as we can outdoors.
Perhaps the greatest weapon in this fight against the virus is my parents’ example. At this stage in life, they have pretty much seen it all. Products of the Great Depression, they know the value of hard work no matter how menial the job. Children during World War II, sacrificing for the greater good taught them that material possessions only have value if shared. Parents of sons during the Vietnam War, they learned that control is only an illusion. Valuable lessons-learned for current times. The experiences gained through almost ninety decades of living have given my parents the wisdom to embrace these troubled times, and to know that it is only through the harshest realities of life that one can clearly see its beauty.