The COVID Pandemic Taught Me Gratitude

Photo of three white lotus flowers with a touch of purple on the outside petals. The flowers are in a murky green pond and are surrounded by numerous round lotus leaves that are lime green mottled with purple-brown stripes.
Photo by author: Joyce O’Day

Death, sickness, wounded relationships, and the lockdown brought me a fresh outlook on life.

The COVID pandemic has destroyed lives and personal relationships. Every family has been affected, even those who did not succumb to the virus or lose someone close. Adjusting to the imposed isolation during much of 2020 and 2021 either brought families closer together or drove them apart. For me, the restrictions of the COVID era caused me to reevaluate my life.

Death

Fortunately, no one in my family died, but people close to my family members passed away from COVID. My step-son’s otherwise healthy 65-year-old boss, my nephew’s half-brother who was under age 40, and my husband’s childhood friend did not survive the pandemic. 

Sickness

At a family birthday party for a younger half-sibling on December 31, 2020, hosted by one of my kids, eight out of thirteen attendees got COVID after someone who though they were suffering from allergies was positive for the virus. The party turned into a super-spreader event. Two of my kids suffered the effects of long-term COVID. One of the children who got COVID soon developed Type 1 Diabetes. (His doctors believe that he would have developed diabetes anyway, but COVID hastened the progression of the disease.) COVID attacks you where you are weakest, and many people will suffer the consequences of the illness for years and decades.

Wounded Relationships

COVID pushed the political divide in our extended family to the limits. The Trump presidency created cracks in our family unity, but the masking and vaxing debates resulted in a chasm in need of a bridge. I have not changed; I have been a politically active, left-winger, and protest participant/organizer my entire adult life. It was never an issue in our family. But now, we are a family divided between the vaxed and the unvaxed.

The Lockdown

Isolation was not a bad time for me. My bubble included my three children, their significant others, my grandchildren, my mother-in-law, and a neighbor. Halfway through the pandemic, two more family members took the crisis seriously, and they joined our social circle. 

Homebody 

All our time was spent at home. We occasionally got restaurant takeout, but mostly I cooked. With nowhere to go and few to see, our clothing expenses were minimal: new underwear and pajamas. We saved a lot of money. 

COVID Ended My Midlife Crisis

The COVID pandemic came as I was just recovering from what would best be described as a mid-life crisis. Health issues forced me to take a disability retirement in my late 50s. Ending my career was unplanned and unwelcome. Going from working up to 60 hours a week as a classroom teacher to doing nothing was a huge adjustment. My sense of purpose had been destroyed. I felt empty without 130-230 students to mentor and a community of colleagues for social and intellectual companionship. My professional ambitions were destroyed, my health was challenged, and depression ensued. 

Time To Re-evaluate My Life

I finally realized how fortunate I am in my middle-class world. My husband and I live in a modest home that we paid off at the end of the year! We have no bills. We own our cars, and we pay our credit card bills in full every month. We are blessed to have decent pensions, money in savings for emergency expenses, and small retirement accounts. We withhold $900 a month for taxes, and the unused portion becomes our vacation fund. Our single-story home should be manageable for us as we continue aging. The only thing we are missing is an ocean view. 

While we are not rich, I feel wealthy. I have a comfortable home, a caring family, and economic security. I look at people on the street and people in the news. There are women my age panhandling on street corners and freeway off-ramps. There are service workers struggling to make ends meet. There are families who fear eviction from their homes. There are masses at the border with only the clothes on their back desperate to start at the bottom to make a new life for their family in the United States. There are Afghan refugees trying to make a new home in the U.S. and Afghanis who were not able to escape their war-torn country and live in fear of the Taliban – night and day. 

My life is not perfect, but it is pretty damn good.

My husband, adult daughter, and I have health issues, and like every parent, I worry about my kids and grandkids. Fortunately, we have been available to provide childcare for my grandkids while my adult children work and complete their education. It is a blessing to spent quality time and bond with my preschool-aged grandkids. This is a gift that many grandparents will never experience. These past few years flew by, and soon my kids will no longer need my help. 

Nothing Lasts Forever

Challenges will inevitably come my way. Eventually, either my husband or I will suddenly drop dead or develop a terminal condition. It is the way life works. I would rather it was one of us than having to face the illness or death of one of our children or grandchildren. Being mindful of the impermanence of life is all the more reason to appreciate the simple joys that each day has to offer. I can stay up late and sleep until noon if I desire. I can spend my day reading for enjoyment, doing crafts with my grandkids, or writing a novel. I can afford most everything I desire – aside from first-class accommodations and an unlimited travel budget. My wants and needs are clearly minimal at this point in my life.

I learned to count my blessings.

The isolation and introspection that COVID brought made me reevaluate my place in life. At my lowest, I was angry that my health failed me, angry that my career – as I planned it – was over, and angry that I had not achieved greater accomplishments in my life. I buried myself in the negative, focusing on all the inadequacies in my life, rather than embracing the positive. I may never achieve fame or fortune in this life, but I will take the love of my family and the comfort of my home over empty desires and misplaced expectations.

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