Love in the Time of COVID-19

Today is my mother’s 94th birthday. She lives in a retirement community, Peconic Landing, in Greenport, Long Island. She requires advanced care and her mind has gone cloudy with only occasional patches of sun.

Our original plan was to travel down to visit this weekend, spend the night, surprise her with cake, balloons, and small gifts. But that was before the virus. Before the world changed. From what we’ve been told, as of two days ago, Peconic has already experienced three virus-related deaths. It now begins to wash like a great wave through the community, affecting healthcare workers and elderly patients alike. I don’t know if I’ll ever see my mother again.

These are hard times. For much of it, we are strong and brave and something close to our regular selves. Other times, we might feel that weight drag us down. For a few minutes, alone in my room, the tears come. I tried to call, something that I’ve all but given up on in the past. Thanks to the help of the staff, the call gets through. Our conversation becomes confused very quickly. Eventually, in the muddled silence, I hang up. Goodbye, I say.

It’s far better to see her in person, face to face, squeeze her hand, push the wheelchair outside, look out into the bay. My mother enjoys a cup of Lipton tea with sugar and still, amazingly, eats like a stevedore. That’s one of her signature expressions, which I love. Such a visit is not possible right now, will likely never again be possible.

Yet here in upstate, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. It’s the first day of Spring. Our two youngest children, Gavin and Maggie, are home with us. Our oldest, Nick, is healthy and working at home in New York City, supposedly the new epicenter of America’s coronavirus epidemic. My wife, Lisa, a midwife, is an amazing woman, doing important work. She touches lives in deeply meaningful ways. I’m infinitely proud of her.

There is still so much to love in this world. The trees, the clouds, the morning’s dawn chorus, our friends and family. Forgive me, if for a moment, I forget. I think we all have to forgive ourselves during these lapses. These moments when we feel it closing in around us. I’d planned on getting some work done this afternoon, attempting to make a bright, upbeat video for young readers who might have enjoyed my books. Throw it on Youtube, maybe somebody would find it. That’s something positive, right? But now? I’m not feeling it. Work can wait until tomorrow. This effing virus. Oh Mom, oh my family, this small mercy is not the ending I wanted to write, not the first day of Spring I had imagined with balloons, and small gifts, and cake. 

23 comments

  1. Lisa Preller says:

    Beautiful and so moving. You have a beautiful heart.

  2. Mary Corrigan says:

    I just went to Mass online at St. Frances. My usual time. Yes I still go. Then I read your blog.
    I have tears coming down my face. I have always loved your mother, since we were all kids.
    Please send my blessing to your mother and Happy Birthday to her.
    She won’t remember me but thats ok.
    Be safe and healthy.

  3. Nan Hoekstra says:

    I read it aloud to my husband who is sketching on the couch. Tears came of course for all we’ve loved and lost. Carry on JP.

  4. Lois Lowry says:

    Yesterday was also MY birthday, my 83rd, and I too live in a retirement community…one where now there are 6 diagnosed cases of Covid19. The sun is out and I will shortly take my dog for a short walk, exchanging only brief waves,no schmoozing, with neighbors also seeking fresh air and respite. These may be the last days for some of us. I guess each of us hopes only to have done a little good in this world, to have loved and been loved. Your mom has done those things, as have you. Turn on the Bach Cello Suites and sip a glass of Chardonnay.

    • jimmy says:

      Oh, Lois, we need you to stay safe. I learned today of a friend in hospice, dying of cancer. To do it in isolation seems like such a cruel twist of fate. I’ll be thinking of you.

  5. Ann says:

    Eloquent and moving words. Thanks

  6. Cheryl Rosen says:

    My mom passed in January and I did not get there to hold her hand. I now keep pictures of her all around my kitchen and I still talk with her. I believe you can still communicate across the miles either out loud or to yourself and share all your feelings with her. I believe she will feel it in her heart. It is a comfort to think that we are all connected beyond the physical. I imagine a stream of consciousness like a beautiful sparkling jetstream above us all, a highway of connection to each other. I feel your pain and hope this might help.

  7. Barbara says:

    Happy Birthday Anne! Hoping in some remote place of your mind you know how special you, especially to your family. The greatest testament of ones life must be to be treasured so deeply it touches others lives. Thinking of you Jimmy, sorry for the separation from your mom on this day.

    • jimmy says:

      Thank you, Barbara! She’s not quite that far gone yet, but it’s this virus that makes us feel so disconnected — an experience that many must feel in a thousand variations.

  8. Liza says:

    James, Oh my this is so sad. I feel deeply for you. Years ago my father was in such a facility 4 hours away. He was very well cared for. He had dementia and every time I would leave him I would fear it was my last visit, and I would wonder what he thought. His sense of time was way off. Did he think I was only gone 2 hours when it was 2 weeks? I never knew. I really hope you get to spend time with your mother again. I can’t imagine how hard this is. But you have had many good times it sounds like and you can hold on to that. Liza

  9. Ellen Biggers says:

    Beautiful James. I live nearby and can deliver something to her if you like.
    💜 Ellen

  10. Jules Bullard says:

    This is lovely Jimmy. I visited my mother last weekend in Western NY. She’ll be 83 on March 31st. She not in great health and has COPD. I shouldn’t have because of social distancing, but I hugged her when I left. I hugged her long and hard thinking it could be the last time I see her. It’s an awful feeling and I’m sorry you’re feeling it too. Hugs to you and Lisa.

    Happy birthday to your sweet mom.

  11. Mary Grandpre says:

    Thank you Jimmy, for sharing your story, beautiful and brutal. I am so sorry. I send my love to you and your family, and to your mother. Bless her. I hope she can somehow be blanketed in Spring’s sunlight and I hope you can know that she must surely feel you are with her, always. Hold tight.

  12. Kathleen says:

    Beautiful. So well-said. Your mom is a lucky lady. She feels it, I’m sure. Hang in there. Unprecedented, scary times. Sending well-wishes to you and your family.

  13. Begoña says:

    My heart goes to you, James. My mother lives in Madrid, Spain where the situation is really bad right now. She’s in her 70s but she’s healthy, although I still worry about her. Reading about your mother I was thinking about how technology is allowing us to keep in touch with our loved ones. Have you tried FaceTime or something similar with your mom?

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