Preparing another batch of my great Aunt Eva’s fudge recipe this afternoon, I was deep in memories of her kindness and strong sense of family. How I loved her ham sandwiches, hot cocoa, and her delicious fudge during Christmas visits as a child. Then my phone startled me. This text came over my screen.
“Hi Tanja, return my text when you get it, I have a favor to ask. God Bless! Pastor John Thomason.”
I was suspicious, even though my name was spelled correctly. The grammar was off, for starters. Wrong use of commas. Plus, the phone number that came over was unfamiliar. I had texted with my pastor on other occasions and if this was truly him, his name would have come up and not an unfamiliar phone number.
Maybe for some reason the pastor was using someone else’s phone? I took a breath and typed, “Hello Pastor! What’s up?”
In a few minutes, I got this, “Currently in a meeting, would have called. I need to get Amazon gift-cards today for some women battling cancer in the hospital but I can’t do that right now because of my busy schedule. Can you get it from any nearby store now? I will repay. Thanks (sic).
More wonky grammar. Also, my pastor would never do this!
I could have strung this imposter a long to see where I was supposed to send these cards, only to bawl him or her out later, but I had fudge to finish!
Instead I cut to the chase. “Shame on you for impersonating a pastor and lying about people with cancer. God help you. Pray now and ask for forgiveness. We all have to answer to our higher power when we pass from this life. Think about what you are doing in this life. God bless you.”
I could have left it there, but I was on a holy-roll! “Go, sin no more like this. It’s not too late if you stop this and ask God to show you the way to Love.”
I went back to my fudge.
OK, so I was being rather preachy and even punitive to this n’er do well.
I took another breath.
What if I prayed for this person, right there in the text? At worst, he or she would stop the game with me and that would be the end of it. At best, maybe he or she might have a stroke of conscience and what? Repent?
“Dear Awesome, All-knowing God. Have mercy on the person engaged in this illicit behavior. Please look favorably on him/her should you hear from this soul now. Open doors for this person so all of his/her needs can be met in wholesome, soul-restoring ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
No reply. I wasn’t expecting it, but instead of getting cranked up and adding more negativity to the world, I went back to happy thoughts of my late, great aunt, and sharing her fudge with my family soon.
Although my mom almost never wears makeup or even lipstick, I think she’s one of the classiest women I’ve ever known. Class doesn’t necessarily come with cosmetics, money, fancy clothes or other adornments. It also comes with what you do with what you’ve got for the greater good, and especially for your children.
Born in 1942 and raised in a rural Higganum, Connecticut, Sonja Deloris Granat grew up in a small farmstead with her parents, four siblings, and Swedish, immigrant grandparents. They weren’t dirt poor, but I remember mom saying each child received just one gift at Christmas. On the farm, they grew and sometimes sold their own produce, meats, and homemade cheese.
At an early age, mom loved nature and influenced by her grandmother, she learned about God. She prayed once as a five year old to see a turtle. When she stepped outside there was one right by her feet! Mom recalls loving to go to elementary school, though she was a bit of a wallflower throughout her high school years. After graduation, she and one of her sisters commuted to Central Connecticut State College where mom pursued her bachelor’s in elementary education. Her college girlfriend introduced mom to her brother, whom she married in 1963.
While mom worked several years after my sister and I were born to earn her master’s degree in elementary education, twists and turns in life prevented her from teaching in a public-school setting. She did, though, use her skills and passion to lead girls and boys through scouts and 4-H. She taught Sunday School and was superintendent of Sunday School for many years at her Methodist church.
As I look back, I see how mom did an exemplary job raising four kids in the lean years before and after my parent’s divorce in 1977. We always had enough food. Though we often wore hand-me-downs until we were old enough to work to buy more trendier clothes, mom kept what we had clean and mended. But she gave us so much more than this.
Mom always read to us. As toddlers, she read Greek and Roman literature as she balanced quality time with us and studying for her Master’s. More age-appropriate reading matter included “Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” by A.A. Milne, and Johnny Gruelle’s, “Raggedy Ann Stories” and “Raggedy Andy Stories.” She turned us on to Aesop’s Fables, Bible stories, and Walt Disney stories in books and record sets. On Saturdays, she drove us to (Middletown) Junior Matinee’s to see live productions of Peter and the Wolf and other children’s plays.
Working as a library assistant, she’d come home with the latest children’s books. She introduced us to Judy Blume. I devoured “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?”, “Blubber” and especially, “Deenie,” a girl I longed to befriend.
Mom co-led a wonderful Girl Scout day camp in our town in the summers. We’d learn crafts like sand candle making, macrame, ice cream making. We’d have haunted houses in the cabin!
Mom found affordable fun. We camped at state parks—-Hammonassett Beach on Long Island Sound, and Wells State Park in Massachusetts. We’d stop by Sturbridge Village, an 1830s living museum, and visit Aunt Edna and Uncle Ward on their working dairy farm.
She inspired us with the Teddy Bear’s Picnic (melody by American composer John Walter Bratton in 1907, and lyrics by Irish song writer Jimmy Kennedy in 1932). We often picnicked at roadside parks like Seven Falls, or at Haddam Meadows on the Connecticut River.
Some of the best times of times was going to the local drive-in! She would pop tons of popcorn and mix up a jug of off-brand Kool-aid. We’d pile in the back of the old blue station wagon and catch the latest kid movies—-Escape to Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Herby Rides Again!
Through all her many trials, mom always kept her faith and keeps her faith. She took us to Sunday School every Sunday while we lived under her roof. Sometimes, to my chagrin, it meant having to leave early on weekend camp trips with the Parents Without Partners Group and our teen friends. Growing up, mom would read Luke 2 every Christmas morning before we opened our presents.
Mom also could not and does not stand for swearing or even saying the word “fart.” It’s kind of amazing Mom was/is this way with her own father, the king of “Pull my finger” as a lifelong influence. Trying to instill class in us, she’d instruct, “Say excuse me, when you blow a poop.” As we got older, we’d laugh at this substitute for the common expression, but something stuck with me later with my own kids. They were raised to say, “pass gas”, not “fart.”
Mom loved her crafts and was quite the seamstress. She made Brenda and I matching skirts, vests and jumpers. Mom made my senior prom gown in 1983 and later wedding gown in 1988. As I look at wedding pictures, I am still so in awe of the wonderful job she did on this elaborate and gorgeous garment. I believe it was the best item she had ever sewn.
Mom was front and center the whole time Sean was in Desert Storm and when our babies were born. She was gleeful, blowing bubbles and was such source of support and encouragement. Mom and second husband Ernie were always so happy to babysit and even took our kids on a cross country trip. She instilled her love of nature and fun in her grandchildren. She introduced them all to the joys of swimming. As toddlers she’d encourage them to, “kick-kick-kick!” and “reach-reach-reach!” as she played with them in her above ground pool.
Today, at nearly eighty, I still see so much class in my mom. She is less ambulatory than her early days, but I still see her classiness in motion.
She starts her day with one of her daily devotional readings. She moves on to her daily crossword and jumble in the Hartford Courant. Then she moves on to her novel reading. Mom often has two or more books going at once, in totally different genres from her extensive book collection. Kate Douglas Wiggin’s, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” and Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” were two titles she recently bounced back and forth reading. She’s on John Steinbeck’s “The Pastures of Heaven,” right now.
Mom still plays a mean game of Florida Rummy and is a formidable Scrabble opponent. She crochets Afghans and can whip up a new dishcloth in a half hour. Mom looks forward to celebrating Christmas Eve with an authentic Swedish smorgasbord and glogg at her house. Mom keeps up with the goings-on of her grown grandchildren. She and I still have meaningful discussions about faith and life. She treasures when family visit, especially when all four of her unique children are there together.
A week ago, Friday, my husband Sean and adult son, Chris took our travel trailer to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. They were psyched for another weekend of NASCAR races and people watching.
I was thrilled to stay at home, soak in the hot tub, and catch up on reading.
All was well until Saturday at 6 p.m.
“I have Covid,” Chris said over the phone.
“Cut it out,” I said. He often jokes.
“We just took tests,” Chris said. “I tested positive.”
“I’m totally serious, mom.”
Panic punched through my short-lived calm.
I didn’t see this coming. When Sean called earlier, he chuckled that Chris was a little sluggish that morning. One-too-many beers from the night before?
Sean was on the phone now.
“Chris had a headache this afternoon, so he went in for a nap. When he came out, he told me he had the chills. I felt his forehead and said let’s go get a test. He’s positive. I’m negative.”
I went into worried-mama-overdrive.
“Maybe he should go to a clinic? Call the doctor, the on-call? Send the new Covid medicine to a nearby CVS? Is there Tylenol in the first aid kit?”
“The nearest pharmacy is closed now. Maybe we should just pack up and come home?”
They decided they would keep to themselves and make the three and half hour drive in the morning.
I hung up and began to pace. We’d come so far avoiding this awful virus that had killed my mother-in-law in December of 2020. Sandy came down with Covid even though her small, boutique-like convalescent home had taken steps to protect residents with porch visits, masks, and plastic wall dividers. She ended up in the ICU on a ventilator for 19 days over Christmas. Her fragile health made it impossible for her to rally. Poor Sean had the unthinkable task of removing her from the vent. In just two short weeks after her death, residents at her convalescent home received their first Covid vaccines.
As soon as we could, our family got shots and boosters. Both my husband and son work in public schools and despite spikes and new variances, none of us had gotten sick. Like most people, we relaxed wearing masks unless we had a medical appointment. In the back of my mind, I knew we could still get Covid-19, less severe with advances in science. I realize that there are more people in the country now who have had it than those who haven’t. Still, I had lulled myself into a false sense of security that we would never get it. Why would we be exempt? It’s always lurking. I guess you just never know who has it. Or, if someone has it but is symptomless. Or, if they do have it and freakin’ know, but aren’t responsible enough to stay away!
I tossed and turned in my bed that night.
I hate f-in Covid! Hate how the pandemic took my mother-in-law. Hate how it has changed the world as we know it. Will Chris have long-term effects from the virus? Will Sean get sick? What about me? Will I get it, too?
After Sean pulled into our yard with the Winnebago, I waved to my son as he backed out of our driveway. Sean, still testing negative, decided to sleep in our camper instead of the guestroom. He was nervous about me getting sick, especially since I deal with asthma.
Sean took another rapid antigen home test on Monday morning. Still negative. Maybe he wouldn’t come down with it? Later that afternoon, sitting in the yard, he developed a headache and scratchy throat.
“Probably just stress,” he said. He rolled the newfangled thermometer across his forehead revealing a slight fever.
Sean went back in the camper and took another antigen test. Fifteen minutes later, he texted me a photo of the stick. “Positive. This ain’t no at home pregnancy test,” he wrote, trying to keep it light.
That night, Sean’s temperature went up to almost 102. He popped some Tylenol and dialed the on-call at the doctor’s office. The nurse suggested he make a Zoom appointment for the next day. Sean explained how his mother had died of Covid, and that he was worried about me getting Covid because of the asthma. The nurse assured Sean this strain was much less severe than the original strain from 2020. She advised him to go to the hospital if he had trouble breathing.
Sean sent a group text to my son, daughter, and son-in-law that he was positive. That meant the guys’ upcoming Baltimore trip to the Yankees vs Oriole’s game was officially off for him. Plans my daughter and I had to go to a spa while the guys were away also got canned. I let our friends know we couldn’t be able to come to their 50th wedding anniversary party.
Quarantining sucks. All I want to do is sit side-by-side in our loveseat recliners with our bowl of popcorn and watch our murder-mystery programs. I didn’t mind sleeping alone when Sean was away, but I hate the fact that we’ re suddenly just housemates, sleeping apart. We’re relegated to seeing each other on the back deck, sitting more than six feet apart. I slide his paper plate dinner to his end of the table.
A week later…Chris tested negative today! I’m grateful he bounced back fast. It’s been five days since Sean got it. We are thankful that his case has been “mild” with symptoms of a lousy cold. He is feeling better every day, but will keep masked until he tests negative. So far, I am healthy thanks to Sean’s diligence and distancing.
I noticed at our family’s Fourth of July picnic that not all of the 71 in attendance were wearing red, white and blue clothing this year. I’d say about half of us, including older ones like me, donned patriotic wear. I wore my flag-striped, tie-dyed T-shirt I reserve for the 4th. A number of our under-forty group, however, looked as if it were just another picnic, not America’s 246th birthday.
I believe the lack of American flag colors this year reflects the general malaise of our country’s many woes. Yes, there are a lot of challenges right now: a lingering pandemic, climate change, pro-life vs. pro-choice, and other political dilemmas.
I just feel sad that our beloved stars and stripes has fallen victim to the polarization, revered or reviled by two camps.
There are those who go overboard and wave it frenetically, clad in “Family, Faith, Firearms” T-shirts. They stick or tack Old Glory on plywood signs scrawled with a former president’s name, already campaigning for his re-election in ’24. The more flags the better, whatever the weather or condition, seems to be their m.o.
Then there are those who maybe because of this, and perhaps in general disappointment with the political climate appear repulsed (?) by the American flag. I’ve heard many say the American flag has been “commandeered” even “hijacked” by “them.” “Look how they’ve raped (this country),” one person told me.
I know a few folks who refuse to fly the flag in their yard. Yet, when one does, it may come with a kind of wariness. What will people think? A young businessman who sells plants in an area where half of his neighbors are prolific flag fliers, apologized to us for flying the American flag in his front yard.
“Don’t apologize,” I said. “It’s your flag, too.” Did we seem the type who needed soothing because we talked a little politics over our plant purchase? That bothers me. Has the flag, it self, become yet another taboo item we need to be mindful of in common conversation?
I know of an “open and affirming” church that took down their American flag where it once flew beside the rainbow flag over their front door, “because some thought it was offense.”
This makes me sad and mad. Why do we have to be so divided, even down to our American flag? The American flag belongs to all of us! Not one “side” or faction. No one gets to own the flag or make it a symbol for their “side.” No one should despise the flag because they are unhappy or even disillusioned with the way the things are going. Rally, mobilize, and go vote, but please don’t give up the flag! We shouldn’t need to apologize nor defend ourselves if we choose to display, wear, or salute the flag, either.
My fellow and female Americans, fly your flag as your right at as an American. Not as a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Believer or Atheist, Straight or LGBTQIA+ person but because you are an American! Display it at your home, on the road, at your campsite. Carry it in parades along with all other multi-colored, meaningful banners. Fly it at your church, synagogue, or mosque to show you are truly open to all. Protest with the flag by your side, or by kneeling in front of it to amplify your concerns for things that need changing in the country. Go ahead and do these things because people fought and died for you to be free under this American flag! Long may she wave, representing you and me.
This last shooting in Oklahoma, on the heels of the last two, really flattened me last night. Watching President Biden’s speech “Enough!” He described in great detail, horrible scenes he and his wife have witnessed and learned of in just the past three weeks. They all should haunt us and motivate every single person to scream out and demand, “Enough!” Let this sit with you. The classroom scene of an eleven- year- old- girl smearing the blood of a nearby, slain classmate onto her own little head to pretend she was already dead, so she wouldn’t get shot…
Biden has incredible strength and faith to keep going. This isn’t about Biden, or the ever-present political divide, it’s about how to cope now. What can be done when there seems to be no safe place to avoid carnage? Our schools, shops, hospitals, businesses, churches are all vulnerable. How do you not feel like leaving, taking your family and friends out of here? Or hunker down off-grid? It’s a fantasy, I know. I was beyond crying last night, in a very dark place. I was having a hard time keeping the faith.
I know I can’t stay in this place. I got up and took out my journal. It helps to scribble-scream out frustrations, worries, anger. This led to a prayer, confessing my anger, worries, wavering faith. And lack of faith that things are going to change here, in America. Are we being punished as a nation for our waywardness? Our sins? Is there any way out?
I’ve been in Bible study for several years…Some of what we’re living through now seems pretty Old Testament at times. Yet, I can’t believe in a punitive God. I believe we’ve been given free will. I’ve come to believe in a loving God, who weeps with us. I also still believe in a loving God who hears us when we cry out in prayer, and gives us strength.
“Hear me crying out this morning, Oh, God. I come to you today in great despair, anger and worry. I pray for my country, its leaders, those who’ve lost loved ones in the past three weeks in horrific shootings, my loved ones, and myself.
Forgive our nation for turning away from You, for selfish pursuits, for our huge divide. We need to change, to mend, to heal. Please strengthen leaders to do the right thing for all people, not just for some. Comfort and strengthen families suffering beyond-catastrophic loss from unchecked gun violence. Protect our loved ones who bravely work and teach our precious children and youth in our schools. Who lead congregations, heal our sick, operate businesses, etc.
Lord, help me not to panic and be a defeatist in my thinking. Strengthen me to be brave, encouraging others, and to live the full life you’d have me to live, instead of wanting to wring my hands and retreat.
My query on facebook, Why are there not armed security officers in every school in our nation? brought out mixed reactions and opinions. I thought it was pretty obvious we needed armed school officers in every school now—at least while we wait for real change in gun laws, in our mental health systems, and in our collective hearts in this country. I admit I posted from a deeply personal place. My husband, a retired police officer, is currently working as an unarmed security officer in an elementary school. Both my son and his girlfriend are new teachers. So many beloved friends and relatives are teachers.
What you are about to read though, is not my hand-wringing. Instead I bring you the sound opinion of a viable, immediate solution to our vulnerable schools. Here is my experienced and level-headed husband, Sean.
This is my professional opinion coming from over thirty years as a police officer with several of them as a S.W.A.T team member/commander and firearms/ tactics instructor. For those who say ban gun sales, that ship has sailed. There are an estimated 400,000,000 guns in this country. I strongly believe in regulated gun sales with an emphasis on background checks and mental health assessments. There should be no sales to unpermitted persons and no sales to anyone under the the age of 21.
Now onto armed security in schools. First let me say that those advocating for arming teachers are not thinking it through. The amount of training needed to shoot in a combat situation (which is exactly what a school shooting situation is) is not realistic for teachers. They have enough on their plates educating our children and keeping up to date with their own education and school mandates. A highly trained (emphasis on highly) armed security force can not only be a deterrent but effectively respond to a situation.
As I said, the guns are out there so it is a pipe dream to think halting sales will stop this madness. The (armed) security force would have the time and opportunity to train during the summer and other school breaks, along with professional development days. An armed security force is not the ultimate answer, but used in conjunction with greater mental health awareness and treatment is a tool to reduce the number of children that are being murdered in our schools.
An unarmed security guard in a school is basically a bullet trap designed to slow the assault down enough to put the school in lockdown. I will do whatever I need to do protect the lives of the children at my school but I could do a much better job if I was properly equipped.
I wasn’t even meant to go originally. My husband Sean bought two tickets to the Kiss show at Hartford’s Xfinity Theater back in November of 2019 for he and our then 27-year-old son, Chris. The two joked about the over-the-top costumes, frenetic guitar stylings, and pumped-up pyro techniques promised at the iconic, four decade-old metal band’s “End of the Road World Tour.”
The tickets were $30 lawn seats. Not a huge investment if the show was lame, they reasoned.
As it turned out, Kiss was postponed twice. First, due to Covid (before vaccines), and then in September 2021 after front man Paul Stanley and bassist Gene Simmons tested positive for COVID-19.
As the fateful rescheduled day finally arrived, Chris politely begged out of going. A high school chum was heading east from Colorado. He also wanted to see his girlfriend.
“I’ll go with Dad,” I said, gallantly. Far be it from me to stand in the way of my adult children’s romances.
Besides, how bad could it be? Sean and I make a point of seeing performers from “back in the day.” Age-defying performers like Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Gordon Lightfoot, and Weird Al Yankovic impress us with their tenacity and longevity. Kiss deserved the same homage, right?
On Saturday night, Sean and I sidestepped a sea of fellow cheap-seaters and set up our folding lawn chairs on the slope of the hill.
As we sat on the hill on an awkward angle, I noticed a twinge in my lower back. I noted to self, better stand and stretch on and off throughout the show or I could pay for it later. Peering ahead, I could just make out the dwarfed stage, rows and rows behind giant hanging screens meant for us lawn folk.
While we waited for the warmup act, we surveyed our fellow lawn mates. Most were middle aged folk, like us, greying at the temples, thick-wasted. The majority were white, tired-looking guys with beer-belly paunches emphasized in their fifty-dollar Kiss concert t-shirts. A wiry, older thin woman, a few chair rows down, gyrated to every rock song blaring over the speakers, lit ciggie in hand. She was bump-dancing with a chubby little girl we couldn’t decide was her granddaughter or a very late-in-life love child.
As it grew darker, the air around us became heavily saturated with pot smoke. In hindsight, again, maybe a contact-high would’ve helped.
The clouds above thickened. We hoped the rain would hold off until after the show.
A light mist began as the opening act, a muralist, David Garibaldi took the stage around 7:45. This was interesting. No warm up band, but a warm up artist.
He painted three very large murals, very quickly as he engaged the audience. One was of Alice Cooper, the other the Statue of Liberty, and the third, a mural of Kiss, to be signed by the band. This piece was to be raffled off on an on-line fund raiser to benefit families of fallen soldiers. Sean entered. “Wouldn’t this go great over our bed, honey?”
While Garbaldi’s art warm-up was captivating and the fund-raiser was noble, it was unfortunate he was also tasked with warming up/riling up the crowd as he painted. I kinda felt bad for him as he pointed his brush to each section in turn, to see who could make the most noise. “When Kiss asks me which section was the loudest, I can tell them!”
What? It felt like a strange grade school pep rally. The crowd (around us and especially in the closer-to-the stage, sheltered-from-rain seats) were hot for Kiss as Garbaldi left the stage at about 8:15.
Any second now, I looked at my Fitbit, the huge Kiss curtain should rise. They’d be ready to rock since they didn’t have to wait for a warmup band to dismantle. They could get right on.
Tick, tock. Drip, Drop.
Here’s where I got cranky.
15 minutes later, no Kiss. 30 minutes later, no Kiss. 45 minutes later, no Kiss. 48 minutes later, no Kiss. At 9:03 it starting to rain more-than-tolerable mist.
I turned to Sean. “Do you think they had a geriatric emergency? Or are they just arrogant as f—?”
Even though we brought our raincoats, the front of my jeans were getting damp. Because I frequently stood up to stretch my back, my butt sopped up the wetness when I sat back down. “If they’re not on by 9:15, I’m out of here.”
Sean frowned. “I want to see at least some of the show.”
He texted his co-worker who was inside the sheltered area, much closer to the stage. “45 minutes from the warmup guy is getting a little ridiculous. My wife wonders if they had a geriatric emergency.”
His friend joked that someone must’ve spiked the prune juice. He did say he could see their big boots peeking out from under the curtains, “They should start soon.”
FINALLY, the stage opened. Kiss was introduced as “THE Hottest Band in the World!”
Gads. What? There was no apology or explanation for the interminable wait? Did they even care if a good number of their suckers (I mean their Kiss Army) were out in the elements waiting a whole 48 minutes for them after their warm-up guy? I certainly got cold…and damp!
Assessing the close-ups on the mega-screens, none of the four septuagenarians looked as though they had just suffered an age-related incident that evening. Instead, thanks to the face make-up, leather, and studs, they all just looked as if they stepped off one of their 70s albums. Once or twice, though, you could see the tell-tale loose skin on their necks if you weren’t distracted by the frenetic flames and lasers. Still, they were as spry as 20 year olds! Good for them, but how was that possible? A deal with the devil, perhaps?
Sorry, I just wasn’t impressed. I was cold and wet, and peeved at their real or put-on arrogance. They cupped their hands to their ears, demanding for louder cheering, adoration. They badgered for more applause. I get that it was supposed to be their over-the-top theatrics. What I registered was lowbrow and wrestling federation tricks.
To their credit, as musicians, they played extremely well for dudes in their 70s. I’m sure die-hard fans were lit up with their stage presence, prowess, and cultish behaviors. I’m not completely above sophomoric lyrics—Lick It Up, and Doctor Love—I love the rock parody documentary Spinal Tap. It had to be inspired by Kiss!
I felt bad for Sean but was relieved when he asked if we wanted to make an early exit. We weren’t the only ones leaving before the finale. There was a small stream of others who would also miss “Beth” and “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night.” Later, as we checked the set list, we discovered we did see about 3/4s of the show.
After we got home, I began to wonder about myself. Am I getting too old to sit at on an odd-angled folding chair in wet pants waiting 48 minutes for an iconic band to grace us with their greatness? Am I a snob? Am I too impatient? Maybe we should have upgraded our lawn seats?
Since the pandemic started in March 2020, I’ve flip-flopped working from home, then going back in the office, and now back at home until I am full vaccinated. I felt too anxious with co-workers who in a vulnerable building, were not wearing masks, or at least not enough of the time. Some didn’t think COVID-19 was real or that the virus could “happen” to them or their loved ones.
Well, COVID-19 did happen to us. Sean’s mom, Sandy, 74, was living in a small and seemingly very COVID-careful convalescent home of 55 beds. For the longest time they had stayed COVID-free. Precautions were such that we could only visit Sandy while sitting six feet away from her, sitting outside on a porch, wearing our masks. Then the last time I saw her, right before Thanksgiving, the convalescent center was even more stringent. Sandy was sitting indoors, six feet from the open window leading to the porch. She was in her wheel chair, behind a wall of Plexiglas-glass, wearing a mask. Sean and I were outside on the porch looking in the open window, wearing masks. A little much, we thought.
That last visit, Sandy seemed the best I’d seen her in a while. Bright, joking, looking forward. I remember telling her to stay well so when things calmed down she could come and stay more weekends with us like she had before COVID hit. We had hoped that after COVID-19, she and Sean could resume looking into Sandy getting into her own apartment with visiting nurse assistance.
Then we hit a wall. A few weeks before Christmas Sandy and a few others had come down with COVID-19. Rumor was that someone (a doctor?) had come in to the building who was infected, without symptoms. At first it seemed Sandy, who was moved into an isolated area, only had a mild case. We prayed she would be OK, but COVID attacked. Her lungs were in such rough shape; she had COPD, emphysema, and was already on oxygen at times. Her blood oxygen dangerously low, Sandy was sent to the intensive care unit at the hospital. She and Sean, who is her conservator came to the anxious conclusion that she would need to be put on a ventilator. Sandy told Sean she was scared, and Sean did his best to assure her that the doctors said she really needed it.
For 17 days we prayed that the medicines they were treating her with would pull her through. At times it looked like she was improving, ever so slightly, but then Sandy’s regular pulmonologist would worn us. If she didn’t turn around soon, she’d have to come off the ventilator. Being on it too long was causing pneumonia and infection.
We kept praying and tip-toed through very low-key, half-hearted Christmas. My daughter and her son were down from VT after testing negative for COVID. Sean, my son and I were negative, too. We did NOT see any other relatives.
On December 27th, Sean made a hard and heart-wrenching decision, after consulting many times with his aunts and uncles and with the doctor, to have Sandy removed from the ventilator. She was getting worse, not better. She would need to be let go. Sean had found a priest who would give his mom last rites, a priest who was subbing in for the hospital’s chaplain who had contracted COVID-19! We were told by the attending pulmonologist that once taken off of the ventilator, Sandy would pass in about ten minutes. Poor Sean was with his mom and the priest when last rites were given. He said his goodbyes and then he and the priest waited in the family room for her to pass so they could go in and offer “prayers for the dead,” in a half hour or so.
In that time, I reached out to my prayer warrior mamas and some family via text that Sandy was off the ventilator and assumed that she passed around four p.m. That’s what I had been told would happen. NEVER AGAIN will I make that kind of assumption. About an hour and half later I text Sean asking where he was thinking his mom had passed and if he was alright. I could picture him in his truck, distraught, crying. He might have gone for a beer, but where? No bars were open. After another half hour with no response from my text, I called him.
“Where are you?”
“I’m with my mother.”
“Oh, honey, will you be home soon?”
“I am with my mother! She’s is looking around the room. Do you want to talk to her?”
What? At first I thought he was SO distraught that he had lost it. “What? How?”
“She’s here. She’s stubborn.”
“Do you want to talk to my mother?”
“Yes. Hi Sandy. I love you.”
“I love you.” She sounded so weak. So far away.
“It’s OK, Sandy. I will take care of Sean. I love you.”
Sean said he’d call me a little later.
From the waiting room, Sean told me the attending nurse said this it going to be a slow death. That Sandy could live on a few more days. “The nurse said the other pulmonologist never should have told us she’d pass in a few minutes after they took her off the ventilator. They just don’t know.”
“Could she still turn around from this?”
“It’s not likely, but you know my mother! She has always done it her way!”
All I could think was, Oh, my God. Please. Not that I wanted her to die, but I didn’t want her to struggle. For Sean to be in this agony, too.
After I got off the phone I freaked out. I video called my good friends Bobbi and Jops and just blared, “She’s still alive! She didn’t pass yet like I thought, like I told you …and other people. Oh, My God! I feel so—crazy!”
For the next three days we prayed for God’s Will Be Done, and hopefully meaning a complete recovery for Sandy. She had been on the brink more than once over the past four years or so with extreme pneumonias and infections. It astounded us at first how she rallied in the past. My son had said, “I’ve said goodbye to Grandma Sandy at least three times. ” But here she was, off the ventilator, and still with us. She had always been such a headstrong woman, a fighter. I could just imagine her thinking, “The doctor said I’d die after ten minutes? I’ll show him! I’ll go when I’m damn good and ready!” In the past 37 years of knowing her and all of the hard times she’d endured and survived, I was thinking that she might just overcome this!
For the next 48 hours, Sean kept vigil as the ever-dutify son. He explored every option of medicines that might help that hadn’t already been tried. The doctor explained that his mother was dying and all that could be done was to keep her comfortable, any other medicines would just prolong the inevitable. Sean, in spite of COVID-19 restrictions that originally allowed just one “compassion visit” to loved-one who was terminally ill, was able to suit up head to toe and visit his mom two times. He said they were able to talk, but very little. Mostly I Loves Yous. He told me he asked his mom to say hello to his sister (who passed in January 2020).
At home and every time Sean’s phone rang, my heart raced and I froze waiting for news. Sandy was comfortable, but fading. On December 30th around 3 p.m were were sitting in our living room when Sean received a call from a nurse. She said that she had just gone in with the pulmonologist to check on Sandy. They were in the room when she passed, peacefully. Sean thanked her for the call and then got up and walked down the hall to our bedroom where he made the calls to relatives.
I stared out the window at the subdued afternoon light and felt numb. It was surreal as it is always surreal when someone you love dies. I knew and loved Sandy and all of our crazy ups and downs for 37 years. She never ceased to amaze me. Even up until her passing.
That evening, Sean, Chris and I ended up in our rec room with a fire going in the wood stove, toasting Sandy with Guiness as we listened to albums. The very next day Sean retrieved Sandy’s belongings the convalescent home left outside in bags on their front porch.
He spoke with his aunts and uncles and decided we would hold a celebration of Sandy’s life in the late spring 2021 due to COVID. Maybe by then, it would be safer for his elderly relatives to travel to Connecticut, they’d have their vaccines by then.
Speaking of vaccinations? Two weeks after Sandy’s passing, residents at her convalescent home began receiving the first of their two COVID-19 shots.
New adventures in this Covid19 climate. My husband has a barber in Middletown. He goes every six weeks or so, usually very early in the morning because the shop fills up quickly. Sean, like many guys has a preferred cut, a fade, or in the summer, a high and tight style. He is pretty particular about his hair.
Though, I told him I wouldn’t mind at all if he let it grow out the wavy way he wore it when we dated in the 80s.
After Covid19 protocols closed the barbershop, Sean combed the internet for a decent hair clipper set. Hard to find on-line, like rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizers, or fluffy toilet paper. After two failed attempts for home delivery from two different companies, Sean donned mask and gloves and picked up a good set at a local box store.
On an appointed day, Sean who is a very careful reader, laid out the pieces end-to-end and announced,
“Honey, you can do this!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! The worse that could happen is that I’ll just have to buzz it all off.”
“But what if I cut you? ”
“You really can’t.”
So I read and re-read the directions as he got a chair and towel.
The zzz-zzz of the clipper reminded me of bees. I nervously and lightly ran the clipper guard over his thick hair. Nothing happened. We decided I had to go use a smaller clipper guard. He pushed my hand hard into his scalp with the clipper to illustrate I needed to apply A LOT more pressure to make any hair come off!
I sucked in my breath and felt like I was jamming it into his head. It didn’t shred him so I loosened up and started to play a little.
Sean got up and looked in the mirror and came back laughing. Wasn’t what he had in mind!
Embracing the challenge and with even more instruction from Sean, I managed to blend or fade, or whatever it’s called. He didn’t have to shave it all off and start from a cue-ball.
Both my husband’s cousin Hollyann and I decided we’d embrace turning 55 this February by throwing ourselves a silly birthday party. We needed fun. We wanted to defy aging. It’s just a number, we reasoned. But I went further. “55 is double nickels and 5 +5 =10. Let’s be 10-year-olds with a ten-year-old theme.”
Hollyann and I went over a few themes. Brady Bunch? Superheroes? Costume? Nah… “How ‘bout Willie Wonka, a la Gene Wilder—Not the freakish Johnny Depp one?” I proposed. Hollyann shouted, “I like Willie Wonka!”
Immediately we began brainstorming. How about a Violet Beauregard piñata!
A golden egg relay! Bubble gum bubble blowing contest. Guess the number of Gobstoppers! A chocolate fountain! Ice cream sundae bar! Fizzy Lifting Drinks (ginger ale and raspberry vodka!)
What was the best party you ever went to or have ever thrown?
Thanks, cousin! I’m trying to get less annoyed/angry for things I cannot control (which are most things) by leaning into…
Well-played Cousin! I remember visiting Aunt Irma and Eva and the 4-ounce glasses of pineapple juice…priceless. Merry Christmas!
Thanks, cousin! I’m trying to get less annoyed/angry for things I cannot control (which are most things) by leaning into…