Family in Masks

Often in my work with families facing serious and life-limiting illnesses, I have been privileged to witness and participate in profound moments shared with me.  The old saying goes that we learn the most from adversity.  I know that this is a “truism” in my own life.  Individuals, families, and friends have shared with me that they have seen in a new light through these excruciating experiences; that a more profound meaning has been revealed through their journey, their pain, and their suffering.

There are parallels if we liken the situation of serious illness to the past year of our collective COVID experience, both of which we have very little control over but which dominates our lives. An occurrence we did not want has forced itself into our lives and demanded a response.  We made accommodations, felt the limitations, and experienced the invasion of the unwanted impact.

What has the adversity of the past year taught us?

Like you, my children have learned via a computer screen.  They have been denied their last year of high school, their first grade, or freshman year at college.  Our elders and those hospitalized have faced extreme isolation as they have coped with their circumstances.  We have felt the agony of separation from those we love.

Despite living in a culture repeatedly assaulted with adversity, natural disasters, war, poverty, violence, uncertainty, and sadly much more, it seems as if little attention is given to the development of resiliency.  Instead, we tend to focus more on avoidance and denial.  I have wanted (perhaps to a fault) to shield my children from some of the pain I have known.  While this seems like a typical parental response, in so doing, I may have unwittingly interfered with the development of their coping skills.  Facing adversity, and surviving despite it, has borne inner strength, creativity, capacity, and grit – skills that have served me well.

Those of us “of an age” remember the stories of our parents, grandparents, or greats, as they waited in food lines, had rations for bread, butter and meat, and put cardboard in shoes.  Most of us have not known this kind of want.  I was irritated when paper products, flushable and otherwise, were in short supply.

Has our appreciation of “normal” grown? Does coffee with a friend, face to face, take on greater meaning?  Does the intimate dinner in a cozy romantic restaurant seem all the sweeter?  Does that long embrace mean more? 

The apocalypse is for another day.

I no longer disinfect every item that enters my home.  I have used the grocery store keypad “glove-free” without feeling as if my demise were imminent.  I have, from time to time, forgotten my mask.  The blanket of burden is lifting.  Some of us are immunized, some are scheduled, and many are deciding.  The numbers are better, and the focus is changing.

Inside of this year of horror, there have to be lessons.  It seems impossible to have lived this experience without a gain. Is it a renewed interest in wellness?  Are you taking less for granted?  Are we more aware of the world around us, the neighborhood, our family, our vulnerability?  Do we appreciate the brevity of life in a new way?  Are we more plugged into those who mean the most to us? Have we had a shift of priority?  Do we see things differently?

It’s hard to imagine that at least one of the above items has not affected each of us.  Now that the fire is under control, maybe we can give ourselves the gift of reflection.  Consider where we were a year ago and what has changed.  Did we develop more courage?  Were we able to take more charge of our destiny?  Did we add in or subtract?  Did we do any pruning or weeding?

Our COVID experience has changed us.

Most of us have made adjustments one way or the other.  It’s safe to say that we are not the same.  If we have not had significant losses like illness or the death of friends and loved ones, if we have not lost employment or our livelihood, if the “outside” life has stayed much the same, surely, we are changed inside.

Change is certain.  We can examine, consider and choose.  We can decide what opportunities have presented and what we will embrace or reject. If adversity affords growth, we have plenty to pick from.  I am still evaluating and considering where I go from here.  Maybe you are, too.

Joanne MacInnis, RN, is the founder and president of Aberdeen Home Care, Inc., of Danvers, a concierge private duty home care agency in business since 2001. With 35 years of nursing practice, management and administration experience focused on home care and hospice, Joanne and her team specialize in advising and supporting families addressing the elders in their lives retain dignity and quality of life.