When my 92 year old mother was diagnosed with covid 19, I reminded myself to take a breath and remember to take it one day at a time. With type I diabetes, a cardiac condition and fluid around her lungs, she was a poster child for risk. She was the first (and still only) resident in the 236 strong Independent Living portion of her continuing care community to test positive. Everyone’s diligence and attention to precaution has served them well. My mother had chosen this place specifically for its lively community, and has appreciated the extended family they have truly become, while desperately missing them with the strict distancing required the last many months.
Balancing the need for connection with protocols of separation is a fine art that they practice daily, starting with the broadcast from M.G., the CEO, who reassures everyone that they can count on knowing what is happening, even if they don’t know the details of who tests positive.
A week in, with few other discernible symptoms, Mom’s blood sugar rocketed, and stubbornly refused to come back down. This necessitated an ambulance ride to Vassar Hospital.
As fortune would have it, my cousin’s son had started working there just a couple of months before. Having done a long stint on a covid unit in Westchester, New York, he had transferred to Vassar Hospital, closer to his home. Thus he was the one person who was able to visit her twice before she was transferred to a small regional hospital—the only hospital in the whole area that accepts covid positive patients. Her blood sugar and UTI they discovered no longer needed acute hospital level care, but she was too weak and disoriented to return home.
I started to let some people know after her initial test results, and realized how deep and wide her community is. Although at first she had requested her information be kept private from her housing community as she “didn’t want to burden anyone,” it soon became evident that she needed to hear from her tribe, and this superseded any notion of confidentiality.
As the days, and now weeks have passed, I have made an effort to expand the circle of those who know so that they can call her if they wish, and connect with her even though none of us can visit. Her memory is erratic and sometimes she will exclaim that she spoke to cousin Judy or to her friend Stuart, while other times I may find out because someone has let me know by text or email.
I realized that not only does this vast and varied community support her during this tumultuous and unpredictable time, but I, too, am buoyed by the web of love they are weaving around her day by day. With her 93rd birthday approaching, her aide suggested that anyone who wishes, could send her a card that she would pick up and specially deliver, along with the balloons, cake and flowers that we had already agreed she would tote.
I feel a space opening, knowing it is not just my immediate family who is responsible for engaging with her, but together we are the network who holds her, and lets her know that she is indisputably surrounded by love. If ever she doubted it before, my hope is that this truth will rain gently down on her, and keep her afloat until whatever comes next.
I stand in awe of what she has created across a lifetime, and am so grateful that people are so ready, so willing to stretch a hand to her from their corners of the globe. And this is the image I wish to hold as we move forward, whatever may come.