by Amber Jensen
My Gran turned 90 years old in October. She’s had 90 years of human experience. This year, as I spoke to her over the phone, she told me it was the strangest birthday she can remember having.
She spent her 90th birthday alone. All alone. She was in quarantine isolation for having come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID19. She lives independently in her own home in a small town in rural Idaho. My dad and his wife live next door. Under normal circumstances she wouldn’t have to be alone. But due to COVID19 safety measures, my dad could only check on her by phone, from next door.
As I listened to her tell me how bored she was and that she couldn’t take more than 14 days of the isolation, I began to think of the elderly in care facilities, locked down and kept safe from the virus but subjected to something else. Heartache. Loneliness. Loss.
“I could never stay living in a nursing home. I’d rather die than be shut up and told what to do and how to live. All alone. I’d rather die.” She said as she recalled a time when she had stayed in a care facility for rehab.
“There was a woman there,” her voice got clear, “we became friends. One day she said to me that she envied me because I always had visitors. She had 5 children and hadn’t had a visitor in months. I don’t want to live like that and people are living like that right now no matter what their family wants. No thanks, I’ll stay home.”
I held the phone smashed to my ear and I washed dishes in hot soapy water. We chatted a bit more about the birthday plans that had been cancelled. All three of her grown children had planned on visiting her. A few grandkids were going to make the trip, me included. I had made her favorite soup and planned on bringing zucchini bread and fresh raspberries, her favorite.
Instead, she spent the day alone. Straining to har the many phone calls from family wishing her well, talking about her dull and alone day, asking about their garden harvests, their kids and wishing she could leave the house. When our call ended, I had to rush out to pick up my children from school. I slipped on my boots and got into the car. For a moment I just sat there. I watched ducks fly over the pond in front of the house. I noticed the heron waiting to gobble up anything that moved, a foot tucked into its feathered body, limp golden grasses and cattail spears growing weary around it. I watched the clouds in the sky and the planes taking masked passengers to wherever.
I used to work in a long-term care facility. Not all the residents got visitors but many did. Not all were satisfied with their stay but many were. And how about now? How would it be right now? I couldn’t compound, in my mind, the loneliness I had witnessed in my experience at a very nice, well-staffed facility — with the fear and loneliness happening right now. I simply couldn’t think it.
The heron swiftly plunged its head into the icy water. Both feet planted in the yellowed grasses around its thin legs. A group of ducks flapped and splashed and took flight. Wing beats drawing ripples across the glassy surface. Flying away, free, to wherever they might fancy. No restrictions or mandated tethers.
COVID19 measures for safety are obviously important. It’s crucial that we discover the exact ways in which this virus is transmitted and take measures to halt the spread. It is also obvious on so many levels that the impact of this virus is far more than the strain of coronavirus threatening the very fabric of our society.
When I spoke to my 90 year old Gran last week she said, “You won’t remember all the details of this year but you’ll remember how you felt. You’ll remember what you grieved, what you lost. And you’ll remember how you grew.”
I can’t think of a more wise thing to hold onto and to share. It’s up to us to dig deep and recognize the loneliness and aching, the impact of so many shifts and pivots. It’s up to us to feel our way through it all and take actions of care and kindness. It’s up to us to grieve what we’ve lost and appreciate what we have. And, it’s up to us to grow.
Amber is a mother, wife, writer and dirt road philosopher. She hales from small-town Idaho and makes her home on a spread of dirt in Eastern Washington with her husband and four wild children. She is dedicated to a life of contribution and finding the pieces of our journeys that connect us all in our greatness.
The imperfect and incomplete nature of life is often overwhelming and stifling. By choosing it and owning it, Amber has taken some of the dirtiest situations and spun them into lessons to live by. Her greatest inspirations are her children and their dirt antics. Learn more about Amber by visiting www.amberjjensen.com