This is the year I came to the belated understanding that I am now elderly, at least in the eyes of others. I don’t feel elderly. The media and the Center for Disease Control continually referred to my age group in a somewhat deprecating and disparaging tone, assuming we had one foot in the grave and therefore the impact of COVID might be culling the weak, soon to die anyway. None of my friends are in nursing homes. All of us are in our seventies and eighties and are continuing the lifestyles we lived in our sixties, our retirement decade.
Why do I feel weakened by this past year? The fear of COVID and the burden of precautions, along with the isolation from many family and friends. Unprepared for this unprecedented turn of history and our personal lives, we kept pinching ourselves to emerge from the COVID nightmare and resume our life patterns. The shifting guidance from the experts and the want-a-bes ignited a type of anxiety unseen in my generation. The over 65s are mostly Baby Boomers, a generation blessed with expanding social and economic opportunities, along with unimaged advances in medicine and technology.
We had a lifestyle of continuous travel from my retirement in 2011, which included many winter get-away resorts to snorkel and experience beach life. Cultural trips on European river cruises to enhance my understanding of the world were the springtime escape. Cross country road trips in various styles of campers to make up for every missed childhood vacation included 10,000 miles of winter driving visiting many National Parks. Last year, pre-COVID, we decided to simplify our life and sold our camper and truck, taking up flying hither and yon so we had more time to enjoy grandchildren and vacationing. On March 10, 2020, we flew home from Los Angeles after a wonderful visit with my son and his family. On March 14, the world shut down. Just home under the wire before planes and people stopped flying.
Like old hippies, we didn’t know what to do, hahaha. Initially, the impact on our life was not readily apparent, other than learning to use Instacart and the inconvenience of masks. Amazingly, our grocery bills fell by nearly 50%. Spontaneous grocery shopping disappeared with the use of a list to order for delivery, as well as the hidden costs of these apps. Suddenly, our closest friends of forty-three years were isolating, and months passed before we all gathered for an on-the-porch cocktail hour and carryout pizza. The phone became a necessary, an oddly unused tool to stay in touch with many friends. Reaching out to the single friend, one-person households, became a kindness deed. Texts with cheery pics touched the pandemic lonely. Facebook posts shared life events as these transpired otherwise without notice, pets passing, new grandchildren, birthdays, offensive political posts memorialized forever in social media.
An invitation to spend Christmas with my grandson in California was a potential “out” of the pandemic funk. How to get there with flying out and hotel stays panned for not being safe? To make a long story short, shopping for a new camper started. We settled on a 22-foot trailer and put an order in, online, sight unseen, except for a 360-degree video of the interior. Only a month before our departure date of December 2, we finally could pick up the camper. Apparently, many, many folks decided to RV to work remotely, learn virtually, and get away from the isolation of the pandemic.
Traveling again across America was exhilarating, exciting, and with a purpose. We had committed to being in Los Angeles by December 20 for the run-up to Christmas. We made it. Before entering this idyllic world, we had to go to an underground parking lot for a Rapid Covid Test. We had to wait in a deserted store lot down the street for the results. It came back negative. How could it be any different? We hadn’t been into the world for nine months!
What we didn’t process at the time was that we had entered “The Hotel California” where COVID was virulent and everyone double-masked and observed many additional precautions, crossing the street to walk past even other masked pedestrians, relying only on delivery for takeout food and groceries, young children masked, and tiresome discussions of dangerous hotspots. This visit ended my sense of fun and the playfulness of visiting my son and his family. My son worked every day from home, so no noise and silent signals were the overriding weekday mood. The gyms were closed, and my daughter-in-law was cut off from an outlet for life’s anxiety and healthy physical exertion. My preschool grandson was on the no-known schedule for preschool. First, the entire school was closed for weeks due to staff members testing positive. Once, back for only one week, his pod was closed for two weeks because a child had tested positive.
There was no energy for fun. The playfulness as a family group was lost. What remained was the stark reality of nowhere to go and the grueling routine of helping, and no one to see. Normal visits to other family members in all of California were not welcome. Friends were not vaccinated and unwilling to visit in their homes. Restaurants were closed, except for carryout. Visits to favorite hangouts we only get to once a year were out of the question.
Without realizing it we were overstaying our welcome, and the pain of departure was thrust on us unexpectedly. It was time to leave, even though we viewed ourselves as indispensable to their household functioning. Afterall, I did laundry, helped with the grandson and with meals, and we did endless projects to assist in repairs and storage issues.
Sadly another personal and painful lesson shouted at us, young people’s lives are full and vital, and appropriately revolve around themselves. Grandparents are considered incidental help and of occasional value for familial interaction with the grandchildren. Our tasks were completed and we needed to go home. Even as I process this event repeatedly, it is still a painful reminder of age and function. In my mind, I knew it was time.
In the post-analysis, it is not a problem between the kids and me, or a statement on their lives. We are elderly from the world’s eyes. It doesn’t matter how young we feel; it is the continuing and painful view of culture about aging. How did the generation that coined the “don’t trust anyone over 30” get to be elderly? Why don’t our children seek our wisdom? Did we listen to our parents or seek their advice? No. I remember coming back from a month’s vacation in Southern California following completion of my graduate degree in special education and announcing I was moving to California and getting married, and I had a job as a teacher already. I hadn’t even given may parents a heads-up. Who knew that I would return to the East Coast and ultimately move next door to my parents, living there helping each other out and raising three children and caring for them through a decade?
Concluding a period of reflection on this past year and the associated experiences, my views have expanded to accommodate “the new normal.” My personal emotions have vacillated and are suspiciously intense. I am fully vaccinated but still must wear a mask and carefully avoid close encounters with others outside my shrunken bubble. I still must look in the eyes peeping over the facial coverings to gauge the friendliness of strangers I pass. The goal lines for freedom continually move ahead, now screaming a 70 to 90 percent vaccination rate will set us free. I cannot hurry it along or control how soon the public comes to understand and access vaccinations.