A welcoming heart in the time of COVID

An older mother holding her daughter closely

With each of us keeping to ourselves, rarely leaving the house except for essential reasons, it’s just possible that we’ll come to know ourselves and those closest to us better than ever before.

My daughter Hannah and I talk on the phone every day, sometimes more. The conversations are good ones, deep and meaningful.  I miss her presence terribly. We haven’t seen each other in person since October. This is the lengthiest time we’ve gone without being together. And it’s hard.

Hannah is a stage actor; she lives in Toronto with her partner Andrew. Their apartment is on busy main street from where, for the three previous years, they navigated the city, made friends, and started to build a promising future together. But like so many Millennials they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic. The theatres where Hannah works are all dark and there’s no set time when they will open. Andy is a waiter at a good downtown restaurant. He managed to continue to work throughout the spring, summer and early fall, but with Toronto in lockdown his employer shut down the restaurant. No one knows exactly when it will re-open.

I worry about them, and by extension other Millennials. Just as they are beginning to put down roots, develop their careers and basically decide what kind of life they wish to lead, the rug has been pulled out from under them. When we talk about the future, it’s difficult for them to see their future, how they will work, support themselves and possibly raise children together.

My life at 29 years old was easier. My partner and I bought a house in an up-and- coming neighborhood, Bloor West Village. The down payment was  $10,000. The price of this beautiful two-story semi, with a fireplace, original wood and an adorable sun porch latched onto the kitchen was $60,000. We didn’t have much extra to furnish it, yet I recall the rooms looking quite chic, or at least I thought they were back then.

In this house, I learned to entertain, invite friends for the weekend, to garden and to cherish what it means to own my own home. For the first time, I took care of a pet: a gorgeous tabby cat who I named Rosemary.

At the same time, I worked as a full-time writer at Quill & Quire, the monthly magazine for the publishing and book industry in Canada. My colleagues were women I continue to be friends with to this day. I learned about journalism. The first day I arrived on the job, the editor Susan Walker, showed me to my desk and assigned a story for me to have finished by the end of the day. It was a decidedly complicated business story to me, but back in those days, you learned fast, and on the job. Some of the writing I did for Susan at the magazine was the best work I’ve produced and when I look back on it, forty years later, I’m amazed at how easy it was to land a job, to build a career, to buy a home and to become a full-functioning adult in a welcoming society with a booming economy.

For my daughter the situation is entirely different. What was a difficult economy when she graduated with a Master’s degree, has become a precarious one. What it will look like after COVID is impossible to predict at this moment. I’m curious if people will be kinder, more open to giving younger people the opportunity to re-launch their careers and continue to grow as adults. Or will we harden our hearts, put our heads down and try to survive this winter and into the next year with only our own interests top of mind?

If you’re a parent of a young adult, it’s never too late or too early to have “the discussion about money” with them. Try not to keep them in the dark. I come from a family where finances were kept secret and when my parents passed away, I had no idea how to handle their last wishes or their estate. The psychological cost to me was enormous and I’ve believed, for the last thirty years, that I could have done better than I did if I’d had the essential information about wills, end of life care and their legacies to guide me.

When we emerge from lockdown and from the dark winter we are all facing, my wish is that we’ve become closer to our loved ones and that we’ve come to appreciate how we depend on each other for all the things that matter in life. Secrets in families are harmful so let’s get to know each other in more meaningful and fulfilling ways.

Everyone we love deserves that chance.

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