By Joyce Wayne
At the close of an appointment with my family doctor, I mentioned to her that COVID changed everything and the doctor, who is fabulously busy, came right back into the consulting room to respond. “Yes, it has. Everything,” she said. My physician, who is about 40 years younger than me, is gorgeous, brilliant and humane, and I realized, at that moment, that our lives, whatever our age, will never return to what they were before Covid.
The doctor said she was amazed at what she’d mainly tended to during the winter of 2023: broken bones due to messy falls. Covid wasn’t the major illness, although it surrounded everything she did, as it does for many of us. No matter how bold we are: travelling, dining in restaurants, attending concerts and movies, there is a snarky little voice at the back of our minds that reminds us that we could get sick. More than three years into the pandemic, a good number of us have caught Covid at least once, so we’re aware of its effect on us, and who wants to catch it again?
My long-time friend told me her adult son was down with Covid for the fourth time, so who can blame her for being super cautious? As for the rest of us, we’ve learned to manage a newly constructed lifestyle. We take precautions when we’re away from home base. We work at home, and we re-configure our rooms so we can make office space. My husband and I are on our second home re-configuration to accommodate work and other interests.
And there’s the grumpiness. With friends, I’ve discussed why many are so grumpy, short-tempered and even ill-mannered. Last week when I went for a simple blood test, a man in the line in front of me began shouting at the lab technician. He shouted that he was there to get a bone density test, and when the technician told him that he was in a lab and not an x-ray facility, he shouted louder. I couldn’t understand why. After all, it wasn’t the technician’s fault.
As a society, we are behaving grumpier than ever. Three long years of isolation, away from friends and family, is not the best way to live one’s life. I’d imagined everyone would be friendly when we finally emerged, but that’s not how it turned out. What isolation has taught me is how much we need society and companionship, the attention of friends and family, even when we can’t admit it to ourselves. No matter how hard we try to amuse ourselves, our daily lives aren’t complete without others by our side. As Covid subsides, we are getting used to being with others again, which means a certain amount of pent-up ill humour.
Now I worry about all the folks in long-term care or retirement residences who feel lonely more often than they expected. In some cases, people need a high level of care that is difficult to arrange at home. Still, in many cases, homecare allows us to age in place more gracefully. As I grow older, a tiny bit forgetful and less able to handle heavy-lifting tasks, my mind turns to different solutions for homecare, when and if my husband and I require it.
I also think about how lucky we are to have good friends. In The Atlantic magazine, Arthur C. Brooks writes:
“The next time you are having a good time with family or friends, take a mental snapshot, consciously committing the details to memory. Note that these days are the days that will someday make you say: ‘These were the days.’”
Lately, I’ve started to take Arthur Brooks advice to heart. When we had friends for dinner last Saturday, I took a mental snapshot of our dining room. The couple across the table looked so well, and they were so interesting to talk with. We discussed the state of the world and, of course, the brutal war in Ukraine. It was a relief to share our thoughts about the worst conflict in Europe since World War II and also to talk about the books we were reading, the films we were screening and the plans we were making for future vacations. The four of us are officially retired. We’ve each had rewarding careers that kept us busy. Now we can devote our time to the things we love, be it gardening or writing, or in my husband’s case playing snooker.
I found it comforting to realize that although Covid has changed so much about our daily lives, getting together with those with whom we share history, interests, and concerns is a way to open our hearts and minds to happiness and away from grumpiness. Looking back, also mediates the missing links between the beginning of Covid and now. Nostalgia is a shield against unhappiness. It’s okay to be nostalgic and sentimental. It makes me happy. What I like most is getting together with friends and chatting about our past moments, some funny, some sad, all of them embedded in the memories of our time spent together.
So, make that call, send the email and keep in touch with the people who matter to you.
If you find yourself on the grumpy side or feeling blue, don’t forget to reach out to those you love, friends and family. Rather than sitting alone, they can take the sting out of lonely days or the fears for the future.
It’s time to enjoy life once again.