I awoke early today feeling a patch of fat, ripe blackberries was waiting for me. Alright, I was questioning if they were actually ripe, I drove to the spot where my dad and I picked berries every summer, after which, my mom would bake heavenly blackberry pie. I arrived at the berry thicket to find it heavy with sweet, plump fruit. My intuition that morning was spot on and I'm grateful I've finally learned to listen to it. My goal was to pick enough berries to bake a pie for my mom and dad.
Life changed much for my family two years ago when my parents moved to Montana to be near my older sister. Soon after, I relocated to Boise, returning to Oregon 8 months later. Over the years, no matter what else has changed, berry picking has been a constant, I picked my first black raspberry with my dad, in the steamy woods of Council Bluffs, Iowa, decades ago. Now, in the midst of Covid, it brings me great joy as I carry on this family ritual. In just over an hour I picked a heaping gallon of berries, paying the painful price of red, swollen, mucked-up arms and hands along with several rips in my ratty picking shirt. It felt like being home; the thorns; heat; blue sky; bird songs and the sweet taste of the abundant harvest.
My parents, ages 88 and 92 arrived back to Oregon exactly when shelter-in-place began. They wanted to come home to their friends, so my sister's and I helped make it happen. At the time, I didn't comprehend the magnitude of what was ahead, for any of us on the planet. As we Oregonians first hunkered-down, I listened to the song my daughter, Ailee, composed and performed on her ukulele, 5 months ago, welcoming the rest of the world to "The Covid Party." She recorded it, isolated on her rooftop in Hong Kong, where they were already 8 weeks into pandemic life. I laughed when I first heard her witty song, having no concept of the reality of the challenges she had already been living through.
Before the pandemic and for most of their lives, my parent's socialized often with their community of friends. As well, my dad, who lives for coffee, dessert and conversation, cultivated new acquaintances daily, at Mix, his favorite coffee shop. Connecting through relationships are deeply nourishing and essential for our emotional wellness. With Covid, socializing has radically decreased, affecting our mind-body wellness. My parent's move brought them to their new home straight into pandemic isolation. When I helped plan their move, I never imagined, their return to Oregon would coincide with Covid regulations that would isolate my parents from friends and family. When the Plexiglas wall went up outside for visitors, though it created a level of protection, it felt like prison.
I always assumed I would be with my mom or dad were a trip to the hospital necessary. Following their initial quarantine after becoming deconditioned from a very sedentary two weeks, my Dad was rushed to the E.R. late one evening. Due to Covid, no family could accompany him. I didn't know if we'd see him again and prayed he wouldn't die alone in the hospital that night. Thankfully, several gut-wrenching hours later, I got a call to pick him up and then dropped him off at the door to his building, from where my dad made his way back to their 3rd floor apartment at 1 A.M. My mother was there waiting and grateful.
Though staff helped my parents move-in, it was very stressful not being there for them. Placing furniture and wall art took place through video chat between me, my parents and staff. I always assumed I would be with my mom or dad were a trip to the hospital necessary. Following their initial quarantine after becoming deconditioned from a very sedentary two weeks, my Dad was rushed to the E.R. late one evening. Due to Covid, no family could accompany him. I didn't know if we'd see him again and prayed my dad wouldn't die alone in the hospital that night. Thankfully, several gut-wrenching hours later, I got a call to pick him up and then dropped him off at the front of their building, from where my dad made his way back to their 3rd floor apartment at 1 A.M. My mother was there waiting and grateful. With everyone in their building confined to their apartments, my parent's isolation following their big move, seriously impacted their pre-existing health conditions and aging process..
My parent's move brought unknowns, heart-break and more stress than I could have imagined. Though I could visit them outside of their building, I was not allowed in for close to 4 months, until my mother had a heart attack last month. Miraculously, the day she went to The E.R. was the first day since lock-down that the hospital began allowing in one visitor per patient. My mom's doctor scheduled a telemedicine follow-up appointment for the day after her discharge. I requested they schedule her an office visit since I serve as her health advocate and needed to be there. The doctor's nurse told me that wouldn't be possible and it could only be through telemedicine. I'm typically calm, respectful and soft-spoken, but the rigid Covid regulations, barring access into my parents home, along with managing their health challenges from a distance, have seriously triggered my stress response. When the doctor's nurse suggested that a staff member at my parent's facility be with my mother for the appointment or that it take place in my car, in the parking lot, I lost it. The nurse was the unfortunate recipient of months of my pent up frustrations. My blood pressure went up and the following rolled off my tongue, "My mother just had a fucking heart attack. Will a staff person with no understanding of her condition know what to ask; how to advocate for her and confer with the doctor regarding her condition? I will not bring my mom to my 95 degree car for a telemedicine appointment. She had a heart attack two days ago! Many people will die from Covid and it won't only be from the virus- it will be from elder abandonment, isolation, stress, and suicide. I need to be with my mom, inside her apartment for that appointment. I am an essential person for her care and wellbeing. Please, I need your help." Two hours later, after a rigorous check-in process, I donned the facilities' version of a hazmat suit; was chaperoned through the halls; instructed to touch nothing and stepped into my parent's apartment for the first time.
Following the appointment, I stayed longer, helping, organizing, supporting and simply being with my parents in the privacy of their home. They were so happy to welcome me into their home. For once, we were not required to shout through the Plexiglas outside or subjected to staff members running outside telling us to move farther apart, even though my dad needs accommodation for his serious hearing disability. I don't know when I'll be allowed inside again, but thankfully, since June, my parents have been able to go out with me and their friends, with no mandatory quarantine upon return. And now, no one asks us to separate since I have spoken to staff regarding the legalities of my dad needing accommodations for his hearing. Both my mom and dad keep saying, "I never thought we would live to see this."
A global pandemic has brought more meaning than ever to simply sharing time and space with family. This evening, we sat out on the Iawn in front of my parents building and shared fresh blackberry pie, tea, stories and laughter.