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16 In Women Now

COVID-19’s impact on grandparents

A grandparent staying home during shelter in place

Hello friends, how are you? It’s Friday as I write this. Russ has picked the first red rose from the garden, put it in a bud vase, and set it down on my writing table. It’s a bloom that has the real rose scent, and I’m inviting it into my lungs with each breath.

COVID-19 hasn’t entered our home, and everyone in my family is safe. What has entered my home is an expanded social life. Like many of you, Zoom is bringing my friends right into my home. Every Thursday, five of us are getting together at 11 a.m. Four of us are grandparents and missing interacting with our grandkids.

COVID-19 impacts grandparents who are used to seeing their grandchildren at least every week.

This group of five has been through difficult times before

Everyone in this social date has coped with big things before: going through breast cancer and treatment together.

Darn, I forgot to share with this ragged note I found that must have been written when we were just getting to know each other while in a breast cancer support group. So that would have been 2004, or was it 2005? Have I forgotten the year? No wait, it was 2004. Russ and I bought our home in Sonoma in 2005.

Note to self works 16 years later

Okay, anyway, this note-to-self magically showed up on my desk this week. I have no explanation for how it got there. At the top in purple ink, it says ‘Chemo right now,’ and it’s underlined. Then it says:

Taking care the best I can while having patience with the process.

Had I been on the phone with my friend Patti at the time? Was it something she said in the conversation, and I wrote it down on the nearest piece of paper? Was she summing up my situation in a neat package like she often does?

Maybe it came to me like things do, a little voice in my head that offers a perspective in quick strokes. I can imagine going through ‘chemo right now’ and my adult self telling the inner scared child part of me that there’s a plan. There’s nothing to fear. We’re taking care the best we can and we’re going to see this through together. “It’ll be alright, Hon. It’ll be alright.”

In this season of COVID-19, that sentence from 16 years ago would apply. If at the end of all this, I could look back and say that I took care of myself the best way I could while being patient with the process, that would be a big win.

Friends on Zoom
Friends on Zoom

Social distancing extended into May

Maybe this is precisely the week for me to find that note. As social distancing has extended into May, realizing full well that it could go longer, ideally, I will be patient and find peace and love in the process.

The hardest part is not seeing Viv. I know that for some people, grandparents are within their circle of isolation.

I called Caitlin yesterday. Through tears I hadn’t planned on, I told her that more than anything, I wanted to see her and Baby Viv. I wanted to entertain (and be entertained by) Vivie while Caitlin worked remotely with her accounting clients. But that I accepted that that wasn’t going to be. I was staying home in Sonoma. “Missing out on these precious weeks of seeing her is the price I will pay for being able to see her for years to come.” (God willing, but I didn’t say those two words out loud.)

Who was I trying to convince?

I didn’t need to explain to her why I wasn’t around; I needed to say it out loud to myself. “That’s what I want you to do. I know it’s hard, Mom. We’ll keep Facetiming every day. Viv will have plenty of love to share once this is over.” Caitlin was strong while I was still struggling to define for myself where my boundaries were in the face of love and longing.

Someone’s waiting for Grammafoxy to pick up the phone

I told Caitlin how a couple of my friends have seen their kids and grandkids from different ends of a long driveway, ten feet away. I’d considered doing that, suggesting we see each other from ten feet away, but I told Caitlin, “I’m not strong enough to do that. If Viv was ten feet from me, I’d go to her and take her in my arms. Caitlin, I can’t be trusted.”

I realized once I hung up, wiped the tears from my face, and blew my nose, that I was informing myself of the plan. She knew already. I just had to lay out the plan, clearly: The threat is too great, I must do what’s necessary to stay safe even if it’s painful.

I’ve declared my plan for taking care of myself, and I hope to have the strength each day to stick with the plan. Because even now, there’s a renegade in me who could get in the car, head down to Marin County, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and in ten minutes be buzzing the door to get into the building where Viv lives.

Have you been reckless in love?

We probably all have memories of doing something dangerous in the heat of passion. I don’t know what mine was, or maybe I don’t want to remember–having sex without protection, falling for the bad boy, marrying someone in haste?

As a grandmother, in the heat of passion, could I be reckless? Could I do something and later hope I dodged a bullet?

It’s not outside of the realm of possibility. I’m human. I’m smart; I know better.

When my doctor called me in mid-March, she told me some things she wanted me to do: have a thermometer, a blood pressure cuff, and a pulse oximeter. “If you get sick, I could tell a lot from those readings,” she said. I asked about Vivienne. Can I see Vivienne? She said, “I wouldn’t.” Not even Vivienne? She said, “Short term pain for long-term gain.”

I follow most orders my doctor gives me. But in my heart, I knew I might go against this one.

When it comes to being a grandparent, I’m a filly.

Viv at bathtime
Last night at bathtime

I have so little experience being a grandparent. I’ve only been into this for ten months. I’m a filly grandparent. I’m not graceful or wise about this. I’m learning on the job, and I haven’t had this job long enough to have the experience of grandkids growing up, with there being years ahead to enjoy them.

Living with cancer cautions me not to assume months and years ahead.

It might make me a little more desperate to enjoy every moment of this gift of a grandchild, something I never saw coming or even expected. It wasn’t something I wished for or longed for. I was going along accepting life as it was.

But then it happened. On May 15th, last year, a baby was born, and our family expanded. And so did my heart. My full schedule “opened up,” and now I devote a whole day a week to babysit Viv. I turned my writing/reading/dreaming studio into a baby haven with a port-a-crib, floor play contraptions in bright colors, open bins for toys.

I miss her.

Getting a grip

One of my friends from the Thursday 11 a.m. group sent this poem today. She, her husband, and son spend ten minutes every morning sharing a poem. This was one from today.


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives
may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great
heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not take their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, American poet, activist, farmer

Reading this just now gave me more patience. For today, I’m staying at home with no regrets.

How are you doing while sheltering in place? Are there relationships you’re really missing? Please share. I think you’ll be in good company.