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.


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  • Reply
    April 3, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    I feel your pain as my sister & I miss Elenor so much. FaceTime is great but I long for her to pull my face to hers with her tiny little hands. We all know that this too shall pass but it’s hard. Sending you a huge hug. Hope you can feel it my friend.

  • Reply
    Kathleen Adams
    April 3, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    I MISS MY GRANDKIDS!! I have one, a 3 yr old, that we met last week out in the open for a walk. Very difficult to not snuggle, etc, like we are used to. We have not gone into each other’s homes or cars. Then we have my daughter’s family, 6 kids from 8-18, who live 30 miles south. Some of them came to sit outside on the patio a long way apart a few days ago. Good just to see them run around the yard & stuff. 3 more who are a few hours away. We usually all gather at our house for Easter. Egg coloring, egg hunt, dinner, a whole weekend of fun. We are getting boxes ready to deliver/mail to each family next week so they can still have their Easters, but I made the stipulation that the parents have to film the egg hunts! I try to remember, this too shall pass, but I feel sad today.

  • Reply
    April 3, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    It is heartbreaking to be so near and yet so far. I wonder if little kids will be afraid to hug and cuddle when this is over. I feel your sorrow and struggle and I also gratefully receive the bits of beauty and wisdom you shared with us. That’ s how it is on planet Earth today.

  • Reply
    April 3, 2020 at 8:20 pm

    Brenda, I feel your pain! Our grandchildren are siblings, ages 15, 12 and 7. They live an hour away. We see them often and enjoy every moment. Not seeing them has left a void. Since they are older, we can call and zoom with them. I, too, have been tempted to wave from the driveway??? Our daughter is expecting her first child in New Orleans. We live in Philadelphia. Her shower here was cancelled as was her in New Orleans that I was co-hosting. At 41, her pregnancy is a miracle and I so wanted to see her baby bump in person. She is sad, too, but we also feel blessed. We pray for a safe delivery in June and remember that we are all in this together. The right thing is staying put and remaining positive as we await our new grandson. Hugs to you❤️

  • Reply
    April 4, 2020 at 6:33 am

    I laughed as I read your comment “I can’t be trusted” I said the same thing to my daughter this week. I have twin granddaughters 5 years old and their older brother who is 7. They only live 15 minutes away and I see them weekly. I miss their hugs. Thanks for allowing me to see I am not alone in this yearning and for giving me the gift of laughter. Be well.

  • Reply
    April 4, 2020 at 6:55 am

    We miss our granddaughter every waking moment. At 28 months she is changing by the day. We don’t dare risk a meeting, as she doesn’t understand distancing, so for now FaceTime will have to suffice. I try to imagine the joy of that first hug after these long weeks of separation. Will anything feel as good?

    Thank you for sharing the beautiful poem. It brought tears, but good ones. Be well, and stay safe.

  • Reply
    Linda B
    April 4, 2020 at 7:15 am

    Brenda, this was just such a lovely, heartfelt post. I too have a ten month old granddaughter, though she lives far away. We had to cancel a trip up to Oregon this coming week when the pandemic hit. But we do now have at least one good FaceTime with her every day, and often more. . . I forwarded this post to one of my closest friends, who started chemo for breast cancer two days ago. I hope it will lend her strength.

  • Reply
    April 4, 2020 at 8:10 am

    Thank you Brenda for explaining just how I feel. I haven’t heard anyone talk about how difficult it is for grandparents at a time like this – until your heartfelt and uplifting post. I am determined to stay the course however I have had a few opportunities to see my grandson, Luca, but knew it might possibly do more harm than good. Let’s hang in there together and God willing we will have many more years to cherish our children and grandchildren. Thanks again!!

  • Reply
    Ann Jacobs
    April 4, 2020 at 8:40 am

    First how wonderful to have a fashion icon nearby whom the average women can relate too.
    Feelings, Fashion, Frustration..
    Second forgive me for indulging my past few months experiences to you. In January I turned 75 celebrating in Dubai! My husband and I were on a World Cruise scheduled to return the end of April. We returned after the ship cancelled the remainder of the cruise, March 17, taking two days of air travel. Between Jan. and March I saw Burkas, stunning creative Asian clothing, Australians casual style of fashion. As an artist I enjoyed seeing the creative sides of different beliefs in museums and galleries.

    We missed a granddaughters wedding, the first bday of our 8 th great grandchild, the return of college aged grandchildren from overseas , and now probably the annual Easter/Spring/May Day family and friends gatherings. I feel the same as you I can’t bear not to hug and kiss them, thus I need to be satisfied with FaceTime.

    Now we have settled down to quiet days of movie streaming, web fashion shows, hand creating cards, much book reading ,reviewing cruise photos, concerns about reimbursement and naturally concerns about who and when we will come in contact with a carrier. Plus trying to take a daily walk. And today making face mask of silk left from scarf designing.

    That said: As an elder retired person arent we fortunate not to have stress from a lack of job, closing a business, finding ways to take care of a family?

    Brenda thank you for your post, fashion is a “feel good “ part of my life.

    How about a post on leisure p.j.s? Is there such a thing? Creative dressing?

  • Reply
    April 4, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Brenda, this post is so meaningful to me. My first grandchild is due in two weeks and I was planning to go help my daughter and her husband for a week, and to hold, hug and kiss my new granddaughter. My daughter is still expecting me to come stay with them (I live 4 hours away). But I’ve been having more misgivings this past week and worried whether I would regret it someday if one of us got sick. I’ve been working from home and going nowhere since March 16. My husband has been going out to do the shopping. I appreciate him for doing that but still worry he could bring the virus in despite precautions. This is such a difficult time for everyone and your post makes me realize I need to miss being with them until the danger is past. They wanted to bond as a family together first anyway and they’ll now have that. I guess I’ll be meeting my granddaughter via WhatsApp and stockpile my hugs and kisses. There have been some tears already thinking of what I’ll miss but, like you said, “short-term pain [sacrifice] for long-term gain [joy]. I just felt I needed to add the words in brackets. Thank you for the reminder to be strong to protect our families.

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    April 4, 2020 at 9:52 am

    Our closest grandchildren live 2 hours away and the farthest, 2 1/2 days by car. We don’t see them often, but knowing that we CAN’T is killing me! Knowing that we won’t be there to share the 2 birthdays that are coming up adds to the frustration. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those, like yourself, who are used to seeing your grandkids more often.

    Like you, cancer has also taught me that we aren’t guaranteed a future. Mine is currently stable, but incurable. I yearn to make every day count and that’s hard to do confined to home. On the other hand, my daughter was pregnant with our youngest grandchild when I was diagnosed. Not knowing at the time what my prognosis might be, I prayed that I’d live to see him born. Not only was I there to cut the cord, but we celebrated his 6th birthday together just before the Covid-19 shutdown began!

    Thank you for being open about how you’re coping, Brenda, and for giving us a place to share more than just a love of fashion!

  • Reply
    Leslie Mulkey
    April 4, 2020 at 11:22 am

    8, 4, 3, 3, 2, 1 and 10 months. I will miss the lost teeth, new teeth and learning to walk. I have missed birthdays. To leave a present on the doorstep while I can hear them laughing and talking on the other side of the door was extremely hard and I cried. When I think about it I am very sad. I am sadder when I think about any of them being dropped off at an ER without any loved ones and not knowing if they will be released to heaven or home. Like you, I have chosen to not see them so I can see them later. But it is hard. You describe it perfectly. I have thought about throwing caution to the wind, after all you only live once. I didn’t and haven’t. It is just hard. I pray my grands will look back at this time as precious time with their nuclear family…not as a time of fear and loss. Blessings to you and your family. Thank you for saying what I have been thinking and not saying out loud.

  • Reply
    Julia Purtill
    April 4, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    Dear Brenda, I’m so proud of you for being strong in this time of social distress. Your granddaughter is beautiful and so healthy looking! You are setting a good example for all of us and for your family. One fine day you will hold Viv again and what a day it will be! I have 2 grandchildren I am having to distance from too. Our higher power will give us strength and after all we are women-the strongest there is! Keep seeing her online and take it one day at a time. I loved that poem, just what I needed today. A little beauty when there isn’t much beauty! Thank YOU for being strong for us too!

    • Reply
      April 4, 2020 at 6:01 pm

      Believe me, Julia, you and others in this community are giving me strength! I’m so glad I wrote about this topic. The responses are so heartfelt. Big hugs to you and what a blessed day it will be when we will be with our families. xx

  • Reply
    April 5, 2020 at 12:49 am

    My daughter has a 4 year old and an infant. On my husband’s birthday, we sat outside social distancing and plan to do so again next week for the baby’s first birthday. We tell the 4 year old that we are sick so he cannot come close for those brief get togethers. His father is a doctor so there are a lot of out-of-the ordinary things going on. I worry about how this is affecting his development and mental health and the long term impacts.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    Hi, Brenda – I miss my grandchildren too! I’ve had the flu, thought, so I have had to stay away. It’s probably a good thing because one of my grandbabys had the Coronavirus symptoms. He got through it. And my daughter works at a hospital so I don’t know what I might be exposed to….I’m looking forward to the C-virus going away. I wish the best for you. XOXO, Angie – http://www.yourtrueselfblog.com

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