May 1, 2020

This is a daily meditation I wish didn’t need to be written. But written, it must be. I have two older sisters, Carol and Jane. Carol is ten years older than me. I have served as her durable power of attorney for the past three years, when her husband Michael died unexpectedly. Carol lives in an assisted living facility in Ohio. Jane is eight years older than me, long ago divorced, with three great adult children and five amazing grandchildren. Jane lives in the Washington Heights area of New York City with her oldest son. Both of my sisters have Alzheimer’s, which is a story for another day. Needless to say, with one of them in assisted living and the other in New York City, I have been concerned about them contracting COVID19.

Monday had been a day of contrasts, from an El Greco dark and threatening sky in the morning to the brilliant blue sky graced with white billowy clouds late in the afternoon. I’d been on a long walk, and as I walked up Jefferson Street, I recall thinking what an amazing day of contrasts it had been. I felt a huge sense of relief that the skunk had been caught. It felt magnificent to be outside, alive and well and doing something as normal as walking my dog on a great spring day before going inside to prepare dinner. 

A few minutes after arriving home, I got one of the calls I’d been dreading, this one in the form of a text message.  My nephew texted to inform me that he had taken Jane to the ER. She’d had a dramatic decline over the weekend, and after consulting with her physician who thought her symptoms could be caused by anything from a UTI, to a stroke, to COVID19. He’d had symptoms of COVID19 himself, including fever, body aches, headache and fatigue for the past few days, in spite of having been sheltering in place for over 7 weeks, wearing gloves and mask when he made infrequent forays to get groceries, desperately trying to protect his mom from the virus.

Hospitals seem like an alternative universe right now, with armed police and medical personnel screening everyone. He had to leave her in the hands of the emergency room staff as they took her to be worked up. Hear the emphasis on the word leave. There is no waiting in waiting rooms, no staying with your loved one, no visiting them once admitted. All of these precautions are important and necessary, and also heart-wrenching. Unless your loved one is able to communicate on their own without assistance, you will not be able to contact them. This is trust pushed to the breaking point. It is the equivalent of dropping off a child in daycare without having told the staff about all of his or her special traits, likes and dislikes, without even seeing who they are being left with. Simply letting go and trusting.

It took the better part of 24 hours to get all the test results back. Jane tested positive for COVID19, and my nephew is presumed to be positive as well. Jane is being moved to a subacute unit at a nursing home to be monitored and to work on regaining strength. My nephew is home, able to rest and hopefully on the road to recovery.

And me? I had no idea how big the contrasts would be that day. From a sense of dread to the joy of the simple pleasure of taking a walk on a lovely spring day; from panic, helplessness, and grief, to switching into helper mode as I listened to and assisted my nephew from afar; from a restless night of honest prayer with lots of anger, bargaining, and desperation thrown in; to simply letting go and trusting; and back again through the cycle. 

Being a Christian certainly doesn’t set me apart from life in its fullness – both highs and lows. Yesterday, as next steps were falling into place, I recalled a story about St. Teresa of Avila. She was a bigger-than-life mystic and contemplative who was also very much alive in the real world. One day she was traveling to one of the convents she founded, and got caught in a fierce rainstorm. She slipped off her mount and landed in the mud. She got back up and declared aloud  to God, “if this is how you treat your friends…it’s no wonder you have so few of them.” Her prayers weren’t false, trying to make nice or be polite, but down to earth and honest. 

Mostly, I am thankful. I am thankful for health care providers who care for loved ones when we can’t. I am thankful for family and friends who support and love in the best and worst of times. I am thankful for laughter and tears. I am thankful for each moment of life, for storms and calm. I’m thankful for the gift of all the moments I’ve had with loved ones. And above all I am thankful for God. I am thankful that the One who leads us beside still waters, is also the One who walks with us through the darkest, deepest valleys, and the One who will welcome us home at the end of this life. 

Thankful, in the midst, to be a friend of God ~ Anne

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