Wake Me When This Is Over

(Some people bake when they’re stressed. I write. I’m going to do that here, partly to vent, but also to connect with people.  Since we can’t step out from our homes to be with one another we can at least keep connecting on another level, by reaching out with words and shared experiences.  Please feel free to do that in this space.  I don’t have anywhere else to go, so I’m here and would love to hear from you and know how you’re doing.  I’ll start…)

An agoraphobic is a person who’s afraid to leave the house.

Nowadays, that doesn’t sound unreasonable.

But before it was fashionable to lock ourselves away like some Rapunsel in her tower, I struggled with agoraphobia for years.  It wasn’t a picnic, trust me.  It’s taken a long time for me to feel a little more comfortable in the world.

And now, this craziness called Coronavirus.

Such a cruel cosmic joke!

Except I’m not laughing and neither is anyone else.  Well, on certain days we do look for a way to laugh and manage to find something on Facebook: “Tomorrow I’m visiting Puerto Backyardia. Los Living Room is getting boring.”

It’s been 18 days?  No, 19?  Who can keep track of the calendar when there’s nothing on your calendar except “Stay Home!”

Everything in life has changed – seemingly over night.  

FLASHBACK to January 1st when I began to check flights to France. 

At  Christmastime our family sat around discussing my birthday (a big one)  in June. “We have to do something special to celebrate it, Mom,” our daughter said.  She suggested  a family trip to Paris and the Basque country, where my grandmother was born, and where our family still owns 23 acres and a crumbling 200-year-old stone house.  My children have never seen the little village, St. Etienne de Baigorry, where their great-grandmother was born and lived until she came to America at the age of 14.  The Basque country and her people are part of their lineage and I eagerly jump at the idea of introducing them to Euskal Herria.

Mananea House & Barn

The House of Magnanea in St. Etienne de Baigorry

A trip to France for seven people is not going to be cheap and that concerns me.  Eager to have everyone come along and not wanting to break my kids’ bank accounts I decide to break my own. I check the flights (and the prices) and feel faint.  It’s going to be a lot of money.  But my portfolio has done well over the last two years, so I decide to take the risk and book seven seats on Air France to Paris at the end of June.

I let my kids know with phone calls.

“There’s a virus in China,” my son tells me.  

I’m not worried.

“That’s China, Josh and it’s a million miles away.  They’ll knock it out.”

“I don’t know, Mom.  It’s spreading fast and they’re starting to lock up areas.”

Lock up?  What’s that?  I’ve never heard of such a thing.  

I will learn about that later.

“Well, that’s China. I’m not worried,” I tell him.

I make hotel reservations. Paris.  Biarritz (pre-paid to save money). An Air B&B in the Basque country.  I look into train reservations.  I’m about to book two cars for rental. 

“That thing is spreading, Mom. It’s in Italy,”  my son tells me.

Italy?

“We’re not going to Italy,” I tell my son. Am I in denial, or what? No, I’m just an American who feels invincible because well, I’m an American.  We’re protected from all those nasty things happening outside our shores, aren’t we?  And, I’m privileged. Middle class. Not poor. Flush with credit cards. My life is good. I trust the world I live in.  I believe in governments and healthcare systems (because I’m covered by insurance) and I’m a believer that those in charge will protect me and my family.  I don’t live in Italy. I’m not going to Italy.  I’m a safe American and so is my family.

February comes and I’m starting to see more news about this virus.  I see Italians being shut away in their homes.  But I see them singing and it makes me feel safe.  How bad can it be if the Italians are singing?

Then, the numbers come out about people dying.

And the numbers are growing.

So too are the news stories about how this thing is spreading.

I start reading up on travel insurance.

I always buy travel insurance for our trips, but this time I put it off because frankly, it’s not cheap to cover seven people on a family trip.  Now, I seriously start figuring out the costs for some kind of travel insurance (cancel for any reason?), and yes, they’re high, but I’m contemplating buying some, just in case.

And then, this article comes out in the Wall Street Journal: travel insurance doesn’t cover this virus. You get it, you own it. The whole cost for the insurance is on you and it really doesn’t pay you anything back if the virus stops you from traveling. 

That gives me pause.

What happens if the virus hits France and one of us gets sick?  Will travel insurance pay for that?  To keep us in France until we’re better?  I start reading every article I can find about insurance – trying to get an answer as to whether I should insure this trip or not.

And while I am researching it hits.

That terror that seemed so far away hits us. Hits here in the U.S. Washington State first, and California soon after. NYC is getting hit hard and the virus is spreading rapidly.

The market starts to tank.  There goes the money for the trip that has no insurance. The news is on fire and in the middle of this crisis-in-the-making another hits our family:  My mother-in-law dies. 

Nanny with Stokely

Gloria Levien (Nanny)

She was 94 and it was expected, but this pandemic was never expected, and it especially wasn’t expected to be growing so quickly.  Nanny has been living in a nursing home and she’s been on hospice for months.  The last few weeks she’s been bedridden and not really eating.  My husband’s been visiting her every day, and now on March 11th she passes away and the nursing home is locked up to visitors.  

And then, there’s the funeral: it’s scheduled in New York City.

 We’re Flying to NYC In The Middle Of A Pandemic?!

Nanny was a life-long New Yorker; the last thing she wanted to do was to move to a small town in California.  But a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and a son and daughter-in-law living three thousand miles from New York City, where she was living by herself at the time, made the move a necessity.  She fought it for about six months, and then, as the Alzheimer’s progressed, she settled into her new life.  The nursing home became her resort, and she enjoyed being pampered by the staff.  Meals were taken care of, activities were around every corner, friendly caregivers were there when she needed them, and there was a lovely dining room with a classy menu and a waitstaff dressed in uniforms. With such a devastating illness, my mother-in-law was lucky enough to live in a beautiful and loving environment.  She lived there for almost seven years and when she passed away her caregivers cried and said how much they loved her, that she always had a smile on her face, and she said “I love you!” to all the staff every time she saw them.

But now it was time for Nanny to return to NYC, to the city she loved so dearly. 

The funeral was all spelled out in her will:  funeral services were to take place at one of the most well-known mortuaries in the country, and burial would be in a family plot that dated back to the early 1900s, when Nanny’s family first arrived in the city watched over by Lady Liberty.  The plan was all set: We would have to fly to New York City.

And then, the virus hit the Big Apple.

While Nanny’s funeral is being planned, everything else in NYC is being cancelled.  

Music events. Live theater. Weddings. Bar Mitzvahs.  The numbers keep going up higher, the infection keeps spreading, gatherings of people in large groups are being re-scheduled, dropped from calendars, postponed.

But what about funerals?

Loved ones need to be mourned. Need to be buried. Family and friends need the comfort of each other, hugs and kisses, laughter and tears shared as we grieve together.  That human connection has always been imporatant when people say goodbye to a loved one. It’s part of our humanity.  But that humanity is at odds with fear today.  Our need to comfort and be comforted is in conflict with our need for self-preservation and survival.

Nanny picked a heck of a time to pass away.

And to be buried in New York. 

New York is a hotbed for coronavirus infections right now.  The number of dead are just starting to rise.  Hotels ands restaurants are still open, but over the last few days Broadway has shut down completely.  There’s not enough medical equipment – ventilators and masks – for the medical personnel and the hospitals are filling up too quickly.  There is fear everywhere you look, increasing by the hour.

The family talks about how to handle the funeral, but the plans have been made in advance, and no one seems to want to admit that this is not the best time to travel to New York City.  We try to find some levity to all of this – searching for something amusing to get our mind off the big question: whether to go to NYC or not.  We say that his is so appropriate for Nanny – many times whenever she travelled there were problems: a military coup in Panama, a typhoon in Southeast Asia while she sat in an airplane on the tarmac waiting to take off, traveling to China when the students were rioting in Tiannamen Square.  And now, a pandemic in her own hometown of NYC.  

We watch Cuomo on television, and tune into the news 24/7 to see if it’s safe to travel.  Flights are being shut down internationally, but domestic flights still are available.  Should we book?  Do we even have a choice?  What if they quarantine in NYC?  What if everything goes on lockdown?  Each day we seem to be creeping perilously closer to the edge of the cliff. And frankly, it’s terrifying.

I’m a recovering agoraphobic, so I don’t need a reason to stay home.  Staying home is my normal go-to position.  But this time I have family responsibilities – I’m a mom whose kids have just lost their grandmother.  I’m a wife whose husband has just lost his mother.  I don’t have room in this equation to call the shots or make decisions for everyone.  I have to suck it up and go with whatever choice everyone else is making.

Hell no, I don’t.

It takes one long sleepless night before the day I’m supposed to buy family plane tickets for me to finally speak up.  My agoraphobia (once tamed, I thought) now reappears.

“I can’t do this,” I tell my husband. “It doesn’t feel safe.”

We talk. My husband understands. I don’t want him to go, either. Or the kids to go.  It doesn’t feel safe, he says, but he’s not sure what we can do.  The plans are set.  We talk some more. Cookie, our friend talks with him.  There has to be another way. “What if you get stranded in New York, in quarantine, and you have to pay for all those hotel rooms for the family to stay  in NYC? That’s thousands and thousands of dollars.”

She’s right.

My husband calls the mortuary, calls his brother, the family talks, and the decision is made.

The funeral will be televised.

What seemed so new to us for Nanny’s funeral on March 20th has now become a way of life for all of us.  ZOOM enters our world and we seem to be stuck with it for the immediate future.

None of us know how to run the damn software, but Frank E. Campbell’s Funeral Home, one of New York City’s finest, handles the entire event seamlessly.  People from all over the country – family members and friends – are able to attend through the magic of one videographer and his camera, and a link that is emailed out to everyone.

The eulogies are spoken.  The Rabbi says the prayers.  Photos of Nanny and her life fill the screen.  It was a beautiful service. And yet, we the mourners watch from a distance.  Separated by this unseen stranger that cruelly keeps us hidden in our homes and away from each other. One moment in the day, however, serves to finally connect us – at the graveyard, as the Rabbi speaks the Prayer for the Dead in Hebrew, the celebrant says the names of each family member and drops a single rose into the grave with every name spoken.  Those who are connected to Nanny, now finally are connected together in this last gesture of love and honor.

And New York City now shelters-in-place.

Wake me when this is over.

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41 thoughts on “Wake Me When This Is Over

    • It’s the one mask I have here at home – left over from one of the recent wildfires. Direct Relief ran out of masks and I called everywhere looking for two of them – one for Phil and one for me. I called the local paint store, “We have two of them but they’re broken,” the guy told me on the phone. “I’ll take them!” I yelled. Sure enough when I got there the filter parts on both sides were missing. The guy said he would try to fix them and I paid (something obscene like $160 for them) and he wrapped electrician tape around the filters to keep them in place. I don’t know if they filter the air really well, but they do scare people so they walk the other way when they see me coming. Social distancing!

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      • Love your sense of humor Darlene! So glad we are among those of us with such a wonderful gift, considering the times, and so very sorry for those who do not, and are struggling. My goodness, despite the involuntary solitary confinement my lovely wife and I still can’t find time in the day to get done all we want to get done. For me, a half finished novel plus a sequel I must start to one already published and also finish (finally, maybe) a short short story collection. Boredome? What is that prey tell?

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      • “My goodness, despite the involuntary solitary confinement my lovely wife and I still can’t find time in the day to get done all we want to get done.” This is so true, James! My husband and I were just saying this to each other a few days ago. In many ways, life hasn’t changed that much for us since the lockdown. Other than the way we grocery shop, or go to the pharmacy, or clean our groceries, or wear our hazmat suits when we bring in the mail. Wait. No, I’m wrong – life is BUSIER now than a month ago. It’s definitely changed. Stay well, my friend. Keep writing.

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  1. So very sorry about your mother-in-law. Glad you and your family are healthy. Such a weird time. 3 weeks ago I didn’t know what ZOOM was–now, like everyone else, I use it frequently! My husband and I discuss how the virus would have affected our families if it had hit back in the 70’s when we were youths. No ZOOM, no video games, he had a big yard, I didn’t, I had pets, he didn’t, I read a lot of books, he didn’t–so we’re happy for our kid who can meet up with his buddies online at least, and play games and whoop and shout with them–although I wish he’d read more books. 🙂

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    • Thanks so much for your condolences. And yes, I agree, I don’t know how we would have all navigated all of this in the 1970s. Phone calls, maybe? LOTS of phone calls. But I imagine the circuits would have been overloaded and we would have had to organize specific times when people could use the phone. At least with our technology now we are able to still connect with everyone. Although, some of us hate FaceTime and Zoom because we need haircuts. And I don’t know about anyone else, but forget putting on makeup right now. So there’s that. Stay well. Keep safe!

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  2. So will this be the new glamor shot that will adorn your blog? Love the electrical tape. It’s quite becoming.

    Thanks for the wonderful remembrances of Gloria and the complications and challenges associated with her services. We’re definitely navigating through a period of turbulent waters. It’s unfortunate the times didn’t come with a comprehensive instruction manual to safely guide us through.

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    • It’s all “learn-as-you-go” during this crazy time. One day it’s ok to clean your bananas in Dawn, and the next day we’re being told it causes cancer. Also, who are you going to believe? Pick your expert, pick your poison. As long as we don’t listen to our President, I think we’ll be fine. Stay safe. Wear your mask!

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  3. I’m so very sorry to learn about your mother-in-law’s passing. I wish I could comfort you in person, but unfortunately, the virus keeps us separated. However, one day it will be over… and then I’d love to meet you in person. Hang in there, lady! ❤

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  4. I am so glad I am your friend and have the privilege of having an emotional reaction to your blog because I know where it’s coming from. Hope that made sense.

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  5. My sympathy to Phil and his family for the loss of his mother. No matter how old you are a part of you is lost when you lose a parent. I fully understand the pain you have gone through not being able to be at your mothers funeral and burial. My sister passed away in March in Wisconsin. The mortuary made video tape of the service. However I was able to watch it live. I also had a good friend that passed away last month that I was able to watch as it was video tapped. Our family is waiting for the virus to clear and then we will have a memorial service for my sister. Even though it was very difficult for me to except not being with my siblings for her funeral, I know I am not the only one going through this at this time.

    I am trying to keep busy by clearing out bookshelves and closets. I have also wrote a story of my life. This was done at the request of my younger siblings who have no idea of my life before they were born. There is 20 years a difference between my youngest sibling and myself.

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    • I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your sister, Evelyn. No one knows us the way a sibling does, and losing one is especially difficult. Compounding that loss is the passing of your close friend, and my heart really goes out to you. As we get older, those hard times in our lives seem to multiply; our one hope is that those sad times don’t come one on top of the other. You’ve had your share over the last month, and I hope you’re reaching out to family and friends now, if only through phone calls and emails. If you have FaceTime, that can help. I find it much more comforting than Zoom because usually I do it with only one other person and in a way I really do feel like I’m connecting more one-on-one. Phil and I send you much love and a virtual hug to you – and if you need anything, you know where to find us.

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  6. I imagine that your predicament is being experienced all over, especially New York. You expressed your family’s ordeal in such real terms. This article should be printed in the New York Times to give other families some hope for the burials of their loved ones. Nanny’s burial was heartwarming, with her family sending her on her way. Thanks for sharing. Cousin, Judy

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    • Thanks for coming here and reading the post, Judy. Our neighbor who was just here on the blog lost her sister and her friend in the last month and had to attend two virtual funerals. These are so important for the grieving process and it’s heartwarming to see how humans adjust in a crisis like the one we’re living in right now. Stay well. Keep safe.

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  7. Darlene, so sorry about your loss, of course. Saying goodbye to loved ones is hard…especially now. So hard! I was thinking about you the other day. I was trying to imagine what it will be like to be out and about after all this is over (at least for a bit) and I realized I will feel some feelings of agoraphobia…something I haven’t felt for decades. I’ll be thinking of you, too, as we move forward. I didn’t have to cancel a trip to France but I did have to cancel a trip to see my daughter and four grandsons in South Carolina…plans to visit Charleston for the first time, etc. At this moment I don’t even have a desire to go anywhere ever again! But we cannot let that take hold. Onward, my friend. Take good care of you.

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    • I have a Facebook friend who is a recovering agoraphobic and she mentioned that she was afraid of “relapsing” once we’re able to go back into the world. I admit it’s crossed my mind, too, that I might have some difficulty stepping back out through my front door again. But there’s a quote I remember hearing growing up, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Don’t worry about problems in the future when today has its own problems and fears. As my son-in-law says, “Control the controllable.” And right now, that means deal with what’s here today. How to buy groceries. How to get our meds. How to stay busy. How to exercise and get fresh air. How to reach out to our loved ones. How to live our lives now within our four walls. There’s so much to handle in the present that we don’t have enough energy (or time) to be worrying about the future. And who knows, perhaps getting through this successfully will make us all stronger and better able to handle our struggles (like agoraphobia) that we had in our past. Keep the faith. Stay well.

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  8. Thank God you and your family stayed home and didn’t go anywhere at all.Thank God also for your resilient sense of humour,a most valuable asset at this awful time. I pray that the current plague will not last as long as the Spanish flu after World War I, nor have a similar death toll.That virus was reckoned to have killed fifty miillion people worldwide. My heatfelt condolences to you and your husband for the death of his mother, your mother-in-law. I know what it is to lose a parent. As we say here to those who mourn such a loss:May the rest of her life be fulfilled in yours.

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    • Thank you, Yasseen, for that beautiful phrase, “May the rest of her life be fulfilled in yours.” I will share that with my husband and I know he will find that comforting. And I hope that the medical advances we’ve seen over the last one hundred years will defeat this virus sooner than the one the world experienced in 1918. May you and your family stay safe. Be well, my friend.

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  9. I love reading your blog, Darlene! Somehow you have the knack of finding a bit of humour in every scenario. Please give our condolences to Phil and stay well!!

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  10. Very moving piece. Difficult to hold back tears. The truth is finally sinking in; we’re not immune just because we’re Americans. I’m so proud of New York and California and how they’ve handled this devastating crisis. Stay safe everyone.

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    • I feel so lucky to live in California, and my husband is from New York, so we’re both really proud of the leadership in those two states. Hope you and yours are well and keeping busy. Check in every now and then – I’ll be here. Stay safe.

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  11. Dear Darlene, thank you for your story!
    I could see every single scene like in the movie.
    We don’t really know when the world will be “normal” again, or if it ever was…
    I’m sending you love and hugs from Berlin!
    Today is Saturday and I could escape from my family in order to rehearse via Zoom (a theater piece about Asta Nielsen, after I’ve discovered her house on one island in the Baltic Sea a year ago…) The opening was supposed to be in the beginning of July…. I’m sitting on the big window sill and looking into the world outside – between us a huge glass, which someone should clean pretty soon… So happy, we have words to feel connected, with 100% COVID-19 protection gaurantee.
    Well, I’m a strong fan of celebrating both: birth and death. Especially in the Easter- time… After giving space for your loss, I hope you’ll be still looking forward for your Big Party in June?
    What do you think about a small birthday gift from Germany this year? 🙂 I hope the post will be still working… untill then: stay safe and healthy! The sun is shining and the feeling of piece and love comes with it…

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    • Thank you, Julia, for your beautiful comment. It’s very interesting to read about the different ways people are dealing with this same craziness all across the world. We share so much in common, now. Sending love and hugs to you, too. Please stay well. Be safe.

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  12. What a story and how well narrated!!! I feel for you and your husband, it is devastating to lose a mother and not being able to say goodbye. Hope it gets better soon for all of us, for mankind. Hope also we learn something out of this pandemic: we are not invincible, American, Greek, Italian or any other nationality you can think of. Keep safe

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    • “Hope also we learn something out of this pandemic: we are not invincible, American, Greek, Italian or any other nationality you can think of.” Yes, I hope we learn that too. Thank you so much for your condolences. Stay well. Keep safe.

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    • Yes, it does feel less lonely knowing we are not alone during this crisis. I think that’s why it’s so important that we keep reaching out to one another in whatever ways we can find to keep that human bond we all so desperately crave. It’s good to hear from you, and I appreciate your comments. Stay well. Keep safe.

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  13. Hi Darlene – I’m so sorry about your Mother-in-law. I can’t imagine losing a loved one during this pandemic. I also understand agoraphobia- being a recovering agoraphobic myself – It’s funny but in a way being agoraphobic kind of prepared me for this. I have no problem staying home although as a bank employee I’m considered essential and have to go to work everyday – oh irony. I just keep repeating “this too shall pass”. Thank you for your stories and even though we have never met – I consider you a friend. We share agoraphobia – a love of France (it’s on my bucket list) and the end of April I too will have a “special age” Birthday. Keep safe Darlene and Family – This too shall pass.

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    • Thanks you for your condolences, Millie. And a special thank you for also staying on the job as a bank employee – a member of the “essential forces” needed to run our country. The fact that you are a recovering agoraphobic only accents what a true hero you are right now during this crisis. I hope you are being careful, that you are wearing a mask, and if you have to handle money that you are using protective gloves. And yes, you’re right: This too shall pass. Take each day as it comes, and take all the precautions you need to face the day. Early birthday greetings and best wishes to you. We will have one big heckuva party once we get through this. Stay well. Be safe.

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