Prior to the pandemic hitting the world stage, I was seriously thinking about quitting my job in the nursing home where I work as a restorative care assistant. Working a mere thirty hours per week in a place that was sucking the very life out of me, I wearied of the drama, in-fighting and low pay–all of which I had neither the time nor the energy to deal with. I survived by keeping my head down and my mouth shut; coping methods that were entirely foreign to me.
Had I quit when I wanted to, it would have landed me in the no-man’s land of CERB–Canada Emergency Response Benefit–if I’d even qualified. Instead, I found myself working over forty hours a week with the government offering pandemic pay–an increase in hourly wages for those working the front-lines during the crisis.
The lack of provision I was experiencing prior was replaced by more than enough. Ironically, I had nowhere to go spend the extra money, but at least I could rest easy knowing my bills were being paid without difficulty.
Where I’d once felt that the work assigned to me was without purpose; much of it seemed designed around creating the facade of a pristine and idyllic lifestyle, it had become life or death–literally. My days, though exhausting, centred around bringing comfort to those who would survive the killer-virus, and easing the suffering of those who wouldn’t. I ran from room to room to facilitate virtual visits between residents and their loved ones–some to say hello and others, goodbye.
At other moments in the day, I was the dispenser of silliness and laughter. The irony of singing songs like, “Don’t Fence Me In,” was lost on most of my charges, but music and socially distanced dancing from doorways helped to fill the void that the isolation created.
During the worst of the pandemic, I learned how valuable true friends are. For three months, I didn’t stand in line to buy groceries or fight over toilet paper. Friends and family steadily arrived at my door with groceries and my e-transfers would expire before they could be accepted. The clever ability to connect the dots on social media saw the friend of a friend of a friend deliver a basket of home-baked goods and wine on a Friday night. This is intentionality at its finest.
Self-care became top priority. I was too tired at the end of the day to move beyond the couch, but I’d usurp the early hours of the morning for myself, walking through the trails, taking in as much quiet and peace as I could, before the chaos ensued. The birds and bunnies didn’t mind me being in their territory and they sure weren’t asking, “Where’s your mask?”
Conversations became more meaningful. One particular chat with my dad brought new understanding and healing. We’d discuss the traumatic effects of isolation on a person and that led to talking about my grandfather–his dad, who had served in the Second World War. For the first time, I heard my father acknowledge that the man who was rarely given the title of “Dad,” but rather “the old man” or simply Jack, should be forgiven of his failures as a father and grandfather. PTSD was as real back in the 40’s as it is now; it was just called something else. He wasn’t a bad man–he was just broken.
My relationship with my siblings became stronger. Not a day goes by that we don’t talk–albeit generally through a group chat–but still, to have your sister or brother say good morning and good night to you on a consistent basis is pretty amazing.
Covid-19 taught me what bravery looks like. For some of my colleagues, alternate living arrangements had to be made. Rather than risk bringing the virus home to their family members, many opted to share accommodations away from the comfort of their own home and families. Still others volunteered to look after the most ill, to spare those who were going home to families, the additional risk.
In the most selfless act of bravery, I want to honour my co-worker–Denia. Through the worst of the pandemic when we were working over-time and struggling to keep everyone healthy and happy, Denia kept showing up, despite a troublesome, but unknown ailment nagging at her. She wasn’t sure what it was, but insisted when she had the time, she’d go to the doctor to get it checked out… We lost our good friend and co-worker just a few short days ago. She passed away one month after being diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t miss a day’s work until her diagnosis. Denia was literally dying as she was helping to preserve the life of others. It doesn’t get more brave–or heart-breaking than that.
While I choose hope over despair, I’m tired. I’ve made the decision to avoid the media, the updates and the grumblings about to wear the mask or not wear the mask? Some say nothing good can come out of this crisis, but if you look close enough, you’ll see friends going the extra mile, co-workers stretching themselves farther than they thought possible and relationships becoming more intentional and meaningful.
This season the entire globe finds itself in, is making us stop and ask what really matters.
Has anything prior to Covid-19 made the entire globe stop to ask this simple question? Not in my lifetime…