This fall when I brought my children in for their annual physicals, I did something I’ve never done before. I had them each get a flu shot. Now, I have nothing against vaccinations. I see their value. My children all followed a delayed vaccination protocol through their early childhood years approved by our pediatrician. But as a family who always spent much of our time at home or outdoors during the school year, I had never seen the need for a flu shot before. When we felt ill, we simply stayed home to mend and avoid infecting others.
But my life changed in every facet after Rob died. I took over the reins of our household, and it was a steep learning curve. As I learned how to manage my new responsibilities, I realized I would need to tackle new experiences slowly, one step at a time. After a week in the autumn where fever ran through my four children, I had to confess to myself that I couldn’t handle the flu this winter. I didn’t know how to do this thing alone yet. Caring for my four sick children one after the other exhausted me, but I couldn’t sleep in after a late night caregiving like I used to. There was only me to do the dirty laundry, to make sure everybody got fed. If there were a way to stave off more illness, I realized I needed to be open to it. When I chose flu shots for my children, I weighed the risks and benefits. I considered carefully my motives. I determined that in this season my choice to offer added protection for my family gave me space to learn how to navigate this new dimension of my widow life.
My children’s schools announced their two week closures this past Friday to slow the spread of coronavirus here in the Boston area. Our extracurricular activities have ceased until mid-April, and our church has stopped meeting until the end of the month. Each day new cases of COVID-19 are discovered in Massachusetts; the virus isn’t under control here yet. As I received cancellation emails this week, I knew I was faced with another choice. How should I handle this growing concern? What was best for my family? How I have missed Rob in these days. He was my sounding board, my decision-making partner. He grounded me in times of fear. I haven’t done a pandemic without him before.
Like so many decisions I have had to make over the last eight months, I considered carefully my motives and evaluated my choices. And I decided to just stay home. I mean, literally, go nowhere. Stay home. The ultimate social distancing, self-induced isolation. Over the last few days, I’ve cancelled our in-person activities for the next two weeks. Some folks have questioned my decision; they think I’m being a little extreme. I’m okay with that. In my new life, I am learning I am answerable to no one but my children and God. I don’t need to give everyone reasons for my choices.
Am I afraid of coronavirus? I’ve asked myself that a million times. I’m just as prone to obsessively scrolling through news as the next person. To be honest, yes, coronavirus makes me nervous. But perhaps not why you think. If one of my family were to contract coronavirus, I’d be caregiving alone, while parenting alone, while managing my home alone, while worrying about the health of my child alone. It would be a big task; and the weight of that makes me wary. Our family is not in the high risk group. But in the last eight months, I have learned that when something makes me nervous, my best tactic is to take my time. To go slowly. To meet the new experience one small step at a time. Amidst media frenzy and growing local panic, by staying home I’m demanding that our family take a slower pace. Rather than racing along at the speed of the world around me, I’m taking the time to formulate my own response. For me, this begins by wiping my calendar clean. Starting from scratch. Starting from home.
This fall, when fever ran through my family, it was the first time I ever faced treating illness all by myself. I no longer had Rob to spell me at night, to grab the thermometer in the downstairs cabinet, to drive to the pharmacy for extra children’s Tylenol when we ran out. I had to do it all myself. I learned a lot from that experience. I learned that you sleep with the thermometer on your bed stand, that you always keep an extra bottle of Tylenol in the medicine cabinet, that you store a bowl of wet washcloths beside the bed to easily replace the feverish one on your child’s forehead when she doesn’t want you to leave her side. I learned that you do what you have to do to make it, and you don’t beat yourself up because life has required you to make choices that look totally different than those other people around you make.
There’s no textbook to train you how to live a widow’s life. Each woman has to learn on her own. I’m hoping that these next two quiet weeks offer me the chance to add some new skills to my widow repertoire. I want to learn how to lead my family with confidence and caution in the midst of a frightened world. I want to figure out what kinds of risk match my new husbandless comfort level. I want to make wise choices as I care for myself and those I love most. Learning takes time; consciousness takes work. Loss has taught me that you never need feel rushed; you can take the time you need.