This is certainly not a year any of us will soon forget. We have been confronted, over and over again, with having to rethink our understandings and change our expectations. Things we thought we knew we found that we really didn’t know anymore. Things we counted on as “givens” have suddenly become uncertain. I can’t even count the times that someone has said “Who would have ever thought?” or words to that effect. A year ago, a world forever changed by pandemic was not something we could have imagined. Today it is just part and parcel of our reality.
For the most part, those of us who work with older adults have adjusted to the challenges that we face. We’ve survived the agonies of that first wave, of the 5-year-long month of April, of the fear that we carried every minute of every day. We’ve seen our organizations stabilize and the use of PPE and focus on infection control have just become a hallmark of everyday life. We’ve talked about how different it has been for us as opposed to many others. We’ve come to work every day with a mission and a job to do and life, from that perspective, feels, in some respects, unchanged. We still have colleagues, we still have our staff and, of course, we have the elders we care for, elders we work very hard—despite the current restrictions—to offer a meaningful quality of life.
But for all the quasi-normality of work life, we can’t miss the reminders that life has changed dramatically and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. This weekend is our organization’s big event of the year. Our Gala is a night we look forward to in the fall. We dress in our finest and we spend the evening enjoying conversations with people we don’t have a chance to see all the time. This year, with no big debate, we all knew that our Gala had to be virtual. So we’ll be gathering in our separate homes, in front of our separate computer screens. And while we will be seeing a great program, the connection will not be there and the joy in being together just won’t exist.
I feel the same way about Thanksgiving, which is fast approaching. Thanksgiving has come to feel like “my holiday.” It’s the one time that I can gather more of our family and spend the day, and the weekend, having a chance to appreciate the time with my grown up kids, their spouses and their families. This year, though, Thanksgiving will likely not be quite the same. My youngest is not sure that he and his wife can make the trip. And while I understand it, I am also painfully aware that this is only the second time in his life that he won’t be at my table for this holiday. I know I am not alone in this phenomenon or the feeling of emptiness that it brings. I also know that I am grateful that everyone is safe and well and that we are all close and connected.
We will, of course, make this work. We will enjoy the family members we have with us and, I am sure, use technology to help us share a meal and a visit virtually. We are blessed to be able to do that and blessed to know that we will see all the faces we love, even if only through a screen.
But I can’t help but think about other families for whom missing a Gala and having a less than ideal holiday is insignificant. This year has been much more difficult and painful for many, in ways too numerous to count. I have an ache in my heart but others have holes in their life that this virus has caused. So many have lost so much this year. They have lost loved ones, they have lost jobs and economic security, the list goes on and on.
I think we have to acknowledge all of these losses and challenges this year. I think we have to recognize what a “long strange trip” this has been and continues to be. And I also believe we have to look to the future and look for the rays of hope, for ourselves, for our families and for one another. The future may look different from the past but there will be a future and brighter days ahead.