Published on April 26, 2020
by Deb Dagit
I have been trying to come up with the right word to describe how it feels to be at home during the pandemic, and what I keep coming up with is bittersweet.
There is so much pleasure in having the time to notice in great detail the coming of Spring as the world outside my window in rural New Jersey gradually shifts from browns and greys to greens with a sprinkling of colorful flowers and blooming trees. Our avian friends who we nurtured with feeders and houses during the cold are now wearing brighter plumage and getting their nests ready for new families. The chocolate cattle on the farm across the river keep a protective eye on their young calves as they scamper in the wet April grass. The ducks and geese in the river noisily warn off the eagles and hawks who effortlessly make lazy circles in the sky.
There is time to try new recipes and revisit comfort food favorites, (Dan is making a pumpkin pie as I write this). Remember the joys of a jigsaw puzzle. Call and write to friends and family and reflect on many blessings. We are Little People (short statured), and my renaissance-man husband has taught himself how to sew and is hemming shirts and pants that no one will see until the pandemic is over. Dan is our home hero, braving the virus to get groceries and make sure everything that comes into the house is safe.
Like many people with disabilities, I am considered high risk – which actually translates to low likelihood of surviving if I get this “thing.” Having experienced more than 70 bone fractures and 30 major surgeries, working remotely certainly is not new. It has been six weeks since I last left the house, and that is usually how long it takes for a bone to mend. Eighteen months of this will be new! It may not make any difference, but each day I follow a rigorous routine of exercise, eating healthy, and resting - hoping that this will help me fight off the invisible foe.
Our son is the only one of our three “kids” living at home and like everyone in our family, he is a person with disabilities as well. Nevertheless, like most of his 25-year-old friends, he is not particularly worried about COVID-19. He works at an Amazon fulfillment center on the overnight shift. They take his temperature daily, he wears a mask and gloves, they stay 6-10 feet apart while loading the orders that have skyrocketed as so many of us order as much as we can to avoid going out. He can choose to work as much overtime as he wants and is happy to see his bank account growing.
He and I used to be like ships passing in the night.He comes home while we are still in bed, sleeps all day, and heads to work while we are making dinner. Our closer connection started because we had to find ways to stay safe, so I began making his evening breakfast, so he did not have to come into the kitchen. Now it is a newly welcome ritual, an opportunity to talk, from 20 feet away. He may not worry about getting sick himself, but he does worry about me. We talk about work, friends, how much he misses petting our dog, and wonder why he got a stimulus check from the government when he is now working tons of overtime?
Our girls are also considered essential workers. Marina takes care of adults with developmental disabilities for the ARC, and now lives with her clients for weeks at a time to keep them safe. She doesn’t mind as they allow her to bring her two cats. We miss having her come by to enjoy meals and share her plans for the future. Our oldest, Alina, works for an insurance company in Florida and still goes into work every day. She loves her boyfriend, her reptile collection, and Disney movies. We make do like so many with Facetime.
Like anyone who has an AARP membership, I have had to say good-bye to many friends and family members over the years. Being home has given me time to grieve for loved ones in ways I never allowed myself to experience before.I have been accustomed to filling my days with every distraction I could think of to avoid having to feel the pain of loss. When my Father died suddenly when I was 28, I channeled my grief into work and have used that go-to strategy ever since when encountering anything that is physically or emotionally painful.
My best friend died on March 9th, right before the national shelter in place orders. I was at a conference in Minneapolis when his sister called me. He had been very ill, and we had been together in late January, both knowing it would be our last time together. We had called and texted very day. I once again attempted to “stuff” my feelings. Despite my best efforts to stay busy, I gradually I ran out of effective distractions and the tears began to flow.I gathered pictures from our 40 years of shared life and love and created a Facebook tribute to share with those who are also grieving. It has hurt like hell to let the pain in, but it has also given me a chance to remember our many happy times together.
Scott had been HIV+ since 1982. I moved from California to New Jersey largely because I wanted to work for the company that made the medications that saved his life - twice.We helped each other through four decades of ups and downs. There were many more happy than sad times despite both of us managing serious health challenges, the loss of dozens of friends to HIV, and the kind of family drama and dynamics that causes so many of us to seek out and treasure our “chosen” families.
Yes, it is a bittersweet adventure sheltering from an invisible killer. Our planet heals from man-made toxins, our dogs become over-pampered lifelines, our life partners and children step up as heroes, and we feel our feelings.
Deb Dagit is a sought-after consultant and speaker on the topics of diversity and inclusion. She started Deb Dagit Diversity LLC in 2013 to deliver the practical, just-in-time services and products she wished were available when she was a VP & Chief Diversity Officer for more than 22 years. During her 11+ years at Merck Deb was responsible for global equal opportunity, employee relations, recruiting, and diversity and inclusion. Under her leadership, the company was recognized for its exemplary work in diversity and inclusion by a wide range of business publications, government agencies, and professional organizations.