The End is in Sight (Maybe)

In my family, we have 4 of the necessary 7 vaccine shots. One of us chose Johnson & Johnson, hence the odd number. So we’re halfway there. And I’m a little giddy about soon being fully vaccinated.

We are all living through an ordeal. The 13-month and counting pandemic upended our routines, relationships, living spaces, work, and everyday activities. We’ve been crabby and sad, we’ve adjusted and found new ways to manage, all while living in a time warp. And now, with effective vaccinations, we are starting to eye the future and our possibilities as life opens up.

As a therapist, I hold deep respect for how clients faced the pandemic, how they expressed emotion and endured, how they did what was needed to keep themselves and others safe, and kept working on their goals. A crisis like the pandemic brings out the best and the worst in us and clients have been creative, resourceful, and have also suffered and faced themselves in new, sometimes painful ways. They are meeting with me virtually, a significant shift for all but a few of them. Some clients prefer telehealth while others look forward to sitting together again in my office. I look forward to that too and anticipate providing both in-person and telehealth services. The pandemic forced this innovative shift for me and I’m grateful for that.

Clients are also expressing trepidation about how to emerge from the cage or cocoon – depending on how the pandemic has been experienced by them – of their homes. And while I’m relieved to be vaccinated, I can relate, especially as an introvert. I’ve missed seeing clients in the office, and friends in my home, at restaurants or gatherings. But I’ve also kind of liked the simple schedule of outdoor walks with friends, phone calls and texts with extended family members, and pretty much hanging out with my spouse and young adult children. I’m aware that stepping out into social activities and public events might feel strange, be difficult, might lead to a heightened vulnerability. We need to give ourselves time to adjust yet again.

Courtney Martin’s blog post titled “Internally Rearranged.” is terrific. I hope you’ll read it here and give yourself space to think through your own internal shifts. I know I keep referring to her writing – but it’s so spot-on, especially through this past year. I’m pretty sure that as we contemplate and accept how we’ve changed, we’ll know more clearly how to step into the next phase of the pandemic.

Stay well, be patient. We’re getting through this, and that’s cause for celebration.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW-R
April 2021

photo by Unsplash

Covid-19: A Year In

photo by Glen Carrie, Unsplash

A year ago most of us were still living in pre-pandemic mode.  We’d just visited our college senior daughter, attending an on-campus dance production and eating at a full and lively restaurant.  Our high school senior son, along with other actors and techies, was in the final days of rehearsals for The Addams Family; psyched for opening night.  My spouse was working.  I was seeing clients in my office.

March 2020 is one of those unforgettable dates we’ll reference, as our parents did when JFK was assassinated or those of us did who alive during the horrific events of 9/11: “Do you remember what you were doing when the pandemic hit?”

What were you doing a year ago?   Is it hard to remember?

And now, a year later?

Well, we’ve gone through disbelief, grief, acceptance, impatience, anger, surrender and feeling blah. Sometimes all in one day.  

At first, we thought this virus would be muffled in months.  Spring was coming and it didn’t feel so awful because we were able to get outside and be with friends.

My daughter came home mid-March, graduated without a ceremony, and is living with us, working, saving money, and making plans.

The musical was canceled on opening night. Our son attended his 5-minute drive-through graduation, moved to college in August, and found the experience so dystopian with masks, social distancing, no in-person gatherings, no eating in the cafeteria, etc., he decided to study online from home this semester.  

My spouse stopped interior painting jobs as he wasn’t considered “essential” until August. Unemployment benefits, newly created for the self-employed, saved the day.

I moved from in-person sessions at the office to video or phone sessions from the finished attic of our home.  I’m still paying rent but only visit my office to get the mail and water the begonia.  It’s blooming now, and  I need it there to remind me that I’ll return to the office at some point.

Where are you now?

And, what have we learned?

Whew – that’s a tough one.  Here are first thoughts.

We learned we are more resilient and flexible than we thought.  

We learned to delicately balance between grieving what was lost and also accepting what was happening – often toggling back and forth between those actions.

We learned our government did not have a well-planned strategy for a disaster like a pandemic. 

We learned we are not in control of events but that we can work at managing our response to life so it’s an intentional response and not impulsive reactivity.  We learned this is really hard.  

We learned that our time together is precious and enjoyable – all of us in a small home – and we are also all looking forward to the time when our young adult children can restart halted plans.

We learned that participation in nourishing activities and rituals is vital.

We learned we need each other; that being together virtually is an available alternative but pales in comparison to being together, in person, with those we love.  

What have you learned?

With vaccines coming and deaths and infections decreasing, we appear to be moving into the wind-down phase of the pandemic but of course we don’t really know.

So, how do we live now, one year in?

We work to surrender to what’s not in our control and to focus on what is. And we allow ourselves days when we’re just sick of all of it.

We keep wearing masks and social distancing.

We mourn those we’ve lost and whose lives we couldn’t adequately honor during the pandemic.  My dad died in October and a favorite neighbor down the street just last month.  We mourn with those who have suffered terribly this year. Our family’s losses were small ones compared to those whose family members and friends died from Covid-19, or lost jobs, homes, security.  We remember that all of us are vulnerable and all of us are connected.

We eye the calendar hopefully and try to be patient. Perhaps we can visit family later this year. Maybe our son can return to a more normal college experience, and our daughter can move in with friends. Neighborhood potlucks, street festivals, concerts, and all sorts of gatherings might become reality! And perhaps we’ll be able to stop worrying about loved ones or ourselves getting seriously ill.

Returning to a new normal will bring new challenges. Still, I’m confident that given what we’ve learned this past year, we’re more likely to adequately manage what lies ahead.

How are you living now, one year in?

A final note: Courtney Martin wrote a terrific post with more questions if you are in a reflective mode. You can access it here

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW-R  March 2021

Losing Dad

Dad and me in 1962

We buried dad on mom’s 89th birthday this October.  That day worked best with family travel schedules, and mom was okay with it.  Eight immediate family members gathered for a graveside service. We did not hug or get too close, the reality of Covid-19 altering life rituals and gatherings.

Dad lived in a nursing home for almost six years due to increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other conditions. His health declined although his mind stayed sharp.  He watched hours of CNN news, and before Covid-19 hit, he regularly played Bingo and attended other activities, tooling around in his electric wheelchair. 

So when the call came from my sister, I wasn’t surprised that my 91-year old father had died (peacefully and in his sleep).  What shocked me was the instantaneousness of grief, how visual and audio memories of him in younger, healthier years started parading through my brain.

I’ve known dad 58 years; he’s been a constant in my life.  Quiet and mostly in the background, he was smart, steady, loyal and hard-working.  My dad, Robert Milton Hartman, was also complex.

He worked hard at a low-paying job – 47 years as a plumber for the same company – and he excelled at it.  Customers would call the business asking for him to come out to their farm or home because they knew he’d do the job right. 

He was fastidious about certain things, like washing the family Buick EVERY Saturday afternoon until it gleamed, and trimming the edges of the lawn just so. He preferred certain foods, like potato salad, just like his mother made it.

Dad also struggled with depression on and off for much of his adulthood and took a passive stance to his health, deferring to mom to manage doctor appointments and medications.  He refused counseling. He was maddening that way.

Church and faith were vital to him and yet he lived with fear that he’d done something to prevent salvation and the Christian’s assurance of eternal life.  This tormented him and so we did not talk with him about death or his last wishes.

He did not like to take risks, his life seemed quiet and small, less than his potential.  He refused to ask for a pay raise because “if that’s what they are paying me, that’s what I’m worth.” 

And yet, in grief I think of daddy as kind, gentle, and easy to be with.  His quiet love for his family dominates.

Warm and vital memories surface:

  • Sitting up with me as I retch over the toilet with some bug, or patting me to sleep at night when darkness scared me.
  • Leading hymns at church, first blowing the worn, trusty pitch pipe, then leading our congregation in his clear tenor voice.
  • Arriving home every work night at 6 pm sharp to relish my mom’s home cooking, eating dessert every single night.
  • Popping corn in the old electric skillet and slicing crisp local apples on Sunday afternoons.  
  • Fixing our family cars with his keen mechanical skill, taking pleasure in driving on road trips. 
  • Recalling, at my wedding, a little incident when as a child I bit him, in fear, on a roller coaster. Everyone was cracking up.
  • Helping my spouse and me with plumbing projects in the homes we owned.  He soldered copper pipes with ease and perfection.  And when our garbage disposal backed up just a few days after his death, I commented to my family that “dad would know how to fix this.”
  • Gently holding my children as babies when he and mom came to visit.
Dad and my daughter in 1998

And while the circumference of dad’s world was mostly in our rural Ohio community, he and mom flew to Nigeria in 1998 where we lived at the time.  He walked the crowded markets, visited our friends and bravely tried local foods like melon seed soup and pounded yam. 

So many memories.

I lived several states and sometimes a continent away in adulthood, and while I visited when I could, it doesn’t seem like nearly enough, nor do the phone calls I made to him in the nursing home. I did my best given my life, work, and family.

After his death, my sister and mom removed his belongings from the nursing home.  Seeing his phone hit me hard.  He loved having a phone; it was his lifeline to those he loved and it was especially vital during the the last months when the pandemic prevented any visitors.   When I’d call, he often answered with “Hello, Brenda!”  I can’t erase his number from my phone and I still have his voicemails. Here’s one: “Brenda, it’s Dad, I just wanted to call and tell you I love you, and thank you for calling.  You can call me back if you want to but you don’t have to.”

I’ve been listening to Colin Hay’s “Dear Father” a lot. (It’s a marvelous song.) These lines I’ve selected especially get to me, as I grieve daddy, honor his life, and reflect on the ways he lives on in me.

“Dear father, I’ve got your photographs.
Thank God for photographs, hip, hip, hooray. 

Dear father, I can’t let you go just yet
and I still can’t forget you walking around.

Dear father, you’re starring in my dreams,
and you’re stealing all the scenes, where did you go?

Dear father, you’re in my reflection now.
As I reach out and touch you now, where did you go?

Dear father, I’ve got your photographs.
Thank God for photographs, hip, hip, hooray”

Brenda Hartman-Souder, December 2020