I grew up as the oldest child of nine in a huge, warm, and close Irish family that is used to being together all the time — lots of laughs and lots of hugs always. This pandemic is taking a toll on our family in so many ways.
My niece is a nurse in a hospital nearby, and she was the first in the family to be diagnosed as COVID-19 positive, followed by her husband. They were isolated for weeks, and I learned so much from our calls and texts in those weeks and after: how much family means, how important it is to reach out frequently and stay closely connected to those we care about, how much isolation can take a toll on a person, how meaningful a card or a call can be, and how love and connections are vital treatment for this disease.
My niece told me she felt lucky during her incubation. She had a husband and a cellphone. She had great internet service and TV. She had a library of books she’d been meaning to read and closets she had been meaning to clean out. And yet, after her husband could go back to work, she was alone for weeks, and she said the loneliness and the isolation were horrible.
She felt surprised at the terrible toll that being alone took on her, and our conversations reminded me of how much meaning we get from connection and love and laughter always, and in the face of a crisis.
When Jena went back to work, I asked what stresses she lived through at work, and we talked about the pain of loneliness on people who are sick and hospitalized when families and friends can’t visit. We discussed how meaningful connection is and how we might work on this together.
I sent out a text to my family and asked if anyone had old cellphones or iPads they weren’t using anymore. Everyone pulled out their old technology and sent it over to donate to local hospitals. The hospital IT departments were grateful to receive them, to clean and deliver them to patient bedsides or to families who could use them to connect daily with loved ones. The nurses loved having them to connect patients who were extremely ill with people who needed to tell them how much they cared.
I pulled out my Christmas card list and looked for anyone on the list who lives alone. Every day, I call or write to someone the list. Every day, the power of love and connection gives me purpose and meaning.
In our connected world, it’s easy to take humanity and love for granted. It’s easy to overlook how important it can be to ask, “what matters to you?” today and just listen. Or overlook how important it can be to send a card that says “thinking about you” or give a call.
We need to change “social distancing” to “physical distancing” and “social closeness.” We need to close the gaps we build when we wear our masks, finding ways to still demonstrate smiles and love and give hugs remotely. I’ve learned that these treatments are as important to us as medicine.