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‘I’m so lonely’: Isolation takes a toll

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She called to say how much she liked my column – the one about people putting teddy bears in their front windows as a way to entertain children and engage with society in these social distancing days of COVID-19 cloistering.

But this was about more than just the bears.

Grace told me she is 85, and she had just put two teddy bears in her window along with two of her most precious stuffed toys – a third bear in military garb and a camel in a camo hat with the words “Miss You” written on it.

Those special toys are mementos from members of the military in her family, including two grandchildren, one stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland who she says is on standby to deploy.

She misses them, she said.

She misses everybody, especially a new great-granddaughter – her 20th great-grandchild and the only one she has never held, never seen, never kissed.

“She was just born, and I can’t see her because of this coronavirus,” she said, as her voice wavered and her tears came. “It’s so lonely. I’m overwhelmed.”

Another reader contacted me, upset that COVID-19 restrictions were keeping her from visiting her husband at his assisted-living facility.

“I have not been allowed in for three weeks,” she said. “I was used to being there five or more times a week.”

She worried especially about what social distancing and sanitizing measures were in place to keep her husband safe there, worried about his well-being with social programs like folk music night and chair yoga canceled under the restrictions, wondered whether he was getting enough to eat, enough medical care, enough of everything.

She misses him.

“I realize why I’m not allowed in,” she said. “But after caring for him for 60 years, it is unnerving to hand him over to others who don’t love him in the same way.”

She asked me not to use even her first name because she is alone, too, in a strange, scary and isolated new world.

“I have never lived alone before,” she said.

Over at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of New Mexico Hospital, a nurse offered her cellphone to a patient so he could FaceTime with his family. Under new COVID-19 restrictions, hospitals have limited visitors to one per patient and only patients who are children, giving birth or in hospice care.

Cancer patients, already locked in their own life-and-death battles and especially endangered by the ravages of COVID-19, are not allowed visitors.

“They are all scared and facing end-of-life decisions alone, and some of them are becoming angry and shut down,” a reader told me. “I can’t even imagine going through cancer treatment, being immune-compromised and totally vulnerable to COVID-19 among all the other things they are susceptible to and, on top of that, being alone.”

We are all alone now, to one degree or another, self-isolated, social distanced, working from home if we still have jobs. Those social events that were part of our lives – going to parties, to athletic events, to movies, to dinner, to church, to one another’s houses – are against stay-at-home protocols. French Funerals now offers webcast services for the dead.

A tracking poll released this week indicates that all the isolation and uncertainty are taking a toll on our well-being and the way we live in general.

The poll, conducted March 25-30 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that 82% of people in the United States are sheltering in place, while 92% say they are practicing social distancing. Both figures are dramatic increases from a tracking poll taken March 11-15.

The poll also found that 45% say that life in the time of coronavirus is having a negative affect on their mental health. Of those, one in five say it has had a major impact on their mental health.

And nearly three out of four Americans say they believe the worst is yet to come.

Which is to say, we are not alone in this national trauma.

As corny and as “High School Musical”-esque as it sounds, the COVID-19 mantra of “we’re all in this together” is apt. Though surely we do not wish ill upon others, perhaps there is some modicum of comfort in knowing that we are feeling and experiencing the same thing.

We miss us.

So what can we do about this solitary confinement? Sometimes, not much. Rules and guidelines are in place for our safety, to flatten the curve, as they say, to rid this world of a virus that has turned this world upside down.

Still, many of us have found ways to cope. We bake, make face masks and food boxes for others. We create videos, watch “Tiger King,” post photos of our dogs and cats on social media. We home-school. At appointed times each night, we howl at the moon or hail those first responders saving lives at the risk of their own.

We Zoom. We Zumba. We Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and NextDoor. We make phone calls, write letters. We clean house, take walks, take time to appreciate our backyards.

Last weekend, my neighbors and I put out our hummingbird feeders and marveled at these harbingers of spring returning in spite of everything.

Someday, our real lives will return, too. Someday, we will hold hands, hold our grandchildren close. Our smiles will shine again, not from under face masks, not from 6 feet away.

Until then, let us continue to find ways to reach out to one another, safely, differently. Let us continue to hold on to our humanity. In the weeks to come, I will try to do my part by continuing to tell the stories of how you all are doing just that.

This week, the woman whose husband is in assisted living learned how to FaceTime with him using the facility’s iPad. He seemed happy, she said. I think she was, too.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

 

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