For many grandparents, my husband Gary and myself included, our mantra has been “We don’t want to be an unnecessary burden on our children or grandchildren.” To that end, we’ve followed healthy lifestyle habits, we’ve made ourselves as financially stable as possible, and we’ve made sure that all our legal documents are in good order.
However, with the onset of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), this road map that we’ve laid out for how we want to lead our lives has required some unexpected rerouting. It’s as if the GPS system for our life journey has announced, “Recalculating. Recalculating.”
Recalculating Our Independence
We elders take great pride in our independence, and we strive mightily to maintain it, sometimes to our own detriment! For example, when information about the coronavirus was first coming to light, many elders ignored the fact that their advanced age made them more vulnerable to death from the disease than their younger counterparts. They pushed back when told that they to needed to curtail face-to-face interactions: “What do you mean I can’t see my grandchildren?!” At first, many grandparents found this dictum unimaginable, but most have since come around in the face of irrefutable data.
Because we elders are more at risk, this requires us to practice disciplined social distancing. One requirement of doing so can mean foregoing something in which we take great pride, that is, our independence — doing for ourselves and taking care of ourselves. Under current circumstances with the coronavirus, we may have to let others help us. For example, Gary and I have had two offers from younger couples that they grocery shop for us and leave the groceries by our door. We haven’t as yet taken them up on this kind offer, but circumstances may require us to do so in the future. For many of us elders, being dependent on others is something that may take some getting used to …
Recalculating Our Finances
As is the case with many grandparents, we have watched our retirement savings get decimated recently in a short period of time. In fact, we cannot help but wonder if our savings will take us through the rest of our lifetimes. Like many others in our situation, we are doing some serious belt tightening. Some expenses for which we have planned for quite a while now, such as taking our grandsons to Europe upon their high school graduations, need to be reconsidered.
Revisiting our financial situation and making adjustments to align with current realities may mean that we have to cut back on our charitable contributions. Our being able to share our good fortune has always given us great pleasure, but we appreciate that these cutbacks may be necessary so that our family doesn’t need to worry about us being in financial jeopardy. Our financial planner will help us recalculate such matters as trips and contributions.
Recalculating Our Daily Activities
Gary and I are taking social distancing very seriously: we have agreed that being true to our self-imposed isolation means no getting together for any social interactions which require us to be closer than three feet to others. This includes family as well as friends and service providers.
However, we did make one exception: we voted in our state primary election in Florida. We took all the necessary precautions, e.g., bringing our own pens, distancing from others, wiping down our voting station, using hand sanitizers. We were willing to take the risk of exposure because we felt voting, especially during these times, is literally a form of life and death regarding the futures of our grandchildren.
As far as how we’re using our time while in isolation, we continue to do our outside exercises away from others, including running, biking, paddle boarding, taking walks, and yoga. It is encouraging to note the emergence of creative ideas for using the Internet to stay connected with others, e.g., playing online games together, having dinner “together” using FaceTime, virtual book club meetings and cocktail hours, watching shows and movies together and discussing them. The list will continue to expand.
For example, a set of grandparent friends of ours told us that they watched a video on how to make Bolognese sauce and then made it together. They said this co-cheffing together turned out to be great fun! On a personal level, because hair salons are currently closed, Gary ordered a set of hair cutting shears with several different blades. With no prior experience, we plan to cut each other’s hair. Yes, indeed, these are times when we need to be open to new experiences!
I want to make two points. First, I think it is important that grandparents give their children and grandchildren some peace of mind in these uncertain times by assuring them that they, the grandparents, are doing everything possible to keep themselves healthy. This reassurance is particularly relevant to older grandchildren, who are aware that their grandparents are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Second, we all hope these necessary recalculations have benefits — that out of them will emerge new ways to find fulfillment that are as good as, or even better than, the ones that have guided us in the past. We need to remain disciplined, patient, hopeful, and creative.
As this notice on the community bulletin board in our condo where we live suggests, let’s keep our dance shoes at the ready for those good times ahead!
And finally, who better than Maya Angelou to motivate us during these difficult times: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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