I was recently in my childhood bedroom, getting my six-year-old ready for bed. I was tired from the long drive across state and the many hours we had just spent laughing and catching up. I was so looking forward to laying down myself, and letting the exhaustion of the day wash over me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my mom in the doorway poking her head in to say goodnight. As soon as my daughter saw her, she bounced up and embraced her Nana in the 300th hug of the day. After she jumped back into bed, I tucked her in and casually said “Goodnight, Mom, see you in the morning.”
With those simple words, I felt a catch in my throat at the end. It took all my power to hold it together for a few more minutes. Then after my daughter was settled in bed and my mom was in her room, I took a few deep breaths and slowly sat down on the edge of the bed. And with the weight of the past year on my shoulders, I put my face in my hands and silently wept.
Since day one of this pandemic, I have feared for my parents’ lives. I have spent countless nights lying awake, wondering if they will be okay. Constantly questioning if I was doing enough to help keep them and others safe, and feeling unavoidably angry at the thousands of people arguing against masks and quarantining.
Every allergy attack that my Mom experienced would throw me into a fit of worry. Anytime my Dad wasn’t “feeling well,” I would plan in my head what I would pack and how quickly I could run out the door.
However each time, it turned out to be nothing. The seasonal sneezing and coughing would clear up with Claritin the next day, and every stomach ache was cured with a little bit of ginger ale and a lot of sleep.
I know how this virus has torn down families and continues to still today. Each time my parents were feeling unwell over the past year, I couldn’t help but jump to worst case scenario of them dying.
Because in the U.S. over the past year, almost 550,000 families have experienced devastating losses at the hands of this virus. It is simply the reality we are living in today.
So last year to compensate for being stuck in our houses, my parents and I started FaceTiming often. Most times it’s just to see each other’s faces for a few minutes, but it also was an important time to fill each other in on any quarantine updates. Then a couple months back, out of the blue, my Mom goes, “We have our appointment next week.”
I immediately panicked and thought, what appointment? Was my mom having kidney issues again? Did my Dad have to have his breathing checked? Was there something going on I didn’t know about?
Then just as fast as those thoughts spun through my head, my mom casually said, “For our vaccine.”
The shock rushed over me, and I was stunned into momentary silence. Had I heard her correctly? After months and months of worry, I could barely breathe over the thought of them actually getting vaccinated.
Yet when I finally composed myself enough to speak, my mom didn’t exactly share my enthusiasm. And if I’m being honest, I don’t blame her.
You see, my parents had been scared into isolation for almost a year because they were told they were vulnerable. They had thought too often about their own deaths and the deaths of their entire generation. They listened to anti-maskers and people make comments like “it won’t kill me”which basically was the same thing as saying it was okay for them to die.
Now the vaccine was something they knew they needed, but still, they couldn’t help but have doubts. For god’s sake, just going to the appointment felt like a risk to contract the virus.
Yet even with all that baggage, they both received their shots and came through just fine. We waited the three weeks that their doctors had recommended, and we planned the highly anticipated visit.
The weight of that road trip was not lost on me. It was the first time in a year that I could hug my parents without fearing that my touch or my children’s touch could kill them. I knew that things were not normal yet (whatever that means), and that there are still a lot of my family left to be vaccinated. Yet, eliminating my parent’s immediate health danger was a game changer for me and my family.
My heart breaks for the people who have lost loved ones to COVID. You hear the stories of so many doing everything “right” and still getting sick. These losses always feel so close to home, and that’s because it’s not just “a friend of a friend of a friend.” It is our neighbors, our college friend’s parents, our old high school teacher, our child’s soccer coach, or in many cases, our own grandparents, parents, siblings or friends.
So saying goodnight to my mom was not only emotional but monumental. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to be around my parents again. I feel blessed to get to hug them, talk to them and simply love them in person. Their vaccination gave that back to me and my family.
This virus is not over yet, I know this. However it is these small pandemic victories that we need to embrace in order make it through this. So today I celebrate the simple act of getting to say goodnight to my mom.
I am both thankful and truly hopeful that there will be many many more of those special moments with her to come.