A few days ago I participated in a virtual town hall meeting of a teacher’s organization in my state. During the meeting, a professor from Arizona shared statistics about states across the nation who are seeing spikes in their COVID numbers. He explained that each state saw an increase in infections as the state entered a new phase of reopening. His warning was that my own state will more than likely see a large increase in numbers soon since we have not yet seen the effects of our Phase 2 despite the fact that we are already in Phase 3. At the end of his presentation he encouraged educators to share their stories with the hash tag MyCovidStory as a way to bring awareness to the issues that educators are facing as government officials, school boards, city councils, and boards of supervisors are seeking ways to “reopen” schools this fall. So I thought I would reflect on my own COVID story as a way of describing the issues that so many of us are facing today, not just educators.
On March 13th, everything changed. Our normal became nonexistent, just a memory, just a dream. This was the day that schools across the Commonwealth of Virginia were closed for two weeks as a way to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 before it ravaged our state. As I’ve shared before, there were so many things that I wish I had said to my students on March 12th, so many lessons that I wish I had taught. But my COVID story is not just about my role as a public high school teacher. My story involves so many more aspects of my life as I know it has affected yours.
On March 15th, my husband led our last “normal” worship service of our small church in Culpeper, Virginia. With the help of our church board, we decided that we would close our doors indefinitely until we had more guidance from the governor’s office as well as our denomination’s leadership. For the first few weeks of the pandemic, my husband and I led the services in isolation online, providing opportunities for our people to continue to worship with us. However, there were complications even with that. A few of our people do not have internet access where they live, or they do not have digital devices that allow for them to watch our services live on social media.
So we got to work, trying to find other ways to reach our people. We made phone calls weekly, trying to stay connected with those who could not access our services online. We visited a few at their homes, socially distanced of course, so we could at least have some conversations. We met with our church board, finding ways to continue our ministry in the midst of COVID.
And then we got to work connecting to our community outside of our church membership so that when we could reopen our doors, we might have new people join us. So, we updated our church website, posting current worship services, hoping that people would be able to access services that way. We got in touch with an organization that provides free apps for churches, and we worked on designing our app with our church members and community in mind, hoping that those who had devices would use this new technology to connect with one another and with us. We started a Youtube channel, posting services and encouragement videos so that our people could have some spiritual guidance in the midst of this pandemic. We reached out to other church leadership to see if there were other ways we could connect, so we started burning DVDs of our services and providing them for our members who do not have internet access or digital devices. We started an online Bible study for our people, hoping that more would connect even if it was through their phones each week.
It’s been a struggle to stay connected to people in our community who do not use technology in the ways that it is available. And now, we are facing another possibility of needing to keep our doors closed as I face returning to school next month. Most of our people are in high risk groups of having severe cases of COVID-19. I’m not sure what we will do. It is depressing to see my husband who has worked so tirelessly to connect with the community just to see that his efforts sometimes go unnoticed and seemingly unfruitful. Before COVID, we had a drive to start new ways of connecting with our community, but with so many closures around the area, we just don’t know how long we can keep going. We are hopeful, and we will keep moving.
However, what a difference COVID makes in some of the most important aspects of our lives like keeping our church from dying.
In early May, my stepfather had a fall at home that caused him to be hospitalized and evaluated. The doctors determined that he needed a quadruple bypass surgery as a way to prevent a massive heart attack from taking his life. In the midst of COVID, this was difficult for my mother to be able to visit him in the hospital or for any of our family members to be there as he healed. Thankfully, a few of my siblings risked traveling to be with him and my mother, sacrificing their time and health to support our loved ones. However, for three of us, we faced the decision of how we would travel out of state with such a mess of COVID cases surrounding us. Do we fly? Do we take a train? Do we drive? If we drive, where do we stay along the way? What about restroom breaks and food breaks? What are all of the rules in the states we will drive through?
For me and my family, we had other issues to consider. Our son is 19; however, he is on the Autism spectrum, so leaving him home for an extended period of time was a concern. We also needed to consider how he would get to work while we were gone since he does not have a car or a license. Along with that, we had a dog who had just developed a mass in his mouth days before we had planned on leaving to help my parents. There were a multitude of questions and concerns to consider. Finally, my husband and I decided to go spend three weeks with my parents, trusting our son to find a way to and from work each day.
However, what a difference COVID makes in some of the most logistic aspects of our lives like planning a trip across the country to help support our families.
Two days before we left to help my parents, we had to put our dog to sleep. The vet’s offices in our area are still practicing strict social distancing which includes handing off pets to veterinary technicians while family members wait to talk to the vet about their pet. The vet counseled us to put Buddy to sleep because the mass in his mouth was more than likely malignant melanoma. There was no way we could take him with us across the country for three weeks with a mass growing in his mouth, and we could not leave him home with our son to take care of him.
We could not come into the vet’s office to put Buddy to sleep. However, our vet arranged for us to sit outside in the grass with Buddy behind the vet’s office while we said our goodbyes. A few workers from the nearby restaurants smoked outside while we tearfully said our goodbyes. It was surreal that we were living in this world where we could not have the decency of being inside a building, in private, with our beloved dog while he breathed his last breath in our arms. It was still wonderful to be able to say goodbye to him and to tell him that he was such a good boy.
However, what a difference COVID-19 makes in some of the most sensitive aspects of our lives like euthanizing a pet.
A day before we left to help my parents, our son had his socially distanced high school graduation ceremony. My husband and I were the only ones present because his grandmother did not feel that it would be safe to travel to Virginia because of her severe health problems. We stopped at each station with him, providing information for future contact, dropping off his school laptop, putting his senior picture in a box for a Class of 2020 time capsule, posing for pictures in prearranged places, and watching him walk across the stage without the applause and shouts of his friends and family members. We enjoyed the moments.
However, what a difference COVID-19 makes in some of the most joyful aspects of our lives like our child’s high school graduation.
Today, I am facing two huge stresses. Yesterday, we took our youngest dog to the vet. He has a mass that has affected his front shoulder to the extent that it is separating bone and causing him to limp at times. Thankfully, he does not seem to be in pain, he continues to eat, and he is still playful. However, we only have a few months with him before the cancer will cause him too much pain and too much weight gain. We are facing another death of a pet in this COVID world where we will probably sit on the grass behind our vet’s office as restaurant workers smoke on their break and we tell Zero what a good dog he is while he breathes his last breath in our arms.
What a difference COVID makes in some of the most heart wrenching aspects of our lives like putting yet another dog to sleep.
In a few weeks, I will be returning to school. I don’t know yet how all of the details will fall into place. I know that I need to be there in person, despite the risks I will take for my own health, the health of my husband and our son, and the health of our church members. I know that I need to be there in-person to provide a smiling face, to instill hope, to try to establish some normalcy for my students. I would much rather be safe at home just like I would rather all of my students to be safe at home, learning virtually. However, I know that there are too many factors that make that improbable. Lack of financial support for child care, lack of internet access for students in remote parts of my county, lack of a safe and stable environment for students to learn, lack of social interaction and emotional support for students who are lonely, depressed, anxious, or neglected at home.
What a difference COVID makes in some of the most necessary aspects of our lives, like educating our children and providing them with a safe and supportive environment in which to learn.
I have not contracted COVID, and thankfully no one in my family has either. I don’t know anyone directly who has been infected by this virus. My COVID story does not involve hospital stays, weeks on a ventilator, blinding headaches, violent vomiting, spiking fevers, or severe muscle aches. However, it has affected so much of my life, my sense of normalcy, the practical aspects of my life, and the emotional aspects of my life.
What a difference a virus makes in such a short amount of time. I encourage you to share your COVID-19 story even if it doesn’t involve illness. You have been affected by this virus just like me.