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Gayle MacDonald is a feature writer at The Globe and Mail.
My 86-year-old dad was buried on a beautiful sunny day at the end of October. After a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s, he finally – and mercifully – slipped away. He was buried beside our mom, in a shady corner of the Southampton Cemetery in Ontario, which sits atop a hill on the Saugeen River.
A local bagpiper played Amazing Grace. A woman from the church played Bring Him Home from Les Misérables. It was one of the saddest and happiest moments of my life because I knew this intimate goodbye, with immediate family, was exactly the kind of low-key exit my dad would have wanted. He was a humble man.
It struck me that day that the pandemic was both a blessing and a curse. Because of restrictions on social gatherings, a traditional funeral was out of the question. So we did what everyone has had to do during the last year – we improvised and adapted – and ended up with what we knew, in our hearts, my dad would have preferred anyway. A simple affair, under beautiful maple trees, with his loved ones nearby.
COVID-19 has been a terrible thing for so many people – and I don’t wish to minimize the suffering of those who have lost loved ones or their livelihood – but it has also provided us with some grace notes that we would not normally have experienced. In normal times, my brothers and I would have gone with the big funeral, the receiving line, the organist etc. COVID-19 forced us take a big inhale, a slow exhale and a hard look at what was important and would make us most happy.
Before the pandemic I was on autopilot, functioning at a level that left little to no room for reflection. Now after months of living in lockdown, I have discovered I’m quite happy to be free of many of the encumbrances of my old busy life.
I’m glad I‘m not eating out as much, and instead cooking dinner at home and having more family meals (yes, only with my own household). I’m relieved I no longer feel compelled to go to social events that I never really wanted to attend in the first place. I’m thrilled that I don’t have to commute to work. And I’m grateful the U.S. border was closed so that my 24-year-old son, who had just graduated from school in the States, was forced to come home and live with us (I call it my COVID gift but I’m sure he has another name for it).
I am ashamed to admit I feel both gratitude and resentment for a horrible virus that has killed far too many. However, it turns out I’m experiencing what some experts are calling “lockdown relief” and it refers to people (privileged ones, to be sure) who have embraced slowing down, adapted fairly easily to the restrictions and found new purpose (and happiness) in a pared-down pandemic life.
Last August, CBC writer Jennifer Moss reported that about 20 per cent of Canadians have experienced lockdown relief the past year. She described them as “people who, pre-COVID, felt they had to constantly keep up appearances, demonstrate productivity, they had to be at every event, it was necessary for them to be seen, and found themselves feeling relieved that their internal need to perform was now moot.”
Moss interviewed young professionals who reported feeling happier during the pandemic because they had less FOMO (fear of missing out). She talked to families, with busy complex lives, who had bonded in new ways because they were no longer driving to a million different extracurricular activities. She spoke to a couple who had rediscovered each other because their time together was no longer weighed down with commuting times and travel.
They all had one thing in common. “Because they have been given permission to do what they want to do, they’ve discovered that their old way of life was exhausting and unnecessary,” Moss wrote. In other words, COVID allowed them to hit a reset button and they were happier.
The other day I received some beautiful photos from the daughter of good friends, a young woman named Anne who was married last weekend at their local Ontario church in front of their immediate family. They drove to the tiny church in a golf cart. Her aunt and uncle shovelled the pathway to the church and laid the astro-turf to avoid mud.
Anne told me she had always envisioned a “smallish” wedding (“I have never enjoyed being the centre of attention”) but she was a little sad, at first, that no friends could attend.
Once the ceremony began, she forgot all that. “Despite not being able to celebrate in person with many people who are dear to us, Mike and I still felt an incredible outpouring of love from our community of family and friends. I had virtual showers and a virtual bachelorette party, friends dropped off special meals for us to enjoy … Mike and I have never felt so much love.”
That, in a nutshell, is how I felt standing by my dad’s grave listening to the sweet notes of Bring Him Home float through the air. Now I can glimpse a return to “normal” life – and I’m thrilled. But I also know there are life lessons that the pandemic has taught me that I want to preserve.
What else we’re thinking about:
I made a special friend during COVID. She is about four-feet tall, mostly green, thirsty all the time and her name is Olive. She is an indoor smart garden (from Rise Gardens) that in the last six months has produced cherry tomatoes, four different kinds of lettuce, green peppers and a medley of different herbs. I’ve always had a green thumb and, like countless others during the pandemic, I finally had the time to experiment with different gardening techniques. I had read this piece in The New York Times about growing fruits and vegetables hydroponically (which means they are planted in water – not dirt – and grow 30 to 50 per cent faster than a soil garden). She is connected to my phone through an app that gently reminds me when to give her water and nutrients. Olive has turned out to be the ideal house guest. I adore her because she makes little mess and helps me produce organic, nutritious meals.
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