COVID-19 Diaries: Virus Puts Stresses Large and Small on Family Life


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ALEXANDRIA, VA.    - Hundreds of azalea bushes have blossomed, and a sea of colors has swelled up overnight in my neighborhood. Amidst this glorious awakening of nature, one could never suspect the mute sadness, anxiety and uncertainty we feel stuck in our home.

We are all safe though not all that sound - mentally, I mean. Arguments break out over whose turn it is to go to the grocery store, donning construction-style face masks and rubber gloves, disinfect incoming groceries, or take out the trash.

Our situation cannot be compared to that of people who are exposed to the virus, who work long, grueling hours at hospitals losing patients daily, or who are dying alone in hospital corridors.

But the nagging questions - "When will our lives get back to normal? Will they ever be the same?" - keep jolting us back to the grim reality every time our minds wander off to something happier. They are like a shrill alarm that needs to be put on snooze every five minutes.

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I am particularly anxious for my daughters' future. They are both college students.

The older one studies at our community college nearby, and lives at home. And though there has not been a stark change in her day-to-day life, her studies have switched to an online platform and her final results have converted to a generic Pass/Fail system at a time when showing stellar grades would secure her transfer to her dream college next semester, a very selective four-year school in Virginia.

The younger one studies in Chicago - or I should say studied in Chicago - until she had to hurry home as the number of coronavirus cases mounted in the Midwestern state of Illinois. She too has switched to online instruction, a very challenging situation for her Performing Arts major.

She misses her friends, her surroundings and her very belongings, which student dorm employees threaten to stash haphazardly somewhere if she does not go and collect them. Never mind the funny little videos that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot keeps posting online, asking people to "stay at home, save lives."

Aside from my daily concerns at home, I worry about my family abroad. As a Greek-American, I have always straddled two continents - my husband and kids on this one, my mother and sister on the other.

I am grateful and proud that Greece has kept the COVID-19 curve relatively flat compared to the rest of Europe and the U.S. But Orthodox Easter, the greatest celebration for Greeks, is fast approaching, and there are fears that some renegades might defy government orders and congregate in churches for worship, or visit with one other to celebrate, and end up inflating that curve.

My 86-year-old mother shelters at home alone. A spirited human being, she is self-sufficient and resilient, but still among those who are most vulnerable to the virus and should not go out. So, every day, my sister drops food outside the door of her apartment building.

But social distancing is rough. My mom does not have an internet connection, she refuses to learn this "new" technology and has no online cameras, Zoom, Skype, Facetime or anything that can bring her closer to her loved ones through video during this time.

So, I guess, she does what's second best. She goes out on her third-floor balcony, waves to my sister from a distance, and calls her on the phone. I could call it "tele" chatting without the internet.

Anxieties and uncertainties aside, I am thankful that we are all okay and sheltered. But the happiest being among us is our four-legged family member, Casey, who is over the moon about having, somehow inexplicably, all her family together, at her disposal, at all times.