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Isolating with three generations in one house during COVID-19

  • 3 min to read
Isolating with three generations in one house during COVID-19

I remember when whispers of the coronavirus pandemic began to take over public conversation. I never thought those whispers would translate into at least 100,000 deaths.

When the virus got closer to home, people began to feel the gravity of the situation. When the virus began to threaten lives, schools closed their campuses, local businesses shut their doors, the government issued stay-at-home orders. For some, these measures felt overbearing. But for families like mine, no protective or preventative measure could be enough.

The news of the pandemic hit my mom the hardest in the family

The news of the pandemic hit my mom the hardest. Suddenly, everything was a danger to my brother Lance and my grandma.

Protecting the family meant having my grandparents move in with us. My grandma was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in December. My parents knew we would be hard-pressed to find a caregiver willing to take the measures necessary to protect everyone from exposure.

The grandparents struggle with the new situation
There is no cure for my grandma’s dementia or her cancer

TOP LEFT: My grandma was devastated when my mom told her they had to leave their home. Mom told her that the virus made living on their own unsafe with her condition. She was diagnosed with cancer in December, around the same time she was diagnosed with dementia. Mom had to tell her again. TOP RIGHT: My grandpa is a nervous man. Listening to the news about the pandemic makes him shake with worry. He worries most about my grandma. When I told him I was thinking about going back to work, his display of concern convinced me to stay home longer than I had originally planned. BOTTOM: There is no cure for my grandma’s dementia or her cancer, nor is there one for my brother’s disability or one for the world’s coronavirus. In my life, modern medicine only manages the symptoms of the problem.

It wasn’t an easy transition. My grandparents have spent their entire marriage in one house. They couldn’t imagine leaving it, especially with no idea how long that would last.

Lance brought me his communication device

Lance brought me his communication device and repeatedly pushed the button “farmers market.” Every spring he helps water the plants, but this year, as winter turned to spring, our familiar farmers market was closed.

My grandparents were not the only concern. My younger brother Lance was born with a chromosomal abnormality called Trisomy 4Q. His disability was something we learned to handle. Maintaining his health was not always easy, but it became our routine. And, yet, nothing prepared us for the COVID-19 pandemic. With a compromised immune system, my brother was at a higher risk for dying from exposure.

Our home quickly became a quarantine zone.

Nathan, my youngest brother, spiked a fever and began to cough the first day I was home. The doctors didn’t suspect the coronavirus. They suggested he stay isolated until his symptoms subsided.

Nathan spiked a fever and began coughing on the first day I was home

Nathan spiked a fever and began coughing on the first day I was home. The doctors did not think it was the coronavirus, advising him to stay in his room until all of his symptoms went away. I didn’t get to see him very much while I was home.

After his temperature returned to normal, Nathan still spent more than two weeks in his room. He was unable to shake his cough. For a 16-year-old boy, isolation from family wasn’t the most devastating circumstance. But as the days dragged, I could feel him longing for company. I spent time sitting outside his door talking and wishing I could hug my little brother to let him know things will be OK.

I didn’t get to see my dad much either. As a CPA, he works long hours in his home office.

Leaving the house was reserved for necessity. Returning meant immediately showering and washing clothes. Nothing entered our home without being entirely sanitized. My mom became obsessed with cleaning every surface to keep us safe. I could see the blanket of anxiety that weighed on her.

Mom began compulsively cleaning the house

Mom began compulsively cleaning the house.                                                                                                                                                                                       Even clean dishes were rewashed.

Mom says the alphabet twice when washing her hands

Mom says the alphabet twice when washing her hands. She told me that her research says to think of the coronavirus like glitter and its adhesiveness. She told me to imagine how difficult it is to get off of your hands.

Before all of this, life was moving quickly. Busily completing task after task, I would let weeks or even months pass before I actually got to spend quality time with my family.

No matter how much mom tried to control what came into the house, she still felt powerless

No matter how much mom tried to control what came into the house, she still felt powerless to the world of the pandemic. She prayed often. She said her faith helps remedy the heartache that became so ever-present since the pandemic threatened the lives of her family.

Phone calls home were sometimes just a brief exchange of words between assignments and meetings. Then the world froze. Schools closed their campuses, businesses shut their doors and the government issued a stay-at-home order.

We became disoriented and even frustrated by this disruption. I briefly considered what this meant for my plans — plans for the weekend, for graduation and even for my career. But as I watched my family swiftly adapt to such unprecedented circumstances, I realized how important it was to be with them for a while.

I was self-quarantined with my family for over two weeks. At first, I fought with my parents about how long I could stay there. I had responsibilities with work and school. Working for a newspaper in my senior year of college isn’t the best time to stop everything.

My grandma and I on Christmas

LEFT: My grandma and I this past Christmas. She was so cheerful. We laughed, sang and laughed at our singing. Those off-pitch notes of Christmas carols felt like the only problem in the world. RIGHT: These days my grandma is tired a lot. She has good days and harder ones. On good days, we will watch reruns of America's Funniest Home Videos. Her laugh is one of my favorite things. But on the hard days, she is very confused and seems sad. She keeps asking for my mom to take her to her sister, so she can do hair, but can’t risk going outside.

But as I looked at the fear that was painted across my family’s faces, I realized they needed me to stay. So, I stayed as long as I could. I cooked dinners and helped with medicine. I made time to talk with Nathan, and I prayed with my mom. We were there to support each other through the hard times, and we celebrated the happy ones together.

Some days, my grandma has a lot of pain but she says family soothes her

Some days, my grandma has a lot of pain. She doesn’t like taking the pain meds the doctor gave her, but she says family soothes her until the bad spells pass.

The present my brothers, dad and I got for my mom for her birthday arrived

The family gathers outside Nathan's door as my mom opens her birthday present two months after her birthday. It was a customized coffee mug detailing the most important memories of her life. She said she couldn’t have imagined a better time to have received the gift.

It’s not often we really show people how much we care about them. Since the coronavirus threatened our well-being, each of us has faced sacrifices. Lance had to give up the routines that made him happiest. Nathan spent 16 days in his room. My grandparents had to leave their home, and my parents have anxiously worked to keep us safe.

It isn’t until the boys and my grandparents are in bed that my parents can relax

It isn’t until the boys and my grandparents are in bed that my parents can relax. They know everyone is safe for another day. My dad works all day from his home office. At night, my mom and dad will have a glass of wine and decompress. It’s comforting to know they always have each other.

My family and I celebrated my birthday with a homemade funfetti cake

My family and I celebrated my birthday with a homemade funfetti cake. They found a single candle pushed to the back of a drawer, so I could make a wish. It made me so happy to see my family sitting around me. I wish Nathan could have been there at that moment.

The coronavirus has had terrible consequences. As a journalist, I am surrounded by the toll it has taken on our community and around the world. However, I think the coronavirus also gives us a chance to remember what is most important in each of our lives. My time in quarantine has helped me take fewer things for granted, to take care of the people I love and to cherish the memories we share.

I feel the safest at home with my family

I feel the safest at home with my family. I never imagined that my family would be put in this kind of circumstance, but regardless of the fear and anxiety that has settled in our lives, I take comfort in knowing home is safe.

  • I'm the Director of Photography working close with staff photographers, videographers, photo editors and designers to help our stories become visually exciting. Follow us on Instagram: comissourian

  • I'm a photojournalism masters student at MU.

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