How To Cope When Your Parents Get Coronavirus
And they’re 1,000 miles away
When my stepfather got his test, I never expected it to come back positive. But four days later, it did. They didn’t bother testing my mother. The doctor told her she almost certainly had it too, so there was no reason to swab her for the virus.
Both my parents remarried when I was 11 years old, so I consider my stepbrothers and stepparents as part of my family. For most of my life, that meant I had a bigger circle of family to enjoy. Today, it means more people to worry about.
My mother and stepfather are in their 70s with moderate health issues. They feel tired and sluggish, but no fever, no difficulty breathing, and no chest pains. It’s comforting to know they’re doing well, but they’re anywhere from 7–10 days into this, so the possibility still exists that their condition might worsen.
The 1,000-mile distance between us complicates things. And that’s raised troublesome questions.
What if they need hospitalization? What if they succumb to this disease? How would a funeral work? Would I be able to go? Should I even risk it and put myself and my family at risk? How could I not go? I try not to think of hypotheticals; it only exacerbates the tension.
My brother, sister, and stepbrothers all live near my parents. I envy them. Although they remain in isolation too, at least they’re geographically close. I’m the only one left in the northeast. I never liked being that separated from my family before the pandemic, but now it’s like an earworm chorus that won’t leave me the fuck alone. What if something happens to…? What do I do if…?
Despite the uncertainty of how this might end, I‘ve been able to dissipate much of the tension. Sure, I have my moments, but thanks to some coping strategies, I’m mostly doing okay. If you find yourself in a similar state of distress, you may find these suggestions helpful.
Eisenhower the shit out of it
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle, plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
That’s true during a pandemic too. For the last few nights, I’ve been writing out answers to my most pressing questions:
- If the worst occurs, what will I do?
- If I decide to go to Florida, should I fly or drive?
- If I decide to fly down there, how will I protect myself and my family upon my return?
My answers vary each time I ponder these questions. It might sound like that creates more uncertainty and more tension, but it doesn’t. Every time you go through this planning exercise, it feels like you’re getting closer to the final answer.
Communicate with loved ones every day
Before the pandemic, I hadn’t spoken with my close family members as regularly as I should have. It was always on the to-do list, but I often let life get in the way. Days would pass that sometimes turned into weeks.
Now, we’re texting and Facetiming more often. If you’re concerned about distant loved ones, be sure to reach out every day. You may run out of things to talk about. If that happens, do what we do. We share funny YouTube videos and then exchange commentary via text.
Keep things light unless the situation forces you into a darker discussion. Also, don’t call them ten times a day. You don’t want them to stress over your uneasiness.
Be explicit about what you can control
Everyone feels a lack of control these days, a helpless feeling of randomness about who gets sick and who experiences complications. You do the best you can, recite a few magic spells, and hope it’ll keep you safe.
That helpless feeling extends to distant, at-risk family members. What makes it more frustrating is that should something happen, you may not be able to assist them.
Control may be an illusion we create in our minds, but it’s helpful to articulate, on paper, your capacity to direct future outcomes.
- What can you control? Your actions and your emotions (to some degree).
- What can you influence? How others act and feel (by the way you communicate with them).
- What is beyond your limitations? Everything else. You can’t control what happens to your distant loved ones. Nor can you govern how the disease might progress should they acquire it.
Focus on your post-pandemic life
Focusing on my passion has enabled me to forget about today’s challenges. I’m spending as much time as possible preparing for the world that emerges from this mess. For me, that means writing more than I have before the coronavirus, designing the kind of career and life I desire and learning about the technological breakthroughs that will result when all of this ends.
Whatever you choose to do, pick something that requires some brainpower. The more bandwidth you dedicate towards your work or passion, the less available for rumination and worry.
Share your fears and concerns
It’s helpful to write down your fears, recognize your lack of control, and do meaningful work, but it’s not enough.
Share your concerns, fears, and feelings privately or publicly with others. Talk, email, text, blog (under your name or anonymously), or share on an app like Whisper. You’ll find that others struggle with the same challenges as you.
Show compassion to others; it helps. I expect my parents to pull through. If you have loved ones in a similar battle, I hope yours emerge victorious too.