Social Distancing: What Does it Mean To You?
By Lindsay Ventura, Community Outreach and Education Manager at American Liver Foundation New England Division
Almost 6 years ago, my mother received a life saving liver transplant. After ten years living with cirrhosis, the year and a half before her transplant was wrought with fear that she might lose her battle before her liver came. With every day seemed to arrive new symptoms, a new cruel way liver disease was taking her away before our eyes. Many of you are probably familiar with the helpless wait for a transplant. I was her primary caregiver during this time and found solace in spending as much time as I possibly could with her. I would do her grocery shopping and stock her shelves. I would rub her feet when they got sore and swollen. I was the one tending to her needs, trying to make her feel better.
During that time, we kept trying to remind ourselves it was temporary. We knew there would be an end, we just didn’t know when the end would come and what it would look like.
After my mother’s transplant, I watched as she began blossoming and thriving in her new found life.. Since transplant, my mother began truly living for the first time in a very long time. She retired from a long and successful career. She started dating a wonderful new man. We had just put the finishing touches on an at home pottery studio for the two of us.
Then COVID-19 happened.
My mother’s life which seemed so incredibly secure for the first time, in a long time, has been thrust back into the unknown. My mom, like so many others, is considered very high risk due to her age and her immunosuppression. In early March COVID-19 cases first started appearing in earnest here in Massachusetts. My mom and I talked every day, were very cautious with our own movements, and felt comfortable still spending time together.
Over the course of a few days, life went from relatively normal, albeit with added handwashing, to something totally different. Suddenly, Massachusetts residents were being called to social distance from one another. Slowly, many, if not most, states are facing similar requests. As we are all being asked to social distance, I’m sure you, like me, have wondered what that really means. What does social distance mean for me and my family? What will social distance between us and our loved ones mean for our mental health and well-being?
We are all being asked to make very uncomfortable choices. It’s hard to know what is the right choice. Right now, the right, responsible choice can feel intrinsically wrong. I know it does for me….the right choice, right now, is for me to longer visit with or hug my mom.
I find myself, once again, fearing for my mom. I find myself, once again, feeling the very emotions we faced pre-transplant. Every day arrives now, not with new symptoms, but some new possible threat to her health. We are feeling helpless to our circumstance. Just like when she had HE and could not drive, my mother is forced to be dependent again. My family has the recognition that this is temporary; we know there will be an end but we don’t know when it will come or what it will look like. While I can still do her grocery shopping I can’t stock her shelves. I can’t rub her feet or her back. I can’t tend to her needs. I can’t hug her, tell her it will be okay. I have not hugged my mom since March 10th. I don’t know when I will next be able to hug her. In my gut, in my being, this feels so incredibly wrong. But, I am doing the best thing for my mom and her health right now.
We are all faced with these gut-wrenching decisions. We are all being asked to do what, on some level, feels so wrong in the interest of public health. We are being asked to socially distance ourselves from our friends and family.
It’s important for us to recognize ways in which we can still exact our power. We cannot succumb to the feelings of helplessness. Rather, we need to identify ways we can still support one another and be there, even if we need to physically stay away. We need to remain positive. Work harder to identify ways to find gratitude and joy. Use video chat platforms to see your loved ones and make sure they are not mentally isolated when they may need to be physically isolated. I have been seeing people all across the world connect more now than they did prior to the pandemic. Perhaps, through all of this, we will learn how much we need to rely on one another. Perhaps we will learn how much we truly need other people. Perhaps we will learn just how powerful a hug can truly be…
For more information about what social distancing means for you, in every day practice, please refer to these two articles from The Atlantic:
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