by Nenke Jongkind
I remember walking home on Friday, 13 March 2020 from the Bloor Street United Church where we had celebrated the lives of both parents of a congregant. They had died within days of each other. At the reception afterwards some members of Council met at a table and agreed to suspend worship services as Covid-19 began its rage around the world. I could hardly believe it. I walked home through familiar streets, and reminded myself that I did not need to hide. No one was hunting me. I was not a present-day Anne Frank hiding in less than 500 square feet shared with seven others. Nor was I living in a dystopian novel.
Plan: Wear masks when not at home. Be home as much as possible. I began it well. I walked around Queen’s Park daily. One day in, one direction, the next day, the other way. Then I walked around the other side of the streets, lengthening the walk a bit. I wish I could tell you that I sustained this healthy practice. I didn’t, but it was a good beginning. Being outside is good for me as is walking.
Our University in the Community ceased to meet in person as well. In time we too Zoomed our classes. We are an interesting group of just under fifty people, two of whom were born in Canada. The rest of us are global citizens and immigrants. Our names and our accents sometimes convey where we’re from, but not always. The joy of listening and conversing with professors and authors from our global village was a wonderful opportunity. Our coordinator, Joanne Mackay-Bennett wonderfully shepherds us and our experienced presenters into magnificent learning occasions.
More and more we stayed home. I read a lot. Library books, real books, electronic books, everything I could get my hands on! I also found Happy Colors something like embroidery but you do it on an iPad with your finger and no one needs to hang it on a wall. The colours enchanted me. As an undeveloped artist without a practiced medium it amuses me.
We learned to Zoom. I had had a little experience with this on the Regional Candidacy Board, and now it expanded. We only missed one Sunday worship service and we were on Zoom the next Sunday. What’s better with Zoom, is that you see each other’s faces not just the back of the neck as you do in church. We came early and left late enjoying the small breakout groups and catching up with each other.
There are four small groups of friends with whom I had maintained contact for many years. Two went from a monthly supper, or lunch to a bi-weekly Zoom gatherings. So once each week I am with friends. One group was already zoomed out and we went from monthly lunches to no more, thank you. Another small group also disappeared. Changes will keep on happening.
Unable to see people in person, I noticed that I too began to shut down somewhat.
I communicated less. I didn’t pick up the phone to call people as often. I texted more often. I became glued to my iPhone and iPad. Amazing!
I live with seasonally affective disorder or SAD. From the fall equinox to the spring equinox, I need to sit with lights, take some medications to maintain a reasonable lifestyle during the darker seasons.
Yet, life goes on. Robert had his first vaccine on 12 March. I was not yet eligible. It was after a week of hospital attendance for blood work, CT scans, etc. that on Friday, 26 March 2021 Robert woke me up at 5:00 a.m. to ask me to phone 911 for an ambulance because he couldn’t breathe. I went into the ambulance with him and we were both diagnosed as having caught the virus. We were informed of all the possibilities and had to take some hard decisions. I was sent home. Robert was admitted to hospital immediately provided with oxygen. On the weekend Robert was taken to Intensive Care. I feared for his life. Probably because he had had his first vaccination, he did not require intubation. We were grateful. We tried to keep in touch by telephone but it was very difficult for him to speak. Nurses were excellent at keeping me informed. Robert exited ICU, went back to the covid ward and to my relief, was transferred to Bridgepoint for rehabilitation on 12 April. He needed to learn almost everything again. He learned to walk again and in due course, climb stairs as we live on the third floor and there is no elevator. While Robert was at Bridgepoint, I could visit him twice a week! What a relief. He was still on oxygen. There was even talk of him coming home with an oxygen device. He came home on 25 May!
Robert now uses a rollator. It is his Covid-19 souvenir. I have become a caregiver. We can now use Wheel Trans. It is an excellent service as long as you realize that you’re not in control.
I have retired from the Regional Candidacy Board as I no longer had the time to read the reams of paper, on screen, before the quarterly meetings. Unfortunately, all the volunteer stuff we used to engage in with refugees, Community Café, and some committee work also went on Zoom for safety. Feelings are not expressed well on Zoom (much better in person) so the sense of satisfaction was more limited.
And yes, I got down. It was hard. For Rob, too. We did it all as best as we knew how. Friends got sick. Some with Covid. Other illnesses too kept on happening. Sometimes people get better, sometimes they died. Funerals, Celebrations of Life were not possible. The hugs that sustain us when we feel needy, could not take place. It was all very sad. And it isn’t over yet. This week three unrelated friends have contracted Covid. I hope that they will recover rapidly and completely.
As the lockdowns eased, and we emerged from our pandemic norms, it has been delightful to meet friends in restaurants again, to renew relationships and have in person visits again, to hug each other even with masks on is better than no hugs at all.
This week we gathered to bid Anne McDonagh adieu. Anne had begun University in the Community almost twenty years ago. A dozen of us were able to attend, grateful for her vision and hoping that we can continue to be challenged to learn together as some restrictions ease and we are carefully re-engaging in life as it will be.
Nenke Jongkind is a student in University in the Community.If you or someone you know woud like to join our Fall prgram at UitC, please get in touch! Our email is:firstname.lastname@example.org