Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Virtual Viewing

65th wedding anniversary
Yesterday my father-in-law was laid out out the funeral home. Current mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic allow only 10 people to be gathered in one place at a time. This number includes the funeral home staff and any clergy that might be there. Jim's older sister, who lives in the same town of my in-laws, was able to be there along with some of her close family members. They represented those of us who are having to stay in our own homes.

Through Messenger I was able to set it up that Jim's younger sister and her husband, our son and his wife, our daughter, and Jim and me were able to virtually attend the viewing. I thought I also had my mother-in-law in the group chat with the help of her hospice nurse, but we had a technology fail so they were not online. The funeral director sang "Be Not Afraid", and Sister Diana from their church read some scriptures and talked about her own personal experiences in knowing Jerry as long as she did. I was doing my best to text what was said to the hospice nurse to relay to mom.

It was a short service but very poignant and personalized. Then the hospice nurse sent me something mom had prepared and asked me to read it to everyone since she wasn't online with us. It was beautifully written and made me cry. I could barely get through it. To witness the love of this 68 year partnership is truly something.

Today is the virtual graveside ceremony in Minnesota. Our family will be well-represented by cousins and nephews and nieces, to the limit of the 10 gathering in one space. We are so grateful to each and every one of them for being there when we can not. Zoom is set up and a young woman will be providing the eyes and ears for us. If the technology gods are willing, mom will be joining us from her room in the nursing home. Worst case scenario, it will be recorded for future playback.

All of this is not what we planned or desired, but it is the hand we have been dealt. We are doing the best we can under extremely difficult and trying circumstance, and are grateful that technology is enabling us to have a least a little bit of closure.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Saying Goodbye to Dad

Gerald Wolterman
My father-in-law Jerry died April 22 at 10:53 in the evening. While no family member was allowed in the room with him, other than my mother-in-law, we were extremely grateful to learn that he passed while two nurses were there taking care of him. Hopefully with everyone wearing masks, he thought it was one of us.

I cannot find a word to exactly describe what it feels like to lose someone you love during this COVID crisis. Surreal comes close but seems insufficient somehow. You have an expectation, and a picture in your mind based on past experiences, of how the end of life for your loved one will be. The family would be gathered around the bedside of the one who is dying, holding their hand, telling them they are loved, saying good-bye...And those left behind would hold each other in their grief, mourning together, crying together. Relatives would be notified, and funeral preparations would begin. The loved one's life would be blessed by the priest and celebrated by the living before being taken to the cemetery for the final resting place.

Nowhere in that scenario or our wildest dreams did we expect a situation where we would be told not to leave our homes, much less our state, to visit the dying and comfort the living. That we could not hold our mom and tell her how sorry we are that her husband of 68 years has passed. That we would not be able to go to the funeral home and help with the selection of a casket and crypt. Or that we would not be able to hold a funeral due to the stay at home mandates, or accompany his body to Minnesota where his cemetery plot is located.

Instead we did a FaceTime chat with Jim's sister at the funeral home, which was better than nothing as we at least were able to sort of see the caskets and help her make a decision. In order to help ease the burden of the local sister we wrote the obituary and found a photo to accompany it. We have also been corresponding with cousins who right away volunteered to be at the cemetery when Jerry's body arrives. This was a great comfort to us as we felt it was going to be one last insult if no one was there by the graveside when he arrives. We are hoping to set up a Zoom event so that those of us who cannot travel to Minnesota can participate visually. If all goes well, it will be recorded so others can view it later. Jim and I are blessed with a neighbor who offered his assistance to set this up and record it for us.

Down the road we will have a Celebration of Life for Jerry, when it is safe for all of us to travel and be able to hug one another as we laugh and cry over a life well-lived. We are doing the best we can under the circumstances with the technology afforded us. But this is no way to lose someone you love and certainly no way to grieve the loss.

My father-in-law lived a long life, and we are grateful for the time we had with him. I was only 19 the first time I met him, and I loved him from the start. Here is a poem I wrote for him on Father's Day in 2017. The words mean more to me today than they did then, and it comforts me to know that he knew how much he meant to me.

poem to Dad

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Dying in the Age of COVID-19

the sun sets, a life sets
We have two family members who are under hospice care and in the process of dying. While their medical conditions have nothing to do with COVID-19, the virus nonetheless is impacting the way that they will die. Because of the virus, all the other family members must stay at home. We cannot visit them, we cannot tell them how much we love them, we cannot tell them it is okay to let go, and we certainly cannot hold their hands as they die. While we are grateful that they are in a room together, it saddens us that we cannot be there to support them, especially the spouse who remains when the first one passes.

There will be no funeral, no closure for those of us left behind. We will certainly have a celebration of life later on down the road when we are safe to travel, but as we know funerals are for the living. They help us recognize the loss as real. It is a way to grieve with others, to hear the stories and share the memories. We will not be able to gather for emotional support and say good-bye to the physical presence that will no longer be a part of our lives.

COVID-19 may not be taking their lives, but it is certainly taking our opportunity to mourn their deaths in the way we had expected.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Life Goes On

Thursday was my turn to go to Harris Teeters, the local grocery store. As I mentioned before, we shop for groceries once a week, but only one of us actually makes the trip. We takes turns to minimize the risk. This trip was a big one because I scored not only our preferred loaf of bread for the first time since isolation began last month, but also a bottle of Clorox disinfecting spray. There was still no toilet paper in stock however. We don't need it, but it has become a game to me to see if I can ever find any.

We have been working on small projects around the house. Jim organized his boxes in the garage, installed pull out drawers in the kitchen cabinets, put up gutter guards, etc. I lined shelves with lightweight acrylic sheets to stop things from sliding through the cheap shelving units the builder installed here. I have also continued with my mask making project, worked on taxes and better organized my filing system. Exciting stuff, right?

Last night we sat out back with two other couples to enjoy the beautiful evening. As before we each had our own chairs and drinks, and kept the 6' distance between each couple. It is always nice to hear how other people are coping with the coronavirus mandates, and just to have new conversations.

Today after Jim finished the gutters and I completed three more masks, we decided to get out of here for awhile. We drove to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus to walk through their gardens. We had been earlier this year with our hiking club, and have been wanting to go back. One of the things I miss most about St. Louis, after family and friends, is the Missouri Botanical Garden. There just aren't that many gardens around here, so today's outing gave me an opportunity to photograph flowers and trees while getting my exercise.

With the Stay at Home order we are allowed to be outside to exercise, and in fact the campus garden had signs posted about COVID-19. There were to be no more than 3 people in a group, and we were to keep the 6' distance between us and others. I will say, sadly, those things did not happen. It was a beautiful day in the low 70s, so the place was crowded with groups. Children were running around and blocking the narrow paths, so keeping a distance was a challenge. We just ended up going to a part of the garden that was unpopulated so we could work on our photography. It was so good to have a change of scenery!
UNCC botanical garden
We grilled steaks when we got home, and ate on the back patio. Then we sat in our orange chairs to watch the boaters go by. We even had a bluebird stop by, and a blue heron was across the lake. It was a nice ending to a wonderful day.

bluebird and blue heron

Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter Staycation

Easter sunrise
Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and what an odd one it was for sure. We got dressed at 6:45 and walked down to Sunflowers Point to watch the sunrise. It was lovely, and the only sun we saw that day as storms rolled through the area later in the day. It was a beautiful spot to sit and contemplate the significance of the day.

We decided to have our Easter meal at noontime, because why not? For us the traditional meal is ham, baked beans and scalloped potatoes. Usually there are rolls as well, but since COVID-19 hit you cannot find frozen bread of any kind in the stores. I would make my own, but there is no yeast to be had either. It was okay, because Jim made a lemon pound cake for dessert so we really didn't need any additional bread with the meal.

Easter dinner
During the afternoon we watched the Pope celebrating mass in Rome, then Andrea Bocelli performing at the Duomo Cathedral in Milan, Italy. There was an organist with him, but otherwise the church was empty as were the streets surrounding it. This whole situation is quite surreal, but his music was just the uplifting note that I needed. From there we switched gears to the broadway performance of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Talk about a divergence in musical styles! This new production takes great liberties with the staging of the original show, as do a lot of productions these days. The cast wore modern clothes and used cell phones and iPads. It was interesting, but I prefer the original.

I got a couple more masks made before the big storms hit here. We were under a tornado watch, so I decided not to be on the second floor of the house in case one hit. As it ended up, we only got lots of rain and some high winds. I had no idea I did not leave tornadoes behind in Missouri! Here are the new masks for the neighbors a couple doors down.

face masks
One of the many things that has been hard with having to stay home is getting enough exercise. We walk when the weather is good, and Jim has been biking nearly every day with a couple of the other guys. I've been doing some online yoga classes. This morning we went to YouTube for a low impact aerobics class. It was challenging but doable. Just one of the many ways our lives have changed due to the virus.

But we are healthy and happy, and I know we have a lot to be grateful for so I try not to complain. As Scarlett from Gone with the Wind said "after all, tomorrow is another day."

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Masks Go On

To date I have made around 20 masks for family and neighbors. They go rather quickly now that I have my system down, and am using elastic instead of having to make cloth ties. It has been fun to try and personalize the fabric for the wearer, such as my neighbors who have a golden retriever. I just so happened to have that pattern on some fabric, so they each got a doggy mask. Here is a sample of some of the additional masks that have been completed so far.

face masks
We were able to check out a small local farmer's store in a nearby town a couple days ago. It is newly opened, so we thought it would be safe to shop there to pick up some fresh produce. Did they ever have some beautiful strawberries! I picked up a couple gallon containers, one for us and one for a neighbor. We also got some nice looking tomatoes and some bacon to go with them. BLTs and strawberry jam occupied my day yesterday.

strawberry jam
community garden plot
Our little community garden plot is coming along nicely. It was a little cold last night, so we were worried about how the new plants would do. But we stopped by there today to water the bed, and things are coming along quite nicely.

In terms of the new normal, we continue to stay in our neighborhood with the exception of going to get food or water the garden. Knock on wood, there are still no cases of the virus in our community of Imagery. In fact, there are only 6 known cases in our township. I'm quite aware that these numbers are very deceiving. Most people cannot get tested for the virus even if they have all the symptoms if they can't answer a few key questions in the affirmative. One example in North Carolina is that you must have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 14 days. In other states, you must have recently traveled to a location that is a hotspot for the virus. So we know that many people have the virus but just don't show up on the statistics due to a lack of testing. There are also people who are asymptomatic yet have the virus. Until an antibody test is developed which will show if a person has had the virus or not, the numbers will be very inaccurate.

In the meantime, tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Our state, it its infinite wisdom, is allowing religious gatherings. While I can hope that people will worship from home, I don't think that will be the case. I predict that in the next two weeks we will see a surge in cases as people who attended services contract and spread the virus.

However, the beauty of this area surrounds me, and lifts my heart when this world situation threatens to drag me down with it.

sunrise on Mountain Island Lake

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Making Face Masks

sewing face masks
While the US government still has yet to specifically state that we should all wear face masks when we are out in public, that day may be soon coming. It also just makes sense to do so. While any mask short of the N-95 worn by health care workers will not protect you from getting COVID-19, wearing a mask will aid in preventing you from spreading it (and other germs) to others in case you have the virus and just don't realize it. Wearing a mask also prevents you from touching your nose and mouth, two of the three entry points for the virus. (The third being your eyes.)

Jim's mask
On Saturday I began researching homemade face masks. There are a lot of free patterns on the web, and I found a reliable source for a pattern. The only modification I made to it was to add a layer of quilt batting to the middle. Three layers of protection should be better than two, right? Using a fun fabric of 100%, tightly woven cotton, I made Jim's mask first. It took about five hours, which was disheartening even if it did look pretty good. After I finished I then read that you shouldn't make a mask that has a seam up the center as that allows more hole points for the virus to enter. Ugh! I think Jim's will be safe because of the thick layer of batting, but I searched for a different style for future masks.

Once I settled on a new pattern I began to cut fabric for my own mask. In the meantime a friend in the neighborhood whose husband is very ill asked if I could make five masks for family members so that they could wear them to keep her husband safe from any germs they may be carrying. Of course I was willing to help out, and I made her one with the new pattern so she could try it our for size and comfort.

first mask for my friend 
mask with elastic straps
I discovered that the most time consuming part came from making the straps. Elastic is a quicker method, but that is as hard to find as toilet paper right now. However, this same friend happened to have a few packs of elastic, which she gave to me. What a difference from a time standpoint! I made her second mask with the elastic, and then asked her which strap option she preferred. She liked the elastic, so I was able to quickly finish up her five, then make my own. I prefer the straps, so that is what I made for my own.
masks for my friend

my mask

I have since made three additional masks for my next door neighbors and their daughter. They are fortunate enough to have some medical masks which were ordered before the pandemic struck. So I left an opening in their masks where they can place the medical version inside and then replace as needed.

Others out of town have asked about me making masks to send to them. So far I have not committed because how will I mail them? I do not want to be anywhere near a post office or UPS store right now. Perhaps that makes me selfish, and I do feel a little bad about it. I will check into buying postage online because I do have envelopes here I can use. If I just put one in an envelope I believe it will slide into the outgoing mail slots we have here onsite.

Who could have ever imagined that the first time I would use my sewing machine after moving would be to sew masks to help fight a pandemic?

Friday, April 3, 2020

Grocery Store Madness

As I mentioned, Jim and I are taking turns doing our once a week run to the grocery store to minimize our exposure risk. We have selected Thursday as our day of choice because that is the day Harris Teeter offers 5% off to seniors 60 and over. It is also one of the two days they open at 6:00 a.m. for seniors. Yesterday was my turn to shop. Because Jim had encountered large crowds at 6 when he went last week, I decided to go to the store at 7, hoping the early frantic shoppers would be done by then. I still found the store to be quite crowded, making it difficult to maintain the 6' of separation in some areas. What is with people who block the entire aisle with their carts? It was also a little sad to see the number of people way younger than 60 in the store at that time. Harris Teeter had even sent out a public appeal to leave the hours of 6-8 in the morning for seniors because they are trying their best to keep us safe.

From a shopping standpoint I was able to find everything on my list except for yeast. I would love to have some on hand in case I can't find a loaf of bread someday and need to bake. There has been none for the past month, and I can't find it online either. I took a peek at the toilet paper, sanitizing soap and disinfecting spray aisles, and the shelves were bare. We are not in desperate need of any of those items, but I wouldn't mind having some extra wipes as I believe this stay-at-home mandate will go on longer than the month of April.

The government is now backpedalling on their position that healthy people do not need to wear face masks in public. It is expected that a recommendation to the contrary will come out any day. The mask will not protect the wearer from getting the virus, but will instead protect others if the wearer has the virus and perhaps doesn't know it. There is a shortage of masks and they need to be reserved for first responders and health care workers, so they are recommending that you make your own. I knew there was a reason I hauled all my fabric from St. Louis to Mount Holly! Today I will be looking at patterns online to see what I can come up with. I don't have any elastic, but elastic hair ties were given as an option on at least one example I saw on Facebook. I happen to have a supply of those that I had purchased for a different craft idea last year. I'm excited to have a project to work on that will be both fun and practical. In the meantime, here are some of the turtles in a cove by my house, just to make you smile.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Learning about Trees

One good thing about staying home is that I've had the opportunity to really look at the plant material growing behind our house. Because we only moved here the end of October, this is our first spring in North Carolina. Our property is on Mountain Island Lake, one of the bodies of water created by Duke Energy when they built dams on the Catawba River, in this case in 1924. Duke owns a 100' setback on the lake, and so the hillsides down to the water are very natural and dotted with native plants and trees.

It was exciting to recently see that we have many white dogwood trees scattered along the back. (The state flower is the dogwood.) But there are also some other white flowering trees as well. The flowers on the trees sort of look like white colored bluebells, and we have never seen anything like them. In doing an online search, we discovered that they are Mountain Silverbells. Sometimes they are referred to as Silverbell Trees, and they grow in Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. Silverbells also grow as a shrub, and we have plenty of them on the hillside as well. It makes for a beautiful display right now.

Mountain Silverbells
As we stay hunkered in at home due to COVID-19, it will be exciting to see what else springs up in our yard and neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

April Fool's Day

sunrise on Mountain Island Lake
The first of April is typically filled with jokes and pranks. But with COVID-19 blanketing the entire world, there is very little to joke about this year. My morning began with a beautiful sunrise over the lake in my backyard. It is somewhat surreal to be looking at such a glorious site while so many people are suffering across the globe.

This pandemic has such far-reaching repercussions, whether it is the people grieving lost loved ones, those fighting the virus, medical personnel taking care of them, employees who have lost their jobs due to business shutdowns, parents having to home school their children, those working from home who are faced with learning new technology in order to do so, stock market crashes, isolation for those living alone, and general anxiety from all the unknowns with this virus.

Jim and I are blessed in many ways, and we know this. While we are in the age demographic to put us at a higher risk should we get coronavirus, we do not have any health complications that put us at a higher risk for death from it. Our location is fantastic, and it is no hardship for us to shelter in place. We can freely walk the trails and sidewalks in our neighborhood, and the weather has made it possible to do that comfortably. But still the worry is there - concern for our children, their health and the security of their jobs; anxiety for our more vulnerable relatives and friends; fear for our own health as the number of people diagnosed continues to grow exponentially; apprehension over the markets and how our retirement funds will fare over the long-term; and even unease over the simple task of going to the grocery store for basic necessities.

It is my nature to be optimistic, a glass half full type of person. I'm doing my best to remain upbeat, despite all the uncertainties. I'm doing my part to stay home other than a once a week trip to the grocery store for our household. My husband and I are taking turns with that so we each only have to be exposed every other week. We are in it to win it, as they say. Stay strong and healthy, everyone. And above all, stay home!

bee on wisteria