Three short weeks ago, I celebrated a significant birthday and joined the ranks of the “seriously elderly.” Before that I had just been elderly, and my attitude was more puzzlement than sadness. I think the next benchmark is “I didn’t know she was that old,” and the one after that is “No kidding! Is she up and around?”  

My family and I were just on the edges of recognizing the dangers of COVID-19. I knew it was bad, but I selfishly wanted to go out on my birthday. So we did, to two different restaurants on two different days: Hemmingway’s, my favorite, and Golden Steer, one of their favorites. I looked at the packed bar at Golden Steer and thought: “They’re doomed.” Not me, them. By the way, I wouldn’t have eaten so much if I’d known I’d be obsessed with food — getting and eating — within a week.

I brashly announced to all and sundry that I wasn’t afraid to die — that it would be preferable for someone my age to die than a young person, or God forbid, a child. Since I have a few serious health conditions, one involving my lungs, it seemed likely.

Then the news described what dying from this virus would look like — lying isolated, sick as a dog, in a crowded hallway without friends or family, waiting to be evaluated, and then probably intubated until I died — alone — because of the danger to any friends or family. Uh, no thanks.

A week later my building closed to all but emergency and essential visitors and a week after that we were informed that the first resident of another senior building had died of COVID-19. 

Being isolated hurts as much as lost love. 

I’ve always spent a lot of time alone by choice and I’ve always dreaded being alone. So the days have alternated — one where I feel fine and one where I feel waves of anxiety. I’m having a hard time sticking to one glass of wine a day, and feel awful if I drink more than one glass.

I feel worse if I watch Trump’s endless press conferences. I tell myself that I just want to stay informed, but really, it’s the equivalent of a teenager going to a horror show just to see how much they can stand before they have to cover their eyes. 

The best part of my day is watching a Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York tutorial on how a democracy is supposed to work in a crisis, how to speak in complete sentences and paragraphs, and the meaning of family. Praying for a President Cuomo. Also Mother Lori Lightfoot of the Little Sisters of Divine Impatience for Vice President. Governor Pritzker should stay in Illinois to get us out of the pension crisis. 

About the title of this column. “The Storm is Passing Over” is a spiritual that my Sounds Good Chorale for seniors is rehearsing for our spring performance. It’s got a tempo that does not come naturally to my South Side Irish ears, but I’m singing it constantly, either out loud or in my head … and heart. It gives me waves of joy. I’m tempted to sing it on my walks in Mills Park, but I don’t want to scare the babies and the dogs. I look forward to busting a move when we have our online rehearsals this week (it’s a blessing that we can’t see or hear each other). 

I recommend listening to the version by the Detroit Mass Choir.

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Mary Kay O'Grady

Mary Kay O'Grady is a former high school English teacher and later owned her own public relations business, The O'Grady Group. She has lived in Oak Park for almost fifteen years. She is currently the chairperson...

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