Margaret’s father turns 89 in a couple weeks. Since his wife died last August, not only has he grieved deeply, but he has declined dramatically, both physically and cognitively.
Margaret feels sure he’s in his last year. I think most of her seven brothers and sisters feel the same way, because they’re starting to travel here to visit as often as they can. We’ve made the decision to see Margaret’s brothers and sisters and their children (all adults) when they come.
We know this exposes us to risk. We also know that some of Margaret’s siblings and their children have different beliefs from us about how serious the virus is, and are taking fewer precautions than us.
We insist on one key restriction: that we see each other only outside, maintaining distance from each other. Based on articles I’m reading (like this one), the greatest risk of contracting the virus happens when you spend time with a group of people inside. If someone in the room is contagious, you all are marinating in the virus. Being outside heavily reduces that risk because the air is much more likely to carry the virus away. But it doesn’t eliminate the risk.
We’re most concerned about increasing risk for Margaret’s dad given his age. More than half of Indiana’s COVID-19 deaths are in people 80 and over, despite that age group representing only about 10 percent of cases. I made these screen shots from the Indiana State Department of Health COVID dashboard this morning, showing data collected from the beginning of the pandemic through yesterday.
We imagine that dying of COVID-19 would be extremely unplesant — and lonely, as it would require isolation. If I know anything about my father-in-law, it is that he would experience it as cruel and deeply emotionally painful to die without his children surrounding him.
Additionally, I think it would be far harder for Margaret and her brothers and sisters mentally and emotionally to go through this without seeing each other.
Still, I remain anxious. I’d strongly prefer to stay locked down, all five of us living here having no contact with people outside our home. I’d rather wait until there is effective treatment or a vaccine.
This is how Margaret and I are trying to balance both very real needs. I think nationwide, even worldwide, many families will have to make decisions just like this as our lives continue to naturally unfold during the pandemic.