I know exactly what I’m doing but I don’t know whether it’s right or wrong

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.


29 responses to “I know exactly what I’m doing but I don’t know whether it’s right or wrong”

  1. Victor Villaseñor Avatar
    Victor Villaseñor

    I just had juggle that, similar concerns and risks, but my 92 year old Grand Ma is not in bad shape, normal age related complications.

    Stay outside, lawn chairs and some shade, please keep your distance, say Hi / Goodbye from a distance. We even sneaked in different glasses for the iced tea everybody had a different size / shape one ;).

    It was the first time in 3+ months we saw each other and not in a phone / computer screen.

    Its been 48 hours.

    Hope all your family stays healthy!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Victor! Sounds like your family is navigating this as well as you can, too.

  2. -N- Avatar

    I think that all of us are making decisions like this, and working to meet our own safety standards. There are idiots out there like the woman who deliberately coughed in the face of a customer at a bagel stand in NYC, and people who will do anything to protect their families except wear a mask. Humans are sociable and we do need family and friends, so connecting with others is important for mental and emotional health. Social distancing help, and being in the open, too. Staying outdoors works in the summer, but in Indiana that will get difficult as the seasons change – here in CA it’s a lot easier.

    That said, set your parameters and be clear. If people are guests at your house they should follow your rules out of courtesy. If you and Margaret are in charge of her father’s care, and he is in your house, you have rights to determine visiting privileges. Of course there are those who will disagree and be unpleasant about it. We are planning a family reunion, and interestingly, it is the part of the family without any medical professionals who are more cautious!! Fortunately, we are not a quarrelsome bunch.

    Pandemics and coronavirus are here to stay and more are coming. The flu is with us every year. Antibiotics are beginning to fail as germs mutate. Failure to vaccinate children and adults decreases herd immunity. Personal rights and self-indulgence have become so important that me, myself, and I are the end-all of life, and the community can go to hell. Well, a community of self-centered people will not survive – to quote Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I think we are headed in that direction.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m trying to gather as much useful information as I can about the virus: how it spreads, how the numbers are trending, what credentialed people with no axe to grind think about how this pandemic is going to play out. I’m trying to use it to decide how my family will keep itself safe.

      I don’t think many people are doing that. Some of our family express uninformed attitudes about it that drive their behavior. “I think this is no worse than the flu.” “I think the government is making too much of it.” Eek.

      Yes, in Indiana we’re blessed with summer weather now, but come October or November meeting outside will start to get hard, and in January it will not be viable.

      I am saddened too by the extreme individualism that is revealing itself now. We really do need to band together for the greater good, now more than ever before.

  3. Marc Beebe Avatar

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing the best you can given the complex circumstances. Nothing is ever 100% certain. If others don’t agree with the limits you’ve set, then that’s their problem and they can be excluded. It’s bad enough Margaret’s father is in decline; no sense risking making the situation worse.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We’ve gotten no pushback from the family. Thankfully, because I’m sure I would not have responded well to that, i.e., “You don’t like it, you don’t have to be here.”

  4. Russ Ray Avatar

    My dad just got over COVID-19 about a month ago, and he is in the 70-79 age category. He described it as awful, and it doesn’t shock me that those who are over 80 are more likely to die than survive just based on his experience alone.

    I think as long as the conversation is framed that way, it becomes less about what everyone thinks is right vs. what is best for you father-in-law’s care.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m glad he got over it!

      I’m worried to death that Margaret and I, both in our 50s, will get it, probably from one of our kids. Our kids are statisically unlikely to show symptoms. Their mom and me, not so much.

  5. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    It sounds as if you’ve thought this through and are proceeding with lots of caution and good judgement. I just don’t know how I feel about any of this. In many states, including my own, cases are on the increase as they continue to relax rules. This past weekend, driving around downtown, I saw many more people without masks than with. *sigh*

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve thought it through as well as I can with the info I have found. But at a time like this you take your chances and you have to live with any consequences.

      I’m not as concerned with unmasked people on the street as I am with them inside a building.

  6. brandib1977 Avatar

    You are right to be cautious as dying alone with Covid is a terrible death.

    However, if it makes you feel better, I have a friend with severe asthma and a very cautious doctor who is still allowing her family to host socially distanced outdoor gatherings.

    Be safe and enjoy your time together.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Given how doctors tend to lean hard toward eliminating medical risk, that’s comforting to know.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Yes. She has a great doctor who recognizes the need for safe human interactions. Her asthma has hospitalized her at least once so it is severe and I don’t believe he would put her in harm’s way. Two things that I have learned from her is to never accept a plate of food from anyone and to avoid recirculated air as much as possible.

  7. Keith Walker Avatar
    Keith Walker

    You are in a pandemic and people over 70 or have underlying health problems are most at risk. You MUST keep your dad isolated unless all his children are anxious for him to die a very uncomffortable death

    We were fortunate in New Zealand that our Prime Minister, Jacinda took advice from the experts and moved very fast and very hard. We had 200 cases by then and they were forecast to double every day so she immediately told over 70s to go home and stay there, witin 48 hours we had a complete lock down for 7 weeks, Other than essetial services EVERYONE had to stay at home in the household ‘bubble’ all the time and only one person was allowed to go shopping..the only places open were supermarkets and pharmacies. We closed our borders to all but New Zealanders returning home and they have 14 days isolation/quarantine in govt managed ans paid for secure hotels/ And that is still in effect

    We have emiminated Covid 19 in NZ, other than closed borders we are opened up and life is back to almost normal, We had altogether 1504 cases of Covid 19, 22 people died, all very elderly and frail people. everyone else has recovered and it is now 25 days since our last case recovered and we have had no more cases.since then.

    Sure, we are a small country of 5 million although our total area is 16% larger than the British Isles. It is winter here now and getting cold;

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope you’ll extend us the grace to manage this situation in a way that balances things for my father in law as best we can, so that what are probably his last months are as happy as they can be.

      We Americans are so damned individualistic. This is a time when it would be better for us if we had more of a group culture.

  8. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Stick to your guns Jim. This thing is deadly, and can be quite random in who it takes, it is not just the elderly and infirm. As Keith Walker says we are very fortunate here at the moment, but there is a long way to go. My wife works in health and I can tell you that medical professionals were scared witless about the possibilities if our government did not act as they did! Sounds like you are doing the right thing by your family :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much, Steve. We’re doing everything balancing good information with good care of our loved ones, and hoping for the best.

  9. tbm3fan Avatar

    You gotta do what you feel comfortable with. Out my way, Contra Costa Country, is still slowly opening up. You cannot go into any store without a mask. All stores post that on their doors. Home Depot has a mile long line to get into their locations. You must wear a mask in my office and people are spaced. People her are obeying. Traveled down to see my mother, for her 88th birthday, this Saturday. Funny she knows when she was born but couldn’t grasp I am her son.

    My wife and I get checked every month being in health care as it is. I am not interested in contracting the virus even if I am not at risk for dying. I rather not have to deal with one really crappy month. One note, a friend on the Hornet, told me his 98 year old Aunt beat the virus. Not something I would take to the bank though.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not interested in getting it either. Not at all. I hope I’m not putting myself needlessly in harm’s way by doing the things we are doing.

  10. J P Avatar

    It’s a tough situation. And a tough balance between taking all precautions and having the kind of genuine faith that practicing Christians are supposed to have.

    I think the visit will be good – your father in law could contract the disease no matter what happens, so it is better to have some time together now. But don’t get cocky and think you can predict and control the way he eventually dies. My mother taught me that by trying to avoid bad you can always end up with worse.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Jim. We are walking a fine line here, to be sure. All I want is for his death not to be because of our carelessness.

  11. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    “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.”

    The Science is the Science.

    States that have “different beliefs” like Texas, are spiking again. During a discussion with someone a few weeks ago, I said the problem with “spreaders”, is that although you hope they are “hoist by their own petard” (i.e. get sick and die from their own foolishness), what generally happens is that they end up spreading it around and getting your aging parents and grand-parents sick, and THEY die!

    I have a good pal whose parents are well into their 90’s and on their last legs. They had to be put in a nursing home because they were barely physically functional, but still sharp mentally. They were so miserable, the family thought being in a nursing facility was actually hastening their demise, and moved them back into the house. He has the luxury of a couple of wildly wealthy sibs who can finance someone being with them most of the 24 hour period. BUT, most of the family has decided not to do the visiting, and just stops by and visits outside the window, with one sib that lives nearby being the one that “suits and masks up” every day to go in and be directly with them. This all sounds sensible to me.

    It’s one of the most difficult times to live in my life, and it’s pushed back my retirement moving plans and reduction of goods process; but you have to stick to your guns and believe the science!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh good heavens, I hope that even those who choose not to follow the science don’t die.

  12. DougD Avatar

    We’ve discussed this quite a bit, since my Dad is 82 now. My wife is a Nurse Practitioner, so she’s keeping up with developments.

    There’s always risk and this risk can be managed but not eliminated. One discussion we had with the staff when my mother was in the hospice is that elderly people have a right to risk. We just can’t keep Dad in the Grandpa museum.

    So like you we’ve mostly done outdoor visits with Dad, last week he invited me in for tea so I did that because it was his suggestion.

    There’s no right answer, only varying degrees of wrongness and risk. I suppose if God forbid someone you love does get infected you have to remember that. No right answer. When a vaccine becomes available that will be the right thing to do.

    We had not had nearly so much pernicious individualism here, which is a relief.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      “Only varying degrees of wrongness.” How spot on you are. I may steal that for a post title the next time I write about this.

      I think it’s important that we see our people after this much isolation. Sounds like you are doing the best you can to manage the risk.

  13. Rayne DeVivo Avatar

    We visited my folks in Terre Haute over Memorial Day weekend. I decided it was the safest it was going to be since in-person court started back up for me June 4. We wore our masks for brief hugs and sat in the yard with the 6 ft distance for a couple hours. It was so nice and everyone came through with flying colors.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope that now you have to be out in the world again that you can figure out safe ways to keep seeing your family!

  14. Khürt Williams Avatar

    Whew! That was an emotional post to read. Here are my two cents.

    Jim, you may know from reading my blog that my wife’s father passed away from COVID-19 on 8th April of this year. He was 82. I wrote about his here: https://islandinthenet.com/isolation-photo-project-day-16-2/

    I think you are taking the right approach and limiting contact. This is sound risk management.

    The take away for me was that someone working at the nursing home who was responsible for his care had the SARS-CoV-2 virus and infected my father-in-law. He died in a hospital bed. Alone. Our family is still grieving.

    Risk acceptance means accepting that one of you may infect your father-in-law or each other. It means accepting the risk of death. Once you’ve all agreed to that, go ahead and do what you need to do.

    I understand the need to be together. On windy days we bring our food, drinks, etc. and sit two metres apart in my sister-in-law’s large back yard just over 6 feet apart. No hugs.

    My father passed away on 7th April 2019. My wife’s brother-in-law lost his dad on 1st August 2019. This Father’s Day will be hard on all of us. It’s the closest we’ll ever be at least until a vaccine is found.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Khürt, these are unusually emotional times. I hope that by writing emotional posts that it emboldens others to be in touch with their own emotions.

      I remember well your post in which you wrote of your father-in-law’s passing. It was wrenching. I hope my father-in-law doesn’t have to die alone as yours did.

      In your line of work as in mine we manage risk. Some risks we eliminate, some we mitigate, others we accept. If you’re anything like me this is a framework so ingrained that you apply it to life fluidly and naturally.

      Unfortunately, few if any in my family do the same. They lack the mental framework and the mental “muscle memory” to do it. I feel quite alone in my wider family as they all fumble their way through this based mostly on what they feel is right or true.

      I wish you and your family well this Father’s Day. I’m sure it will be challenging.

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