Nancy Westaway (far left), her late husband Jon (far right), and their children in 2013. (Photo: Joee Wong)

Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

For those who grieve, quarantine is never over

My husband died six years ago, but solo parenting during COVID-19 is more isolating than ever

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My “quaranteen” often hates me. My “quarantween” frequently hates me too. The COVID situation is stormy for most families. Being stuck at home shines a spotlight on relationship fissures: how much lying, rage and distrust is normal for a teen in quarantine? How much online time should a tween have? How strong is love between warring siblings and an exhausted parent?

I am envious of other families with wifi-free game nights. My kids can barely sit in the same room together. This was pre-COVID, but as if this stage of parenting wasn’t already lonely enough, now we are stuck together, apart, in our house. And it’s insult to injury when I take a head-clearing walk and, for proper social distancing, I have to cross the street to avoid others too.

Being a solo parent was already isolating. Being the breadwinner, the cleaner, the driver, the decider, the referee and the tutor sometimes feels like too many hats for the last adult standing.

It’s been six years now since my partner in parenting crime, Jon, has been gone. This year, Maizey will have been alive for more days without her dad than with him. Stunning math. He is so missed and he is missing so much, like the current joys of home-schooling the kids and tracking down our restless teen.

We have experienced being confined before. When Jon got sick, we stopped travelling. I remember that March Break desperately wishing we could travel somewhere, anywhere with the kids. Eventually, we pretty much stopped leaving our house. I remember staring out our bedroom window watching neighbours heading to work or out for dinner, their lives going on, while the clock seemed stopped on ours.

More on Broadview: The logistics of loss during COVID-19

My heart goes out to anyone caring for someone who is ill during quarantine. When Jon was sick, we couldn’t go out, but friends and family came to us. People flew from all across Canada to be with him. And each time someone crossed the threshold into our home, we were less alone and more alive.

I can’t imagine the anguish for caregivers right now who are not allowed to hold their loved one’s hand to say goodbye. And I never thought I would say I was lucky to have a funeral for my husband, but we were. We held a fun wake, too. Now with rituals of bereavement on hold, there are so many things people can’t do to embrace those in the midst of loss. No hugging. A pause on critical acts of kindness that were lifelines for our family.

Jon never said “why me” when he was sick. He would say “why not me.” Anything can happen to anyone, at any time. This strange situation highlights that. No one ever deserves to get sick. Some simple things make you feel like you have some control. Like handwashing, staying home if you can and keeping a safe distance from others on walks. All great measures, but ultimately there’s so much we cannot control.

I still live by the mantra: give us this day. Particularly now, as Monday could just as easily be Thursday in disguise. Each day is just floating and bobbing its head up and down somewhere within the week or month.

We are all uneasy. Maizey has more nightmares and is longing for her dad more. There’s more concern about what if I die. The kids know bad things can happen. We know how fragile the tissue is between being here and not, and how rapidly it can tear.

When is quarantine over? Who knows? For anyone dealing with a loss right now, quarantine may never really end. A part of their heart may always feel cut off and left behind when the doors to the social world open again and people move on with their lives. From our experience, nothing ever returns to normal, whatever and whenever that was.

I value kindness above many things, but often it’s in short supply in my moody, messy house. Siblings will fight over anything, add a tired mom too, and the battles simmer for days. But there are still bits of magic too. Like the night Maizey was working out with a friend online in one room and Dexter was engaged in Playstation battles in another. And I was nestled in another room, hearing their chatter and laughter fill the house. The calm was like a hug and a reminder we will get through this. Be kind. Be well.

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  • says:

    So utterly true. My wife of 60 years died two days before the social isolation measures came into being. First my daughter and I had to cancel her memorial service. Then we had to cancel a mini-wake of her closest friends. I went two months without another person touching me, let alone hugging me. As executor, I had to deal with banks at twice-armslength. When I most needed comfort, I couldn't get it.