I had a hair appointment today with Suzie, a down-to-earth friend I have known since 1995.   I told her that I was almost finished writing my annual Christmas letter and she said “Just don’t say anything about COVID.   Everyone is sick and tired of COVID.”    

Greetings from Stayton Oregon!    

January: My son Jon, daughter-in-law Tiffany, and daughter Beth treat me to a live performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Portland Keller Auditorium.  I see my former classmate and psychologist Nick on January 22nd.  He complains of feeling quite ill and has totally lost his sense of taste.   He dies in the first week of February.  No one can say what he died from except that he had a stroke while on the ventilator. 

February: Our whole family spent a wonderful weekend at Gleneden Beach in a large house.   We eat, walk on the beach, and stay up late into the night talking and laughing.  We’ve been hearing about a lethal virus in China and worry when the two youngest boys begin coughing.   We give “hugs all around” as we leave the beach house.  I make sure and give extra big hugs to my oldest grandchildren, Lucy (18 years old) and Brendan (16 years old) because they are quite busy, and I don’t see them as often as my other grandchildren.   As it turns out, I will not be hugging them again this year.  I return to work after three years of retirement as a psychologist seeing a few clients in their homes for psychotherapy.    

March: I send my book to a “beta reader” for editing.  We meet Jane and Bob Wilson for lunch in Brownsville.  When we meet I begin to “elbow bump” Jane but she laughs and gives me a big bear hug.  I go to Beth’s to sew on Taekwondo patches on Daniel and Zach’s robes.   I tussle twelve-year-old Daniel’s hair and give a big bear hug to eight-year-old Zach on my way out the door.  This is the last hug I will get from my grandsons for the rest of the year. 

I go to the community pool for my usual 45-minute lap swim just as they are locking the doors.   The governor has placed our state on a Lockdown and all pools and gyms are closed until further notice.   Steve and I decide that we shouldn’t go into stores.    I go into Bi Mart for one last time searching for hand sanitizer.   There is none.   Vaguely recalling a recipe on a Facebook post, I go to the liquor store to buy some Vodka.   Then I drive over to my friend who sells “essential oils” and buy the recommended items.   I think I’m supposed to add something else. but this will have to be good enough.   I mix the ingredients loosely based on my memory and fill three jars with screw on caps.   I feel pretty darn pleased with myself!    Then my daughter leaves two bottles of hand sanitizer on our porch.   We stand in the driveway, six feet apart, visiting for a brief time.  As she prepares to leave we both realize at the same time that we forgot to put on our masks.   Steve and I count the rolls of toilet paper in our cupboard and decide that we don’t need to worry about running out for a while.

April: My beta reader Teri sends me a text telling me that she stayed up late into the night reading my book because she “can’t put it down”.   I discontinue seeing patients in their homes due to COVID restrictions, but I maintain phone contact with them.  I start taking on Telehealth clients. We realize we are not going to travel to Iowa in May and cancel our reservations.  I begin scheduling Zoom and Skype calls with friends (who I would normally be going out to lunch with) and reconnect with some dear college friends.  I sip wine while we visit because that makes it feel just a little bit like we’re actually sitting together in a Bistro.   And I like wine.   

Steve and I are finding out which local restaurants have the best take-out food because we want to patronize the local businesses as much as we can.   We discover that we can put in a grocery order at Roth’s and they will come out and put the sacks in our car trunk with zero risk of human contact.   We are now starting the dishwasher every other day instead of once a week.   We’ve accepted the reality that we are not going to Norway for a 2-week cruise in August and call our travel agent to cancel. 

May: My book is submitted for publishing on the 9th.   My son Jon and his family drive down from Portland on Lucy’s 18th birthday which is also my father’s birthday.  He would have been 100 years old on May 18th.   We gather around and under the Pergola seated at least 6 feet apart wearing masks.   My gift for Lucy is an unabridged copy of my book, written to her (“Dear Lucy”).   I gently place it on the ground and step away as she picks it up.   I want to hug her so much.   We do not eat or drink together.  We just sit and visit and when they leave I am left with a hole in my heart. 

I resume seeing patients in their homes: I hate wearing a mask during psychotherapy because I can’t read their emotions as well nor can they see my facial responses.   I occasionally tell them “I’m smiling now.  Can you tell?” 

Copies of my book arrive.   I am very pleased with its overall appearance.   I won’t be selling any of them at book-stores or having any book signings.  I let my friends on Facebook know that they can buy it on Amazon.   My friend Kara does a live podcast and interviews me about my book.   That’s probably the only publicity I’m going to get for now.

A Black man in Minneapolis is murdered on camera by a policeman on May 25th.   The streets are filled with protesters across the nation.  On Memorial Day, Steve and I drive up to Gates cemetery to clean my parent’s headstones and place fresh flowers.  

June: We drive to Florence where I meet Ellen, an old high school friend.   She has a gift shop (“The Chicken Coop”) in Old Town Florence and I leave a few books for her to sell at her store.   We notice that the sidewalks are crowded on this beautiful summer day, and few people are wearing masks or keeping their distance.   Steve turns 70 years old and we stay at home and eat take-out pizza to celebrate.  We meet our friends again for an outside 6 feet apart visit.  

July:  My friend Murph, who I “found” on Facebook and have not seen since 1989, drives up from Foster Lake for a visit in the back yard.   My heart swells when I see her and I break the rules and give her a hug.   We are both wearing masks.  I drive up to Portland to see my 16-year-old grandson Brendan on his birthday.   I sit with my son’s family on their patio while we visit.   We are all wearing masks and sitting at least 6 feet apart.   We “throw’ hugs as I leave, and I sit in the car for a while because it is difficult to drive with my eyes filled with tears.  

My “Nursing Group” (Jane, Liz, Kathy, Dixie, and me) has spent a weekend together in the spring or summer every year since 1984.   We have never missed a year.   Jane arranges a Zoom meeting and someone thinks to get a screen shot of us all together on the screen.   Kathy tells us that she and her husband probably had the virus when they were in Arizona in February.    They were quite ill but have fully recovered.   I guess this Zoom gathering will have to do for this year.  

I am taking on more Telehealth clients and have begun visiting the local nursing home where I see five residents.   I am protected by an N95 face mask, a face shield, a gown, and latex gloves so I feel fairly safe.   The residents also wear masks and I sit several feet away from them as we visit.   I am now seeing about twelve people in their homes every week and a few on telehealth.   The pool has reopened with a limited schedule and I am once again swimming laps, but only about twice a week.   I try to visit Beth and the boys at least once a week.   We sit in their driveway in lawn chairs seated far apart.   Sometimes the boys forget and get too close to me.    I hate asking them to step farther away but none of us want to die. 

August:  I join “Radical Acting in Faith”, a program developed by the American Friends Services Committee which basically addresses how white people can   address racial inequality issues without being stupid about it.   Silverton Friends Church has resumed meeting every other week outside under the pine trees next to the church.   We all bring our own lawn chairs, sit six feet apart and wear masks.   We do not sing, but we listen to meditative music which is consistent with the Quaker traditions of listening for God’s voice and centering down. 

Beth visits me to tell me she is joining the Wall of Moms in Portland for the Black Lives Matter protest.   She wants me to know that she has written my name and phone number on her arm with ink in case something untoward occurs to her.   I am proud of her and wish I could join her, but because of the pandemic I can’t take my chances of being in a large group.   She returns home safely and we both join the local Mothers for Black Lives Matter group.  

Lucy is supposed to be starting her college studies at American University in Washington D.C. but must now remain at home because all learning will be virtual at her new school until further notice.   Lucy is super bummed. 

September: We are pleasantly surprised when Kent (Steve’s son) and his wife Andrea move to Bend from Des Moines to open a succulent shop in Bend.  Beth turns 42 and Jonathan turns 46.   How did that happen?   We go to Waldport on Labor Day and Steve awakens me the next day to tell me that the Santiam Canyon is on fire and that Stayton is on alert for imminent evacuation.   I call Beth and ask her to drive to our house and grab a few important items.   It isn’t too hard to decide to tell her what to grab: my violin, our small safe, and the picture of my great great grandmother with my mother as a 5-year-old, which hangs in the guest room.  

We are unable to leave Waldport because wildfires have popped up around us in the Coast Range, but after a few days we are able to make our way to Salem where we stay in a motel for a few days until the fire danger has passed.   The air is thick with red smoke as we drive back home.  The town of Detroit and much of Gates along Highway 22 are destroyed by the Wildfires.   Hundreds of people lose their homes and the community rallies around them to provide support.   But the devastation will last for years to come and many lives will never be the same.  

Kent and Andrea drive over for a brief visit.  It is so great to see them!   We haven’t seen them since last September of last year because we had to cancel our spring trip to Des Moines.   Now they are only a 2 ½ hour drive away!   We drive to Bend a few weeks later to inspect their digs and spend some more time with them.   We all wear masks and eat together outside at a food truck.   I find out that my friends Jane and Bob Wilson who live near Vida on the McKenzie River, have lost their home and everything they own to wildfires.   They will live in a motel in Eugene for the next two months.   I call Jane several times during September because that’s all I can do for her right now.

I am excited because we finally got our new fireplace installed! 

October:  The infection rates are rising and after some discussion, Steve and I agree that it is now too dangerous to be going into patient homes or the nursing homes.   I make one more visit with each patient to help them get set up with the Telehealth system and begin engaging in telephone calls with my nursing home patients because they do not have computers or internet services.  

Jon and Brendan stop by for a brief visit.  We throw more hugs and kisses.    Steve and I visit Murph and her husband at Foster Lake on their back patio, sitting far apart as we eat lunch and then put our masks back on as soon as the last bite is gone.  I am still swimming a few days a week, but the Skype and Zoom sessions with my friends have decreased, perhaps out of weariness.  I don’t know. 

Because of the rise in the infection rates in Marion County, church has been cancelled until further notice.  Beth buys her first home!   She will still live in Salem but is even a bit closer now.   I am frustrated because I can’t help her with the move because of, well, you know.   Kent and Andrea stop by for a few hours on their way to the coast.   It’s so great to be able to see them so often.  

November: I turn 68 years old.  Yay.  We go to Florence for a few days and stay at the Driftwood motel on the beach.   We visit my dear Sneddon cousins on their back patio wearing masks and join them for a nice casual lunch.  Joe Biden wins the presidential election, but this isn’t the end of our national embarrassment.  I am now seeing about 15 patients either on visual Telehealth or talking with them on the telephone.   The bond measure for the community pool fails by six votes and now the pool is closed indefinitely.  Steve and I enjoy a huge Thanksgiving meal, Zoom with my family, and eat turkey and all the trimmings for the following two weeks.  

December: I now have almost 20 Telehealth psychotherapy patients.   There has been a 55% increase in the request for therapy since the end of March and I am finding it difficult to refuse to see new referrals, now all on Telehealth.   Our tree, purchased earlier today from the local Boy Scouts, is up and decorated.  Diana Krall is singing Christmas music in the background and Steve is sitting in front of the fireplace reading a book.  

It’s weird to think that not one single soul will be able to come into our home to enjoy our Christmas coziness.  This has been one of the most unusual years any of us have ever lived through but we made it (almost there anyway).   And we have gained an appreciation for the company of others and realize that there is an emotional energy and connection that can only be experienced when one is sharing the same physical space as others. 

Thanks to Amazon and a few stealth trips to some stores, all my Christmas presents have been purchased.  I addressed the last Christmas card at 11:30 P.M. last night and we are going through the traditional motions of Christmas.   We will probably Zoom with the kids on Christmas Day.

So, 2020 is almost over, a vaccine or two is on the horizon, and life will go on.  We have, as a society, learned the importance of family and friends this past year and eventually, as a nation, we will heal.  Things will never be “normal” again because of the long-term effects of the pandemic, our increased awareness of the racial injustices in our society, and the current derisive political landscape.  

Perhaps we will collectively figure out that life is much more enjoyable when we agree to disagree, when we are polite, have manners, and when we all strive to follow the Golden Rule.   One of our survival skills as humans is the ability to adapt and to be resilient in the face of adversity.   That ability to adapt has been on full display since March, and I know we can do this. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Holidays. 

And God Bless. 

Published by doctorphyllis

I'm a semi-retired clinical psychologist living in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

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