Friday, June 14 2024 - 9:53 AM
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A Challenging Time

2020 was one of the most challenging years of my lifetime. I have relatives who lived through the latter parts of World War II, and they might disagree. Since I wasn’t alive yet, I didn’t experience their challenges. I’ve had challenging years before, but 2020 has been the year of waiting. A year of physical and sometimes social distance. A year of waving out of car windows and smiling from behind a mask. This year I’ve had to practice flexibility and letting go of control more than any year before.

A Year of Waiting

In the spring of 2019, I pushed the pause button on my 14-year teaching career and chose to stay home for an unknown time. My husband and I started the adoption process and are now “waiting parents.” I thought I knew a lot about waiting already, but the test of waiting was yet to come. After a full year, we updated our home study (required yearly) and settled in to wait some more in January 2020.

In February 2020, I went on a road trip to another state to visit my brother, wife, and eight-year-old daughter. My mom and I took turns driving there and back. It was a good trip, but not too different from those we had taken before. We had no idea that we would not be traveling anywhere for more than a year.

I returned from that cross-country trip thinking, in two weeks, they will have Spring Break. I had no way of knowing their Spring Break would be extended for more than two weeks and that life, as we all knew it, would change radically in the next few months.

Lives Put On Hold

As soon as Mom and I came back to town, family friends visited for a week. We spent most of our time eating, talking, walking, and being together—in between my husband’s work schedule and life. This visit was their Spring Break, and they thought they’d go back to life as usual when they returned home. They flew back home, and a few days later, most of the country shut down, unessential travel stopped, and everyone’s lives were put on hold for an unknown period. Now, everyone I knew was waiting for things to go back to “normal.”

Rescuing Mom

This added wait was made more challenging by an event just before the official “Stay-at-Home Order” in our area. My husband had just gotten home from work. Both of our phones buzzed, and I checked the text messages. It was from my sister-in-law, who had been staying with her mom. Her husband was working out of state and would be home later that night. “Mom fell and hurt her back, and we are at [urgent care center]. Can one of you come to help us get home?”

My sister-in-law was not supposed to be driving due to her health issues, and now, my husband’s mom was in pain and unable to drive as well. My husband and I jumped into our vehicle and headed down the road to do what we could to help get them home.

A 44-year veteran teacher, this was supposed to be the end of my mother-in-law’s Spring Break week. She’d just found out her school was extending the break for at least one more week, and she hoped to do some projects in the next week. That did not happen. We got both of them home and settled into the house. My husband and I spent the next several months visiting his mom two to three times a week to do what needed doing, as she could not bend, reach, lift, or stretch without pain.

Stay-at-Home Order

My mother-in-law never returned to teaching in a classroom as a full-time teacher again. Even though the Stay-at-Home order was a challenge, it was a blessing in disguise for her. She could teach from home when she was unable to teach in person (for more than one reason).

Our part of the country put a Stay-at-Home order in late March (my memory is fuzzy). Once my sister-in-law’s husband returned home on the night of  “the fall,” his company ordered him to stay home and to stop his weekly flights to other parts of the country. He continued to work virtually, which was also a blessing, as he was needed at home a lot more in the next few months. Along with my mother-in-law’s injury and pain, my husband’s sister was in and out of the hospital and clinic with her health concerns over the next few months.


As we waited for a phone call from our adoption agency, we, along with our family and friends, were also waiting for the hospitals to be open/willing to do an “elective” surgery to repair the broken vertebrae in Mom’s back.

Waiting is one of the most challenging parts of this past year. Waiting to go back to “normal.”  Waiting to find out test results for friends, family, self—do we have COVID-19? It was a challenge to be asked questions about something and not answer because we don’t know what is next, have not heard, and may have to change plans on an actual day or at the last minute.

Unexpected Surgery

About a month after “the fall,” I heard my phone buzz at 6:30 on a Monday morning. It was from MY mom:  “At the hospital. Going in for surgery soon, love you.”  (Again, my memory is fuzzy, and it was much more cryptic than this). I immediately called her and had a conversation with a slightly sedated mom who had gone into the ER the night before and didn’t want to “bother me” by calling to let me know in the middle of the night.

She was now getting ready to have emergency surgery to remove her appendix. So I immediately sent out text requests for family/friends to pray. After surgery, Mom spent a night in the hospital and returned to her (temporary) apartment to recover. I went to stay with her for at least a week. I did this not knowing if/when I would go home or see my husband as he continued working and could be exposed to someone who potentially had COVID.

However, I did get to go home, and my mom did recover from her emergency surgery. My husband and I both were tested for and pronounced “negative” for COVID-19. Life went on. Hurry up and wait.

Another Surgery

About a month after my mom had recovered, moved to a more permanent apartment, and settled in a bit, my phone buzzed with a text from my grandfather’s wife, Laynette.  Note: She’s my step-grandma, but I call her by her name. “Took your grandpa to the ER last night; they want to keep him, possible surgery tomorrow…”  No one could visit him, and even Laynette could only be in the waiting room fully masked. I called my grandfather the day of surgery and told him I loved him. We had a very short conversation, and then he went back for surgery to remove his gallbladder. Everything went very well, and he was home within a day or two, but knowing he could have contracted COVID while in the hospital was challenging and scary.

Control Only What I Can

During this time of COVID concerns and family medical crises, I felt very out of control. I did not know what I could do about any of the challenging things happening to me or my family members. While washing the dishes one day, I finally decided to control what I could manage. At the moment, that was the dishes. I could do those dishes and finish something. I could provide for my family by soaping and rinsing pottery and stainless steel. And I could help keep our home running smoothly by putting clean, dry dishes away and rinsing and stacking dirty dishes. I would do those dishes as if my life depended on it. In many ways, it did.

While doing something I would rather not do, I thought I might as well enjoy the process, so I bought a scented dish soap that I liked (orange). To make it look interesting, I found myself arranging the clean dishes in the drying rack by size, shape, color, and even made patterns at times. We don’t have an automatic dishwasher, so it was necessary to “do” the dishes by hand at least daily to keep them from getting out of control.

What I CAN Do

The necessary and daily activities of life were both essential and daily. Since I couldn’t control the challenges in my life, I enjoyed maintaining when and how I would match socks and fold clothes. I could decide when to put in a load of laundry and when to run errands. Laundry folding parties became a tradition in our house, and even my husband grew to look forward to them. (Even if it’s just us in the den, folding three baskets of laundry and watching an episode of one of our favorite shows, that counts as a party in my mind).

Cleaning the house became an opportunity to move, stretch, and order our home so it would be more pleasant to look at and live in. I told myself:  “Even if I can’t do (fill in the blank things I like to do), I can do these dishes, fold this laundry, vacuum this carpet, run this errand, and make it look/smell/work better.”

Pandemic Activities

Some of the things I have done during the pandemic were things I was already doing. I read books, did dishes, cleaned my house, did laundry, practiced a language or two, walked in my neighborhood, in parks, on trails, and in other towns nearby. Also, I requested books from the library and visited there at least once a week (when they were open). In addition, I wrote poems, journal entries, short stories, e-mails, letters, cards, and Facebook posts (rare). I sorted things for myself, for others, for ministries. I cooked, baked, made weekly shopping trips to stock the cabinet, or ordered groceries to pick up curbside.

My mother-in-law eventually had her surgery and has recovered more slowly than she wanted to, but she can still walk faster than I can. My mom and my Papaw have both recovered from their surgeries and have done quite well so far. Things have settled into a new routine. It’s not a new normal, because I don’t think anything will ever go back to normal again, and actually, that’s fine with me (except for being able to get together with my friends when I feel like it and spend time in their houses).

One Day at a Time

Even if the world was challenging, unpredictable, and at times scary, in 2020, I have learned to take one day at a time, not plan too far ahead, and be flexible when plans change. I’ve learned to enjoy the time I do have with my husband, family, friends, and neighbors—even if it’s just smelling orange-scented dish soap, waving out a car window, or smiling from behind a mask.

If you liked this, you might also like My Pandemic Renewal 

Corrie Holcombe writes from Texas.

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About Corrie Holcombe

Corrie Holcombe

writes from Texas.

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