For the better part of 10 months, countless seniors across this country have been suffering in solitude, afraid to leave the house for fear of catching COVID-19.
One of those seniors is my 90-year-old grandmother who we affectionally call Nanny.
She lives just outside of New York City in a single-story home that she first bought more than three decades ago with her second husband and the man who I always knew as my grandfather. But after he passed away, it was just Nanny, living alone in her house filled with art, family pictures and relics of the past.
At 90, Nanny has never minded the loneliness that often comes with living by yourself. That is until the pandemic hit. It’s now been almost a year of self-isolation. This proud Italian, New York native who loves museums, the theatre, and going to church has only left the house three times since March. Like other grandparents her age, Nanny doesn’t want to risk getting sick with the virus.
“It’s scary when you’ve been in the house this long. Everything is a big deal for me nowadays and it wasn’t ever,” Nanny explained on a recent Wednesday afternoon as she sat on her front porch.
We made sure to keep more than 6 feet of space between us as we talked about how isolating this pandemic has been.
“It’s the same thing, day after day, after day. Not to be out of the house, you feel like you’re in prison. This is a beautiful prison and I’m not complaining, but I can’t imagine how people who live in little apartments are functioning,” my grandma continued in her thick New York accent.
Not leaving the house has also meant not letting anyone enter her home, which has come with its fair share of challenges. Nanny is too afraid to have even a repairman check her furnace in the basement right now for fear they may inadvertently bring the virus into her house. To understand how seniors in this country are doing right now is to sit and listen to some of the very real concerns Nanny thinks about every day.
Nanny is not shy about her own mortality.
“I don’t want it. It’s just not the way I want my life to end. When people die, you pay your respects. There’s a closeness but you can’t even have a real funeral right now,” she said.
Ten months into the pandemic, Nanny is still wiping down her mail and leaving her groceries in the garage, even though Dr. Fauci told her she doesn’t have to anymore.
“Everyone laughs at me. My family thinks I’m crazy, but it’s my comfort zone and I have to do what I have to do,” Nanny explained.
For seniors like my grandma, there is some hope on the immediate horizon. This week, she’s scheduled to get her COVID-19 vaccine through the state of New York, something she sees as a way to regain some semblance of normalcy in her own life.
“It was a miracle I got an appointment. It was truly a miracle. We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and that makes me happy,” she added.
Throughout the course of the last few months, Nanny has had no shortage of visitors. Like so many American families her children and grandchildren stop by when they can, checking on her house and chatting in the front yard for a few hours. Once or twice she even walked across the street to church for outdoor Sunday Mass.
But Nanny is ready to get out again.
“I’m just ready to go to someone else’s house! Just to leave. To leave the house and spend a day, an hour, just out of this house,” she lamented.
And that is something anyone can empathize with right now, no matter their age.
Chris Conte is a National Correspondent for E.W. Scripps. He shares this story with his grandmother as part of an ongoing series “How are you doing?”