This is the story, timeline, and subsequently, an account of the blessings my family and I experienced through our battle with COVID-19 and, more broadly, the pandemic. One might say that this is not Three Action Thursday material, but I would argue that it is an extension of personal development and the power of authentic relationships. It’s about perseverance and finding that silver lining when perhaps many would choose not to seek it.
Our Life, March Through July
On March 25th, we celebrated my mother’s birthday in South Riding, Virginia, and subsequently headed to Florida. The goal was to spend time with my wife Stacy’s parents in Niceville while the coronavirus ran its course. At this point, we had no idea how long this all was going to last. In fact, we only packed three or four outfits each because we assumed we’d be back in Virginia within a couple of weeks. As the positive cases grew we felt quite content with our decision; Niceville is a small town in the Panhandle of Florida and the positive results were much smaller than in our suburban home outside Washington, DC.
Due to the threat of the virus, the weeks we had planned for stretched into months. I was able to successfully pivot to managing True North Realty and Leverage Information Technologies from a distance and took a few trips to the DC area when necessary. The family was enjoying the Florida sun and everything that living close to water has to offer. From a personal growth perspective, I was able to take time with each one of my children and with the family as a whole since I was home and not in the office. Living close to my parents in Virginia has allowed my children to spend a lot of time with my parents, and this was a unique opportunity for them to spend significant time with Stacy’s. This, in retrospect, was a huge blessing as we did not know what the future held.
With school in the fall still uncertain but looming, we decided to make the trek back to Virginia. We arrived on Tuesday, July 22nd to clean the house, prep for the school year, and get back to some normal family life in our everyday environment. Unfortunately, it did not last long, as the next weekend Stacy’s mom was rushed to the hospital with gallbladder issues and we quickly mobilized to head south again. My mother-in-law, in her mid-70s, has had many health challenges over the years including lupus, the removal of a kidney and part of her intestines, dietary issues, and more. Although these things were significant obstacles for her, she always had a positive attitude and persevered through them. She was swiftly transferred to Dothan, Alabama to have her gallbladder removed because Niceville did not have a doctor on hand to perform the surgery. Unfortunately, my mother-in-law was too weak to have the surgery and we entered a period of uncertainty with her health as she sat in the hospital, which only allowed one visitor in at a time. We paired up daily to make the two hour drive to Dothan from Niceville to visit her.
COVID-19 Gets Personal
In the evening on July 27th, my father-in-law started to feel tired and a tad bit under the weather. We did not think anything of it as we assumed he was exhausted from making the daily drive to Dothan and back. Since he seemed due for a break, I went with my brother-in-law to Dothan on July 28th to visit my mother-in-law. It was lovely spending time with her and trying to keep her spirits up.
By the end of the day July 28th, we had some serious concerns about my father-in-law, as he felt worse and had developed a fever and some chest congestion. We halted all visits to Dothan at that point. On July 30th, I began having symptoms and my father-in-law tested positive for COVID-19. On August 2nd, Stacy had begun battling the symptoms as well.
Ultimately, myself, Stacy, and all four of our children had various symptoms of the coronavirus but we never formally got tested. We hope at some point to get tested for antibodies to ensure we actually had it.
My experience with COVID-19 was nearly a 10-day affair. On days 1 through 3, I experienced extreme fatigue, headache, lack of appetite, and fever. I slept nearly all day and only got up to use the restroom. I never had much chest congestion although I did develop a slight cough that lasted nearly 30 days afterward. Days 4 through 7 saw marked improvements each day, a return of my appetite, and the disappearance of the fever and headache. I still took at least one nap each day and for the most part, was moving pretty slow. What I probably found most interesting and unexpected was the pronounced brain fog I experienced during days 4 through 10. It often took me double or triple the amount of time it normally did to formulate emails or do anything that took some thinking or brainpower. By day 10 or 11, I felt like I had nearly fully recovered.
It is highly likely that we all were exposed to COVID-19 while visiting my mother-in-law at the hospital.
Anecdotal Coronavirus Observation
When I look at my family’s experience with COVID-19, I find it interesting that the severity of the symptoms was in alignment with our age. The older you were, the harder the virus hit you and the longer it took to recover. My father-in-law took nearly 3 weeks to recover, I was 10 days, Stacy was 7 or 8, my eldest daughter had it for 3 to 4 days, and my youngest three children were barely out of commission for a full day. I am thankful that none of us were hospitalized and that we have fully recovered.
My mother-in-law did not recover, however, as her body had been weakened. She succumbed on August 21st due to a series of traumas adding up over the years.
My relationship with my mother-in-law is/was an exercise in building long lasting authentic relationships. When Stacy and I were engaged, I had jokingly referred to my soon-to-be mother-in-law as “MIL” and the nickname stuck. She enjoyed it so much she called me “SIL” more than Paul for the last 16+ years. Our love and mutual admiration for each other deepened each year. Once or twice a year she would pull me aside and tell me how happy she was that I married her daughter. And I would in turn remind her how blessed I was that Stacy said yes and that I had such loving and accepting in-laws. I will truly miss my MIL.
She will be remembered for so many things: her cooking, her laugh, her Pittsburgh accent, her love for her family, and so much more. She persevered through her health battles for a few years and always sought out tiny joys in life. That’s a lesson that will stick with me for a lifetime.
Without the coronavirus pandemic, we would not have spent the last six months with my mother-in-law. Looking back, I do not think we would change a thing.
We dealt with many of the challenges many of you have: being quarantined; stresses and arguments from being around each other constantly; professional and personal uncertainty; kids trying to express their feelings about what is going on in the world.
But the one thing I keep coming back to is being able to find the small joys, realizing that the struggle and pain allow us to recognize the good things that are going on around us. Suffering is necessary. Without it, we cannot fully appreciate the good and serendipitous in life.
The last six months and particularly the last six weeks have fundamentally changed my family’s lives forever. Stacy and I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers throughout this period.