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Dear Young People: Stop Partying So My Grandpa Can Leave The Damn House

Today marks a year since I’ve been able to leave the house mask-free and carefree. Well, “carefree” in the sense that in the past, I didn’t usually worry about contracting and passing on a deadly virus.

Last March when the pandemic hit, my family decided to err on the side of caution. My grandparents are elderly and my mom is a cancer survivor, so we wanted to play it as safe as possible. I’ve been cooped up in the house most days, only going out for masked walks, car drives, or the occasional, brief trip to the store. I generally try to be sanguine instead of dwelling on my worries about the pandemic. I have my little routine, after all, and I have a lot to be grateful for. I work part-time from home, and I’m able to fill my free time with reading, writing, music, and family. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and people to talk to every day. Not too shabby for post-grad life in the middle of a pandemic.

Sometimes, though, I can’t help but be angry. I’ve felt like a broken record throughout the year, repeatedly posting reminders to wear masks, social distance, etc. on whatever small platforms I have. I’m sure you can relate (unless you’re in that reckless group of people who have prolonged the pandemic). I’ve scrolled past countless social media posts immortalizing the unnecessary, unmasked parties and vacations that took place. You’d think the pandemic was over (or never began) as you watched Californians flock to the beaches and folks congregate in church services. Don’t they realize these gatherings have the potential to be super-spreader events? I often think to myself. And now with the vaccine being distributed, new selfish behavior emerges: the entitled are sneaking to the front of the line for immunity. God, it’s frustrating.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this year has been figuring out how to care for the most vulnerable people in my family’s bubble: my grandparents.

I’ve always been close to my grandparents. I grew up living (and still currently live) around the corner from them. When I was younger, I spent countless nights sleeping over at their house. When my mom was going through cancer, my grandparents cooked for us most days and cared for me and my sister after school. Even through college, I spent time with them every week. But as they’ve aged, the roles have reversed in many ways.

In the months leading up to the pandemic, we started having my grandpa tested for different neurological disorders. Over the last decade, he’s gradually exhibited behaviors that are uncharacteristic of typical aging and his mellow disposition has been replaced by agitation and obsessive behaviors. More recently, he began hallucinating, confabulating events, and experiencing sundown syndrome and REM sleep behavior disorder.

Eventually, my grandpa was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, and things finally made sense. It was like those moments in TV shows when the main character’s best friend realizes they’ve been in the presence of a psychic, a pop star, or a witch. After the initial shock, everything starts adding up, and the friend may wonder how they never noticed the secret before. But instead of the glee that comes from finding out you’ve befriended a wizard, this was more depressing.

My family (especially my mom and my aunt) started taking care of my grandparents more, and we visited almost every day to keep both of them mentally stimulated. My mom would bring word searches and puzzles for my grandpa (the self-proclaimed “master”) and my grandma would turn on the cooking channel and talk about recipes with us. I began to feel very sentimental about them, realizing they won’t be here forever. They’ve made me laugh over the years with the cute and funny comments they make, so I started writing down their words, cementing these moments for my own recollection.

These notes brought me great comfort when the pandemic began and we had to social distance. We couldn’t care for my grandparents in the same capacity, and it was difficult knowing my grandma had to bear this burden with less help. My uncle installed Ring cameras in their house so we could monitor them from a safe distance. On my phone, I would watch my grandpa shuffle into the kitchen at 1 a.m. to brew a cup of coffee. He’d drop a cold chunk of King’s Hawaiian bread into his warm mug, and after eating his “goodies” he’d waddle back down the dark hallway. It felt unnatural to watch him through this lens. That’s one of the things that’s so painful and tragic about the pandemic; social gatherings can be deadly, but we are social beings and we need the love and company of others to survive and to thrive.

After a while, my grandma reached a breaking point; her own health began to worsen and she developed heart issues. Behind masks and face shields, my family and I were able to give her some relief, though we couldn’t engage the way we used to. As I resumed my visits, I noticed my grandpa’s condition had declined in the months I hadn’t seen him up close and in person. He sometimes forgot to eat and shower, looked lost and confused when doing everyday tasks, and dismantled things like the vacuum, the shower, and the toilet (he thought he was fixing them). It’s a strange experience to see someone you love fade away like this. Even though you haven’t physically lost them, there’s still a great sense of loss. Sometimes, I get glimpses of the same grandpa who cracks jokes and reminisces about his days driving cable cars in San Francisco. Other times, it feels like the grandpa who used to make “halo-halo” and blow-dry my hair after I’d showered is a memory. Yet he is fully cognizant of the pandemic, often expressing his desire to go back to the casino and buffet someday.

A year later and with the vaccine being distributed, we’re a little closer to the pre-pandemic normal. My grandparents have both received the vaccine and most of the people in my bubble are either working or going to school from home, which minimizes our exposure to the “outside” world. But I know when things eventually reopen, my family’s “normal” is still going to look different from how it used to be.

So please, be safe. Protect the people around you. We’d all like to get back to normal, whatever “normal” means.

Dear Young People: Stop Partying So My Grandpa Can Leave The Damn House

  • Stay up to date on ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Read this article on the role of empathy in attitudes toward the pandemic.
  • If you haven’t already, take the time to journal about your pandemic experience. Trust me, reflecting on all the ups and downs of this past year can be extremely cathartic.

–Maya Santos, Content Creator

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