In our fourth installment for the series, AWC Berlin member CT shares how she and her husband are managing during the crisis, finding new ways to cope and new projects while reimagining their future.
Senior Moments in the Pandemic
As my husband Peter and I are in our midseventies, I thought there might be some interest in how we, as seniors, are experiencing the pandemic and its consequences.
We live in Mitte and have a balcony overlooking the Spree, with views of the Nikolaiviertel, the Alex, the Dome, the new Schloss, the main locks into and out of the Berlin, and more. So, even while isolated, we can escape to “Balkonia” to see and enjoy the city beyond us. This is a great advantage and helps to make us feel less confined. And, when the weather allows, we eat lunch and dinner overlooking the Historischer Hafen, often with ein Glas Wein oder Sekt before dinner. So, while this pattern is not very different from previous springs and summers, we now have a special appreciation of the view, the trees with new leaves, and the animals on the water. An observation, though: There are nowhere near as many gulls, ducks, cormorants, ravens, etc. as usual, and it makes us wonder why. Perhaps they’ve moved on because only occasionally do people toss bread or other food to them. Fortunately, we can continue to enjoy the songs of the blackbirds, nightingales, and other birds. And a heron comes daily around five or six in the evening.
We did have a couple of scares early on, when we learned that close friends of ours had both been infected with the coronavirus, and Peter had been with the husband during the infectious period. The wife had a mild case (though still, weeks later, has some difficulty breathing), but the husband was so severely infected that he was hospitalized for a month, including three weeks in ICU. Now back at home, he’s very weak and tires easily. Fortunately, their children, ages four and eight, did not get ill. Peter exhibited no symptoms and in phone consultation with our family physician was advised to self-quarantine for two weeks. Later when he inquired about getting tested, he was told that without symptoms, he wasn’t eligible. Then, following his quarantine, he had a routine dental appointment and wasn’t sure if he should go. When he called the dentist’s office to inquire if he should, he was told, “Yes, come in.” Then, just twenty-four hours later, the dentist notified us that the dental assistant who had worked on Peter had tested positive. So we were again quarantined for two weeks. As of this writing (four weeks later) his (and my) health continues to be fine.
Of course, as pensioners, we are used to not working in an office or full-time. Peter continues to do part-time online consulting for the European Commission, reviewing and rating proposals for funding healthcare-related devices and systems. Recently, these have included some related to testing and treating COVID-19.
Both of us are writers, and the pandemic means more time to focus on this. Peter is writing a memoir, of which I am the editor. As for me, I recently picked up the journal/diary I wrote in the couple of months following my first husband’s suicide twenty years ago, and I read it for the first time since then. It struck me that my experiences might help others going through a similar difficult marriage with a bipolar spouse who ultimately commits suicide. So, I’ve entered my notes into the computer, and I’m adding background about David, our marriage, and the suicide, as well as expanding on how I was affected then and subsequently.
I’m also tutoring (virtually, of course) a young Syrian woman in English as she prepares to take the IELS exam later this month. (That’s the International English Language System exam.) I had previously tutored her brother and was pleased when he asked if I would help her. She suggests topics in advance (on education, health, travel, etc.) and then discusses them with me. So, I get to learn a lot about her at the same time that I help her with her occasional search for the right word or pronunciation. She’s really quite proficient, and I expect she will do well on the exam, which covers reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Being far past the years of having school-age children, we do not have to struggle with home schooling or minding and entertaining children. We are in awe of our friends and family members with children and the challenges they face. We are also used to being in each others’ presence throughout the day, while allowing each other space, so we do not have to struggle with “too much, too often” in terms of presence of one another. Mostly, we manage not to make demands on each other as our household duty sharing continues. Peter continues to cook (deliciously) and I to clean up after him (he’s a very messy cook). I also continue to do our laundry, while he is in charge of the plants and flowers, both inside and out. Having each survived difficult marriages, we love and appreciate one another and know how lucky we are to be together.
What is really difficult for me is that we’re not able to have our regular housecleaning service. I hate housecleaning and have used a cleaning service for as long as I can remember, whether I was single or married. In my first marriage, when David suggested we shouldn’t be paying for someone to clean, my response was, “Fine. I have no objection to your doing it. But if you think that I’m going to do it, you have another think coming.” Needless to say, we continued to have a cleaning service. Though Peter has offered to help, it’s a case of, “If I’m going to do it, I’ll do it my way,” so I decline his assistance. But at the first opportunity, believe me, we’ll again engage a service.
Peter and I are opera and classical music enthusiasts, and earlier this year we bought tickets for a variety of performances at the Deutsche Oper, Pierre Boulez Saal, the Konzerthaus, etc. I systematically filed the numerous tickets by month so that we would quickly have them handy as the dates approached. These are useless now, as it will be months (maybe longer) before concert halls and opera houses again welcome audiences. And so we content ourselves with watching online performances, as well as playing music through our Alexa. We also watch some TV programs and movies on Netflix and other services. And of course, I continue my avid reading
We go out a couple of times a week for groceries. At the beginning, we tried to order groceries through delivery services but were repeatedly confronted with not only two–three weeks’ delays for delivery but also notices that multiple items were not available. And so we walk to one or another of several nearby and well-stocked grocery stores. Among them is a Netto with self-service checkout, which we use and appreciate, even occasionally during their extended hours from 10 p.m. to midnight, when only self-checkout can be used and there are even fewer customers than during normal hours. And yes, we wear masks in public and adhere to social distancing.
When weather allows, we bike, but unlike in past years when we would venture by train into Brandenburg for daylong rides of up to sixty kilometers or more, we are avoiding public transportation, and so we limit ourselves to city biking, something I normally avoid. In exploring the city, we very much appreciate the efforts the city has made to both add and widen bike paths. We go out for a couple of hours three to four times a week, covering up to twenty-five or thirty kilometers. Sometimes we map out a route in advance, other times we just explore. Even after living here for almost seven years, we’re finding a lot of Berlin to discover. And we are impressed by people (for the most part) maintaining social distancing. We do have to be attentive to very young children learning to bike but who don’t pay much attention to others in their path—and whose parents, rather than watching their children, watch their phones! Nevertheless, it is a delight to see the joy the children exhibit at they learn to bike.
What do we miss most? Being with (and hugging) family and friends, of course. It’s particularly strange and difficult not to be able to have our usual Sunday evening family dinners with our daughter and a niece, both of whom live nearby. So, we FaceTime or Zoom or WhatsApp or Skype with them, as well as with more distant relatives and friends. We recently started inviting friends to social hours via Zoom, inviting not only those who know each other, but also introducing friends to friends.
So, we’re managing. Without risking complacency, we worry more about others than about ourselves. That said, I will note that prior to the pandemic, we talked of growing old together, perhaps even to age one hundred. Now, we wonder: Is that still possible? Will one or the other or both of us become a COVID-19 victim? If only one of us, what does that mean for the survivor? We do know that, should either of us be left alone, the survivor will stay on in Berlin; this is very much home to each of us. But if neither of us survives, what does that mean for those we leave behind? Fortunately, we prepared our wills a few years ago, and they are properly witnessed and filed according to German law. So, from a legal standpoint, we’re covered. But from a personal one? We hope we don’t have to find out.
In closing, I will end on a less somber note and acknowledge something that I’m not eager to return to postpandemic: wearing a bra!