The pandemic hit us all very hard! Regardless of where one lives, the size of their household, or their employment status, COVID-19 took its toll.
As an elementary schoolteacher, every year I teach my students that we are a family. Out at recess, and in the classroom, we must have one another’s back. That means that as we learn and give things a try, we never ridicule each other. Rather, we are brought together to encourage and inspire.
We began March of 2020, as we had been doing all along. We gave a lot of high-fives and hugs every single day. Then, we had to stop all potential contact—no hand holding, no hugging, no sharing of supplies or recess equipment. If someone dropped something, we could no longer help them pick it up. It went against everything I taught. Eventually, I had to separate 22 desks and close my classroom library, reading room, and without much notice, my entire classroom.
I recall being told to pack up enough supplies to teach students for two weeks in March of 2020, so I packed a month’s worth just in case. With that, I was able to outlast most other grades, but by Easter, I was scanning work around the clock, just like my colleagues, to ensure our students received the curriculum we promised to cover. I was a puddle of tears by most evenings.
Not only were the demands of my job doing me in, but so too, were the bigger fears like worrying about the health of my parents, family, and loved ones. The local, national, and global news were frightening, but felt necessary to watch to maintain awareness of what was going on out there…in the big, scary world.
An introvert, I was okay with staying tucked inside my home with my immediate family, but I worried about my large extended family. Throughout the course of the year, my family became the statistics we watched on the news. Pandemic job loss hit us hard. Educators were appreciated for a moment, then scrutinized again by summer’s end. Some of us got COVID-19 and some of us survived, but forever changed. Then, there were the beloved ones who died alone due to pandemic safety protocols in hospitals. Every day things seemed to change and fast.
Just a few weeks ago, I stood in my school’s parking lot collecting the academic supplies I had given to concerned parents back in August. After over a year of the pandemic, parents are more aware of how to safely bring their children to both meet me in-person and simultaneously say goodbye to me as their teacher. As with every year, I took many end-of-the year pictures with my students, but this time, we were placed many feet apart and our eyes had to show the smiles we had under our masks. I taught and created a virtual family with students that I never got to be in the same classroom with.
Over the weekend, my family and I ventured out in public to celebrate a milestone anniversary for my parents. I saw my children hug their grandparents for the first time in over a year, and the tears the hugs brought to my mother’s eyes. Our extended family finally reunited as we reminisced about our shared pasts. There was real laughter, all together, in the same place at the same time. It was not virtual and there was no delay. Slowly, the return to our loved ones is coming back.
Just as our family prepares to welcome one another with open arms, we prepare for a final farewell for my last paternal aunt, my godmother. She died over a year ago, at the height of the pandemic. As a registered nurse, she lived her life caring for others. In the end, she left Earth without our family being able to gather, say goodbye, and celebrate her life. I was so distraught when she passed, not only because she was my beautiful godmother, but because I couldn’t be with my cousins as they mourned.
There are things the pandemic stole from us: time, health, education, trips, holidays, but most of all it took family and loved ones from us. Although my godmother did not die from COVID-19, the pandemic made it impossible for my family to do what we do best, come together to lean on one another, love, and laugh! The familiarity of belonging to a specific group—a family, means everything. While distanced, we worked vigilantly to survive so that we could be together again.
I have said since the beginning of the pandemic, that this was put upon us to teach us something. I believe we needed to slow down and take in the blessings we have around us. We’ve become an intolerable and impatient society. I see it coming up in the next generation of children. As this is written, there are cars honking and the sounds of revved engines because someone is probably driving too slow for another’s liking. I still hold out hope that our planet will come together as the greatest family of all…the family of mankind where all are accepted and respected.
Here’s to families everywhere. The ones given and the ones chosen. Treasure them. Protect them. Love them. Hug them and laugh with them often because what we know for sure is that time together is uncertain.
Anna Rodriguez is a wife, mother, and writer. She is completing her first contemporary novel set in California’s Central Valley. Family and friendships are important themes for Anna’s work because of the influences they have had on her life. When Anna is not writing or hanging out with her family, she can be found reading or searching for music to add to her eclectic playlist. She will complete her MFA in Creative Writing in the next few weeks.
Hi, Anna, thanks for sharing your pandemic experiences. I remember the shock here in the UK when the schools abruptly closed (even though it should’ve happened earlier) but how hard it must have been as a classroom teacher, trying to support your pupils while still trying to adapt yourself. And your MFA on top!
Hi, Anne, thank you for your reply. Two weeks before we closed schools in my area, I had a student move to London. She never got to return to school for the remainder of that school year because everything was closed by the time her family arrived. She was beyond eager to start school when things opened up and she finally had the opportunity last September. I think resiliency and determination are key traits to have during this time.
Beautiful- thank you for sharing this
Beautifully, sadly, hopefully, delivered…
It means a lot when a reader understands the message. We must emerge from this with hope. Thank you!
The pandemic did streal a lot from us, and I thought about my students (when I was teaching) as you do. We will see my son next month – first time in 20 months!
Thank you for your reply. How exciting for your family’s reunion with your son next month. I hope when you finally get to hug again, that your soul overflows with joy!
I’m a retired teacher who was all about fist bumps, handshakes, high fives, and hugs. That part would have been hard for me as kids need all that, not to mention affectionate teachers.
Thank you for your reply, and for having been a teacher who understood what your students needed to boost confidence and thrive! It was challenging to go from sharing to not even being able to handout papers. Instead, we gave virtual hugs and high-fives. It wasn’t the same, but it made us laugh.
Anna, I so appreciate how you poignantly capture the pain of separation and loss due to the pandemic and yet use it as a catalyst to remind us of the importance of the families we are given and made. You have been through so much as both a teacher and an MFA student. What a role model you are to the next generation who need such role models. And my deepest condolences to you and your cousins for the loss of your aunt who was your godmother. May you find healing in the tears and the laughter when you do reunite to hug once again.
Hi Charli, thank you for your condolences and such sweet praise. Mine is just one story, but I hope it is a reminder that everyone is going through something beyond what we see on the surface.
Hi Anna, I was very moved by your post. The pandemic has made life, and death, difficult for all. How devastating for you, your cousins and your family to not be there to support your aunt at her end of life, and then each other. For me, that is one of the saddest things – to die alone, and to be unable to support your loved ones who are dying alone. There have been two deaths in the last 9 months in the family of one of my cousins – first her brother and now her father. She lives out of our state, and both times her city was in lockdown and she was unable to be with her family. It’s so distressing.
However, in all the sadness of your post, I feel that your hope shines through. Maybe we will all learn something important. I especially agree with this thought: “hope that our planet will come together as the greatest family of all…the family of mankind where all are accepted and respected.” That would be wonderful.
Thank you for reading my post and sharing your cousin’s experience over the last nine months. Just from what’s been on the televised news, there are many more stories like ours out there. Despite the heartbreak, there is always something to learn from these moments.
There is. Sometimes we need to move through the grief first.
Anna, thank you for your heart-felt post. I share your sadness over the severed connections I had with my students. Although, I worked hard to keep my students hooked on distant-learning, so many of them did not engage. It was a depressing way to end my career.
My decision to retire from a 32 year teaching career was made pre-COVID. It felt like the pandemic stripped me of what should have been my time of celebration. No children to laugh with, or hug, or to do special end-of-the- year projects with. My classroom was deadly silent has I packed my personal books and materials. The school grounds with its weeds and long grass seemed so eerie as I walked to my room during my solo-scheduled time to pack. I missed my colleagues coming through my room to reminisce about the many years we had together as well as their hugs and laughter. No party, no happy hour. My accolades, a retirement certificate sent from the school district in the mail and a shoutout from my principal during a Zoom staff meeting.
A year later, I am grateful for my retirement. My journey has continued down new and unique roads. And as for you, Anna, keep taking those deep breaths as you complete your degree and your novel. Let your passion for children, for family, and for writing guide your journey.
Hello Anna, this really is a very emotional post for me especially as South Africa is in the midst of a third wave of Covid, this time the Delta variant and lots of people are in hospital and dying. My father is very ill with a pulmonary embolism and it has been a very tough time trying to treat him at home with very strong medications that should be administered in ICU in the hospital. He couldn’t be admitted because its to dangerous. Thank you for sharing you story.
And in addition to families and healthcare workers, here’s to teachers (who are vastly underappreciated and underpaid!). And my condolences to you on the loss of your aunt.