Ready to Enjoy Retirement… Then COVID-19 Hit

Silver lining: ‘Gratitude for all the ordinary rights-of-passage and events I experienced, which are being denied to so many today’

By Donna Cordello

This past year, after my husband and I had collectively contributed over 100 years toward Social Security, we were finally able to retire.

After owning a business for over four decades, it would be the first time we could go on a real stress-free vacation, without worrying about what was going on back home.

We wouldn’t have any deadlines or a need for alarm clocks and instead of stealing away a few days here and there, we could actually take our time.

We couldn’t wait to have a long leisurely visit with our sons, who live out of town, and put our toes in the sand.

It would be just the beginning of crossing off all the boxes on our long-awaited bucket list.

And then, right after we retired and two weeks before we were scheduled to use our one-way plane tickets heading toward sunshine, the world shut down.

Instead of slathering ourselves with sun block, we were drudging through snow. And instead of marveling at the majesty of redwood trees, we were going on scavenger hunts for antibacterial products, paper towels and toilet paper.

But, as the world was falling asleep, I seemed to wake up. Because, aside from the fear and anxiety of a worldwide pandemic, the more time that passed, the more gratitude I felt — for all the ordinary rights-of-passage and events I experienced, which are being denied to so many today.

When my children were born, my parents and mother-in-law, patiently waited in the hospital hallway for their first peek of their newborn grandchild, whom they couldn’t wait to hold. They were the most beautiful and profound life-altering moments that we shared together as a family and ones that could never be replicated. And, yet, this never happened for so many other new parents’ families, some with grandparents who are still waiting to meet the newest life within their circle.

When I had surgeries and hospital stays, I had all kinds of company from loved ones, who brought me food and flowers and words of encouragement — unlike my friend, who was very sick, afraid and quarantined all alone in a hospital room, while suffering with COVID-19.

My children attended school for 12 years. I never had to worry about teaching them academic lessons at home or manage my work schedule according to what days they would be getting on a bus. I didn’t have to take their daily temperature or sign consent forms to have them swabbed for a virus, while attending school.

My kids got to muddy their clothes at playgrounds with other children and drag their mother along on field trips. My schedule circled around school events, sports practices and games. Parents banded together as we cheered on bleachers and had chili cook-off dinners after games. We had countless weekend sleepovers for our children’s friends, never worrying about who sneezed or had a cough.

We had big birthday parties and didn’t flinch when our kids blew out the candles on the cake. Drive-by parties were unheard of and we never suspected that horns would, one day, replace clapping.

We hosted parties before junior proms and senior balls, capturing photos of teenagers in their glitz and glamour and looked at our watches during long graduation ceremonies, thankful if our last name was at the beginning of the alphabet. We spent a small fortune on celebratory parties — for youthful and monumental events that other parents and their children have been robbed of this past year and can never relive.

I cherish a video I have of the 350 people, many of whom no longer here, dancing at our wedding reception. But now, unworn wedding gowns hang wrapped on hangers in closets, along with useless invitations and canceled honeymoon reservations for that special day that came and went, void of any memorabilia — because long-awaited marriage plans had to be postponed or canceled.

Of all the life-altering events I took for granted, I never thought that an illness or death of a loved one would be one of them. When my father was sick, I was able to be by his side and hold his hand for his two-month hospital stay. I cradled him in my arms when he took his last breath. Our goodbyes included our family’s traditions of a wake, a mass and a military funeral, right down to a bugler playing “Taps “ and a 21-gun salute. As difficult of a time it was, we held onto each other in our shared grief.

But when my friend’s father died this past year, she was denied all of the support, hugs and camaraderie that comes from family and friends during times of sorrow — because her family couldn’t have any type of gathering at all. She didn’t get to deliver her father’s eulogy like I did. And although her dad was a kind and loving man, like mine was, he never received a celebration for a life well lived or the public homage he so deserved.

I don’t know how long we will be grounded. And, to be honest, there are days when I think that we got screwed because we worked so hard our entire lives to get to the finish line. But how can I not be appreciative that for now, we are still healthy — when so many others have fallen sick or worse, lost a family member? How can I complain when I can still share meals with my husband when so many people are isolated all by themselves?

Our long-awaited plans changed. Oh well. That’s life.

Now that I have almost way too much time on my hands with nowhere to go, I’ve never had more gratitude for all the precious memories I harbor for the ordinary life I’ve lived.

I pray that someday my past ‘normal’  will be our children’s and their parent’s  future. And that all the extraordinary moments throughout my lifetime; the kisses, bear hugs, handshakes, celebrations and even funerals that for now, have all been put on hold  will resurface. And that the smiling faces of giggling children won’t be hidden behind a mask.

And that the past that I lived and knew  will come back soon. And, go on.