I want to travel. I want to take my family to visit Mami. But planning a vacation is a different process this summer than it’s ever been before.1
I told her we were coming, and had the dates picked out. A document lists my research on timetables and hotels and activities. But then news reports started to change. The delta variant is spreading, especially in certain states, including Florida where Mami lives. Mami, and her lovely husband, Pachito, are not vaccinated, nor do they intend to be.
Do I risk traveling and bringing the COVID-19 virus to them? Do I disappoint them, after having told them we’re going to visit, when they’ve been fairly isolated for so long?
Either way, I was feeling guilty. And annoyed with the pandemic. Also with them for not getting vaccinated. And frustrated.
Underneath all my emotions lay fear. I don’t want them to get sick or die before their time. I certainly don’t want to be the one that brings the virus into their home. How could I live with that?
Reading articles and opinions, discussing the situation with those close to me, going back and forth about what to do, it was easy to get wrapped up in painful emotions. I’ve spent some time digging down into my feelings and unpacking them.
Why won’t they do what I think is the right thing and get vaccinated? Well, it’s complicated, as are most humans. Their decision is a stew of political views, skepticism about the medical system, and deep personal loss. I disagree with their conclusions, but I can empathize with their feelings. I’m working to shift my focus to empathy. Empathy makes it possible for me to keep a dialogue open, instead of screaming in frustration. (I’ve done both.)
Masks are annoying, and the state of Florida says they’re optional. The governor has actually made it illegal for local governments to require masks. So guess what? I’m pretty sure Mami’s not wearing a mask.
On the plus side, they don’t go out a lot. On the other hand, she eats indoors at restaurants periodically. They have doctor’s appointments to go to. They sometimes stop by the grocery store.
I try not to think about it. When I hear facts about COVID in Florida that I think she should know (e.g., per capita COVID cases among unvaccinated people are as high as they were in the general population when cases peaked earlier this year), I pass on the information, hopefully in a kind and gentle way. I ask them to be careful.
Sometimes it feels like my parent is a child that needs to be admonished and controlled. This is an emotion that can get me worked up and stressed out. I feel responsible, but I don’t actually have any control over the decisions of another adult, no matter the relationship.
This idea of responsibility, and who carries it, is brilliant. I can’t take credit for it though. While at the grocery store this week, I talked to the checkout guy about my dilemma of whether or not to visit Mami (because I’ve been asking everyone). When I said that I’m worried about being the one that infects my mom, he immediately told me that it’s not my responsibility. She’s an adult. She makes her own decisions.
Something about the way he said it made me feel lighter. Because of course, he’s right. I realized that I’ve been carrying the burden of this decision, as though I can both protect my mom and make her happy. As though it’s my job to do both.
My conversation with the checkout guy made me realize that I should be discussing the question with Mami. I hadn’t considered a real dialogue before, but this felt more respectful and kind than decreeing my position.
So I shared my concerns and asked her opinion. She told me to do what I felt was right. No dialogue, really, but at least I got the all-clear to disappoint her expectations.
We’ve decided not to visit this summer. I feel good about the decision, and less stressed. This doesn’t change my mom’s risk much, but that is not my responsibility. I will continue to do what I can. I will keep my focus on empathy and respect. I’m pretty sure I’ll have more frustrating conversations. I hope that’s the worst I will have to face.
In the meantime, I send my thanks for the checkout guy into the universe and share his wisdom here, in case it is helpful to any of you. We can all do our best to be kind to each other, but some things are not our responsibility, even though they may cause pain.
As I finish this post, I keep hearing the Man in Black saying,
“Life is pain, Highness.”William Goldman, The Princess Bride
As much as I don’t want to think of life that way, there is truth in this idea. Accepting the inevitability of some pain, and my limits, is what I’m working on.
1 Being stressed out about planning a vacation is a privileged problem. I can’t in good conscience complain without acknowledging that myriads of people can’t afford vacations, especially during the difficulties of the pandemic.