‘Being vulnerable and mortal is not my cup of tea,’ psychiatrist says of coronavirus

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By Michael Eleff, psychiatrist

Those of us who are parents over 60 or 70 have been parents for a long time. Many of us are grandparents. We have cared for, protected, worried about our children for many years. This care and concern has been transferred to grandchildren. Now, the shoe of worry is on the other foot. In the upside-down world of the pandemic, generational concern has been turned on its head. Our children worry about us, bring soup to the door without entering the house, scold us for venturing outdoors.

When I went to the hospital to see a critically-ill patient, (who did not have the dreaded virus), my daughter gave me heck. “You shouldn’t be going to the hospital. You could get sick!” The unspoken “At your age,” was as crystal clear.

Like many people in my age group, (I am nearly 71), I do not think of myself as old. The 90 year olds are old, to say nothing of the growing numbers of centenarians. I am, well, in late midlife, rather like the publisher of The Senior Times! The age-related risk of this dreadful virus climbs after 60. (I suggested to my 67-year-old brother-in-law that he could stay safe by lying about his age: “Tell people you are 58!”)

Being vulnerable and mortal is not my cup of tea. I do not usually personalize my awareness that the overall mortality rate for humans is 100%. While I pay lip service to the notion that I will die someday, that is precisely the point: SOMEDAY! Not today or tomorrow, not in March or April of 2020. My children need me, my grandchildren need me, my work needs me! I worry about THEM, they do not need to worry about ME!

Is there a silver lining in the midst of these terrible storm clouds? The threat, the vulnerability, the age-related impact of COVID-19, have triggered displays of love and devotion from our children. They do not want us to die. This is not because we are free babysitters, hosts for family dinners, volunteer support staff. It is because they love us and grieve in anticipation of a time when we will be gone. We are being given an opportunity to see that we are precious and that losing us would be very painful. As a consequence of this plague, we are hearing this, feeling this, while we are still alive.

Michael Eleff MD, is a psychiatrist in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he lives with his wife, Chana Thau.

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