We've Just Begun Social Distancing~ Here Are My Thoughts

It is March 14, 2020. I am in my house under self imposed isolation. Not because I have been exposed to Covid 19, let alone tested positive, but because I am 79 years old. Not frail, not sick, just 79 years old.

What I am noticing from this now two week isolation, is the similarities between my behavior and thoughts, and end of life behavior and thoughts. I'm thinking and acting like someone with a life threatening illness.

I was doing the laundry, an everyday, normal function, when I looked in the mirror and saw my no make up face and a body still in her bathrobe at 9AM. Who was this person? This person that always puts makeup on, showers daily and dresses very nicely even if she has no where to go?

This is the same as a person with a life threatening illness who thinks why bother, it doesn’t matter, this isn’t important. Isolation from others is teaching me this about my self ——- I do a lot for others, for their thoughts of me, why else do I wear makeup? Get dressed? Bathe (well maybe just for the smell of me)?

I started thinking about how aimless I have become. Floundering to be useful, feeling guilty for not “doing something”, for not appearing productive. Through this isolation my sense of purpose has been affected. Why do I get up in the morning? What do I do all day to keep busy, to fill my time?

So it is with someone with a life threatening illness, from new diagnosis to weeks before death (once labor begins, weeks before death, mental activity changes and this doesn’t apply). They lose their purpose for getting up in the morning, for what to do about the life they are leaving behind? Apathy and depression often follow.

When someone has been told they have a life threatening illness, that they probably can’t be fixed, their life changes, their fears take hold, their thoughts turn to new areas of consideration, their living patterns change.

My husband and I, at 86 he is in this isolation with me, are more attuned to each other, more affectionate, trying to be more connected, nicer, more considerate. It's like unconsciously we are reaching out to what truly matters. It is the same with family and friends. I now think about texting and phone calling just to visit, just to say hi. So it is with someone approaching the end of their life. People often become the focus, relationships matter more.

I’m going to qualify this entire blog by saying we die the way we have lived and according to our personality. A personality that didn’t perceive others, consider others, relate to others will not suddenly, because they can’t be fixed, become Mother Teresa-like. (I do wonder if maybe, just maybe, a glimpse of what might have been glides through their mind hoping to be perceived).

These are the same questions of self searching that affect someone facing the end of their life. Now, I may not be facing the end of my life, right now, and I hope as you read this you aren’t either BUT we will all be in this approaching end of life spot someday, as are the patients we serve and care for.

As I’m sitting at my computer I look out my window and see, in March, snow quietly falling. I see inches of snow, birds at the feeder, all is quiet, all appears right with the world. An illusion, yes, all is not right with the world, but touching into that peacefulness, that calm is healing for my restless mind and spirit.

My wish for you in this time of isolation, of social distancing, is to let the distancing be physical but not emotional. Reach out to others, use this time to evaluate your life, activities, your purpose. Use this separation from the normal pace you have developed to recharge, relax, and reevaluate.


Susy Gaffney

Don’t usually comment, just read and process your good words , Barbara. This article made me think of the feisty, petite, matriarch who was a patient of mine on Hospice for over 4 years with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. She arose at the same early hour daily, showered, dressed, made up, hair done perfectly, every single day until the last three days of her life (when her daughter did all she could to get her hair combed every one of those 3 days). I firmly believe her faith and her tenacity was what kept her going so long. In those years, she outlived at least 8 other younger family members, and was the one the family always came to as the person to call all the far away relatives each time some else passed. She was 97 when she died, and she never failed to bless and pray for every person who entered her home. I still miss those visits. . . . you’re right, Barbara, people die as they live. I choose living without any regrets for the past . . . it keeps me humble.


I love your insights. I too am self-distancing because I am considered “elderly” at 69. How did that happen???? I don’t feel old, just a little older. I am recovering from pneumonia so I am staying away from most humans. My husband, at 77, has gone grocery shopping for the first time in our 20 years together. I think we have become closer because of this virus. I talk to my daughter and young grand kids in Massachusetts daily and they always make me smile. Stay well! This too shall pass…


Hi Shelly, thank you for sharing your journey. You are a Light that shines showing us how to live until we are not. Blessings! Barbara


Hi Marcia, about your question of will your mom notice you are not visiting. I can’t specifically say because I don’t have enough information about your mother’s dementia but my guess is she probably will not be aware of the length of your absence. People with advanced dementia really live in their own world, their own time. It is hard for us to relate because our reality is very time focused. Also, not visiting a person in a nursing home is not just a safety issue for the one relative or friend you are visiting but an issue, a risk, for everyone in the nursing home including care staff.
This will be a challenging time not being able to visit your mom but you are doing the right thing.
Blessings to you and your mother. Barbara

Shelly Cole

Hi Barbara, First, I’d like to just say that I think you’re one of the most phenomenal persons that I’ve never met. Your observations are spot on. As someone who was told Sept 2016 that I was dying, placed in Hospice in Oct., almost died the end of Oct. as in I quite breathing and it took them almost 10 min. to get me breathing again. Made it through the end of the year, around the corner into 2017, made some kind of rally, and was discharge the end of Jan 2017 from Hospice. I’ve been sick for 20 years with an undiagnosed lung disease, asthma, now diabetes… My existence was really quite purposeless. I was and still am, disappointed that I’m still here. I feel oddly cheated. I’m LONG SINCE ready to be done. But I don’t get to make that call. Wish as I might, I just keep breathing.

Having read some of your work, blogs, including this one, I think it’s safe to say that I have gone through pretty much what you describe in this entry. Except I don’t have a husband and live alone. I knew I needed a reason to wake up in the morning besides my eyes just opened. It took a bit, but I found a great little puppy, who needs me. And yes, I clearly needed him…

Then I got involved with a Q & A forum. Oddly enough, people seem to like my opinions, ideas, and advice. I began to get many requests, sometimes it’s hard to keep up, but that’s okay, as I have the time. But it’s really been a blessing. A few weeks ago, I was able to talk a guy out of committing suicide. Somehow, I was able to use what I’ve been through to give him a perspective that no one had apparently ever said to him. Really, I all said was that he was worthy of being loved.

The bottom line of what I’m working towards here, is that as we go into this time of social distancing, self isolation, ___________, fill in the blank, we may be seperated, but we can still make contact with people. we can still perform random acts of love and kindness. What may come out of this, among other things, is a much better understanding of the isolation that many infirmed, and Hospice patients, go through. There’s nothing like living in someone’s shoes to provide a better understanding.

Even after having been discharged from Hospice, I chose to continue to receive your blog posts and wait for them every month with much anticipation! You amaze me! Your dedication, your stamina, your passion, and I could go on… I’m just very grateful for your insights. Thank you, for sharing your beautiful gift!

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