Photo: Adobe Stock

Spring — soon to be summer — is truly in the air.

My fall planting efforts paid off in a bright array of yellow, orange and white as sweet-smelling daffodils dotted our lawn and garden areas this April. Now the lily bulbs my neighbor shared with me in the fall are filling out nicely too as we await the bands of orange striped and yellow flowers.

My husband set up a pergola structure covering a small deck area to replace the one cheap one we bought during quarantine which was held together with zip ties. At least it held up and gave us a place where Jo could sit outside with her aides.

This time last year we were building a chicken run, and setting up the coop for our new adventure in backyard chicken-keeping. Eventually we added signs for Jo’s Farm and chicks. Now Jo even has a farm stand set up in the front yard where she sells her eggs and baked goods.

The past pandemic year has held many challenges and many blessings as we navigated the quarantines and protocols while trying to keep income flowing keeping my daughter safe. A little over a year since the start and fully vaccinated, we’ve enjoyed spending time with family and friends.

As New York opens up, and events are being scheduled, I am very hopeful that life will feel a little more normal and we can enjoy more fun times celebrating the summer in our local community. We are even planning a short vacation to visit family in the midwest and to celebrate a wedding that happened last year when we couldn’t travel.

With the lifting of mask mandates for those who have been fully vaccinated, it’s nice to see people’s smiles. What’s not so nice is people’s decisions being so shrouded in controversy and judgment.

I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve had to unfollow some friends on social media who are bashing people like me who have chosen the vaccine and abide by masks and distancing protocols. I tire especially of Christians who use name-calling and bullying as a means of communicating their opinions.

What would Jesus do?

I am also not a fan of government mandates, except where it is absolutely necessary for public safety. The distance protocols, masks and the vaccines run into those grey areas for me. While I am sick and tired of distancing protocols and wearing masks in public, I respect and appreciate the public’s help with keeping immunocompromised individuals like my daughter safer. I don’t believe anyone should be forced to take a vaccine, but I do rest easier spending time in public with people who have had it.

And, no, quarantining people like my daughter for life is not the answer. They have to live too.

Some of my friends have chosen not to take the vaccine for various reasons and I respect their decisions. These same friends have distanced themselves from us to keep Jo safe and are conscious and careful when they are out in public to alleviate exposures for themselves and others. We are all walking a fine line of safety and respect for each others’ choices and so far, it’s worked out well.

For the most part, we stay home except for running a few errands, doctor appointments, church and physical therapy. I am very conscious and careful with every interaction and we have yet to eat inside a restaurant. We LOVE take-out and especially appreciate outdoor dining that allows for handicap access.

But I tire of the judgmental perceptions.

As the mask mandates ease, many people will go without a mask whether they are vaccinated or not. I understand and respect their decision. Ironically, we are going to keep wearing a mask inside public places until COVID becomes a distant bad memory that rarely shows up in doctor offices and hospitals. When I wear a mask- some will judge me for being a “mindless sheep,” others will judge me as ill-advised and ignorant for not getting the vaccine.

Neither of these perceptions are accurate.

Here’s the reality of my current situation:

In the past two months, my daughter has experienced some breakthrough seizures, an increase in headaches and slurred speech. Her right hand, which is usually stronger than the left, is shaking a lot and she’s struggling to keep her balance on two feet. A recent MRI of her brain revealed two sizable hemorrhages in the frontal and temporal lobes which are contributing to these symptoms.

There is no cure for CCM3 — the rare disease that causes the bleeding in my daughter’s brain. But we can mitigate some of the symptoms with pain and seizure medications. For the most part, I just watch Jo carefully and provide the assistance she needs to remain stable at home. Sometimes these lesions quiet down on their own and sometimes it requires brain surgery to keep my daughter from further disabilities or even death.

As life gets back to normal, we all need to remember that we could never know the battle someone else is facing when we greet them on the street, in a store or in a restaurant. For reasons known to them alone, they may or may not agree with your approaches to functioning in a post-pandemic society. We may never know what life is like behind their mask or their smile.

But we can offer respect and care and a friendly “hello.”

We are all in this together and if COVID has taught us anything, it’s really good we have each other.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen