Photo: Adobe Stock

I can count on one hand the number of events we have gone to in the past two years since the pandemic started. I have yet to get on a plane and have not traveled further from Long Island than driving to Manhattan or to Maryland to visit my daughter and her wife. 

We’ve spent the past two Christmases at home alone visiting with our older kids over Zoom. Until recently, we hadn’t been in a room full of people except for 60 minutes on Sundays while we attend church. Even there, we are usually masked and sitting in the front row of the handicapped section.

It’s not that we have been recluses living in fear. 

We live an active, fun life here on our little backyard farm — Jo’s Farm — and are in contact with aides and friends every day. 

Jo has her “reggular” egg customers who come not only for the eggs, but also to connect with us and socialize with my daughter. 

In the past month we’ve had four major commitments including programs for kids with disabilities,  Easter celebrations with family and singing for a women’s retreat. We even went to a Broadway show! 

But this past week, I crashed. I was exhausted from socializing with people, organizing events and balancing the timing of medical appointments with tasks that are a part of the everyday life of caring for a loved one with disabilities and rare disease. Our everyday life would exhaust most people, but when we add holidays and outside events, it can get a little overwhelming.

Since the pandemic started, I have come to realize that I am really an introvert with extroverted tendencies. I like living a quiet, reflective life with time to observe nature, write in my journal and pray.  Honestly, the pandemic schedule suits us and got our focus back to building a peaceful life at home.

 As long as I have time for quiet, I enjoy connecting with others — especially when it comes to sharing my faith and inspiring hope in others who may be burdened by their own struggles. 

But this past month has been exhausting. 

What I found interesting, is that I am not alone in this struggle. Some of my friends and I have laughed about just how tired we feel as the pace of commitments outside the home — “regular life” — picks up and increases. 

I’m not sure if it’s pandemic-induced fatigue or closing in on age 60 that’s making us tired. Either way, it’s caused me to pause and rethink my commitments, to be sure I don’t lose sight of the wisdom that I have gained these past two years.

On the drive to our women’s retreat last weekend, I had some time to connect with two friends who had flown in to serve on the worship team for the retreat. We attended college together and graduated around the same time. Music brought us back together a few times over the past five years. 

My friends were asking me more about Johanna and how life is now that she is older and her needs are more involved. They spent a few hours at our home and got to meet Jo’s chickens and goats and see the joy she has over doing her art projects and caring for her animals on the farm. They also witnessed the decline in Jo’s speech and motor skills and recognized that she needs more hands-on care. 

I share honestly and freely about the joys and the struggles we endure. And in the end I told my friends, “It’s a beautiful life.”  My friend later remarked that she was glad I described this life as beautiful because from the outside, it looks pretty hard.

I spent the first night on the retreat and half of the second day on my own, singing for the retreat with my friends.  I think it had been three years since I spent a night apart from Johanna. I wasn’t worried about her because I knew my husband and Jo’s godmother were taking good care. I had left them well-equipped and prepared with clear notes on what Jo needs to be happy and healthy. 

Later on Saturday, Jo joined us at the retreat. It took some effort getting her to the sessions and up and down stairs and in and out of a tiny elevator in this 100-year-old building. But 24 hours alone was enough to rejuvenate my body and soul to be ready to include Jo in the women’s retreat. 

You see, Johanna loves to sing and play her little drum — a bjembe —with her service dog Rae at her feet. She loves to tell stories about her farm and her cottage, where she creates and displays her artwork. Jo even brought farm fresh eggs to sell to women at the retreat. 

At one point, while we were singing songs of praise and worship, I turned my eyes and ears to my daughter who was belting out a song with her shaky voice and beating on her drum with her unsteady hands. I turned away from the microphone as I choked back the tears, inspired by my daughter’s expressions of joy. 

Despite the struggles, I suppose we have found the secret to living a contented life. The apostle Paul described it like this:

“I have learned to be content in whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13.

It is possible to find contentment in life in any circumstances — happy or sad, easy or hard;  isolated or surrounded by family and friends. The secret is finding contentment within us rather than around us. I find my strength in God. 

This week, we were told that the pandemic phase of COVID-19 is over in the US but the virus still poses a threat, especially for those who are unvaccinated and for people who are immunocompromised like my daughter. 

Many of us will start to include more activities and social events back into our lives. But hopefully we can also embrace a new normal which is positively influenced by the trials and the lessons learned in these trying times. 

Whatever the future holds, I will remind myself to be content and trust God. 

It is a beautiful life, indeed. 

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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