Pandemic Pearls

Sunlight reaching through trees

As a follow-up to my retirement survey of individuals ages 55-98, I asked participants to answer questions about how the pandemic affected their personal identity, how they spent their time, what they missed, what lessons they learned, and what unexpected gifts came from the pandemic.

I was not surprised to find that the pandemic ordeal is a time of angst for many, as I had my own challenging days, especially when friends died. One friend died of COVID-19 the same day my daughter came “down” with COVID symptoms. She had traveled by car across the country to work from my home around the winter holidays. She did not pack COVID in her Prius along with her harp. Although wearing a cloth mask, she encountered the virus by standing in a 45-minute line at my local post office when she needed international stamps for holiday cards.

Fortunately, two weeks of delivering meals to my daughter’s bedroom door kept the virus under wraps. Meanwhile, the presents remained wrapped under the tree until after Christmas. My daughter remarked that this was the first time I had “grounded” her. (What parent would “ground” a child on Christmas?) Fortunately, my daughter never lost her taste or humor.

Survey participants offered these comments:

85-year-old female (retired 23 years; “sad to no longer volunteer due to health issues”): “I think this pandemic has made me more of an introvert. I try to stay connected to friends by phone or email, but it is not the same…sometimes I felt imprisoned!”

78-year-old female (retired11 years; currently volunteers 2 hours/week): “I was tutoring an ESL group every week which I had to give up because of technology difficulties. I also lost my husband and best friend. Everything I thought I knew about myself has been changed and needs a restart…there is nothing predictable in life.”

72-year-old male (semi-retired 10 years; engaged in pro bono professional activities and writing a second edition to a previous book; volunteers “in chunks”): “…providing e-learning support and childcare for my grandchildren full-time…an all-encompassing commitment. Life is short and can be compromised in a moment.”

In spite of the pandemic, these same individuals discovered gifts: “Through our church website or YouTube, our Sunday morning services were broadcast. That was a real blessing.”  “(I was) connecting by zoom with friends across the U.S. on a regular basis–value every moment and every life!” “(Spending) intense time with one set of grandkids was a gift.”

A Chinese proverb can guide us: “Pearls don’t lie on the seashore, if you want one, you must dive for it.”   All of us might dive deep to pry open gifts or pandemic pearls when the going gets tough.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) quiz:

10. How has the pandemic affected your personal identity?

11. What unexpected gifts came from the pandemic?  

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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