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How to cope with Covid-19 as a widowed parent

WAY member Paula Vine from Hampshire is gratefully recovering from Covid-19 but it has been a huge mental and physical battle. She wanted to share her experience to help others, as she felt there wasn’t enough information available about practical steps you could take if you did contract the virus…

“Hope for the best .... plan for the worst” is a commonly used phrase. I really had to focus on what this actually meant going into lockdown.

In a way, I was looking forward to having an enforced period of time at home, even though I would never have wished the pandemic to happen. Since my husband Steve died suddenly and unexpectedly, two years ago, I’ve wanted the ‘world to stop’ and the pressures of the ‘everyday’ to lessen. I am a part-time primary school teacher and am currently a full-time carer to my son. 

Facing self-isolation as a family with three children (two daughters aged 14 & 12 and an 8-year-old son), a six -month-old puppy and as the only adult in the household was, however, much more daunting – particularly after I faced the reality that one or all of us may actually become ill with the Coronavirus. There had been confirmed cases of parents with Covid-19 at my daughters’ school and later with some of their peers.

In preparation for the lockdown, I’d ensured that we had around 4/5 weeks of shopping in, including easy meals, bottles of water, vitamins and Paracetamol – enough for each of us to have around five days’ supply. I organised a range of online options for shopping. I began showing my two daughters where all the extra food was being kept and extended their cooking skills. 

I made sure they knew how to use the dishwasher and washing machine. I also checked they knew what the puppy needed and ordered in a supply of his foods/treats. I signed up for an online recipe box scheme, which would guarantee healthy, nutritious food was delivered weekly, ensuring we’d have regular vegetables if it became difficult to get these at a later stage.

Next, I made a contingency plan, which included:

  • Identifying a place where I or one of the children could self-isolate at home, if necessary.
  • Lifting bedtime/screen limits on the children’s technology and ensuring they had downloaded Zoom, Houseparty and Skype.
  • Making a contact list for my daughters to call if they were frightened or if I was really ill, needed help with shopping, family/friends to chat to.
  • Arranging help with walking the puppy and where he would go to be looked after, if necessary.
  • Organising who would look after the children if I needed to go into hospital.
  • Writing down all my passwords for my phone, laptop, emails, Apple ID etc.
  • Updating my funeral wishes and including essential contact details for my Solicitor, Financial Adviser and our Clinical Psychologist.
  • Completing the update to my will, to include legal guardians for the children (I hadn’t been able to face doing this since Steve died).

Coping with the virus

Sadly, all of this became very real when, on the Thursday of the first week of the lockdown, I became ill. I self-isolated away from the children, which was extremely hard, especially as they were so frightened I might die – and I couldn’t promise 100% that I wouldn’t. They have all suffered with separation anxiety and trauma since Steve died. It was horrific to see them crying over video chats and being unable to cuddle them, although at times parenting via video calling was a great way to support them. 

My symptoms were not the fever or cough that was widely publicised. I became totally exhausted and all my muscles ached. It wasn’t until Day 4 that I developed a fever. My eyes then became blurry and hurt, my throat dry and it became difficult to swallow, nausea, dizziness and slight diarrhoea followed, in waves. I kept my windows open, I slept sitting up, I got up to walk around the bedroom, counting and recording my steps in tallies of 100. I rested when the symptoms became worse every few hours. I had Vitamin C and Paracetamol and kept a note of when I took them. I drank lots of water and had a supply of mineral water in my bedroom. I practised breathing exercises and kept a record of how long I could hold my breath. As my lungs began filling up with fluid on Day 7 & 8, it was pretty scary. It felt like I was slowly drowning.

The mental battle at this point was a massive struggle. I knew that when our bodies are stressed they produce the hormone cortisol, which in turn can suppress the effectiveness of our immune system. Having prepared well and taking an active role in the aforementioned treatment of my symptoms helped. I knew there was nothing more I could do, which helped to reduce my anxiety, enabling my immune system to work as well as it could. I prayed and asked others to include us in their prayers.

Self-isolating when so ill, with a relatively unknown virus with no cure, was horrifically scary. Instead of being able to get help with looking after myself or the children, everyone had to keep away. We did get some assistance with friends walking the dog, leaving shopping and meals at the door. As I became worse, my lovely friend the breeder came and took our puppy. This enabled the four of us to focus on survival. 

I project managed parenting from my bedroom, using online shopping and delegating all tasks to the children. The children used their cooking skills and were amazing at looking after themselves and me. Their days passed through a lot of distraction with technology, video calls to friends, TV and gaming. They were also supported by our brilliant Clinical Pyscologist who was already undertaking weekly video therapy sessions with us all. When she saw that I was so ill, she then checked in more frequently with the children. She gave my eldest daughter permission to contact her anytime 24/7, if she became worried about my symptoms worsening and should I need medical assistance.

If my breathing had suddenly worsened, it would have been difficult for me to talk. I received support through friends and family contacting regularly via text/messaging and voice calls. One of my closest friends, who lives in America, phoned daily and checked on my symptons and reminded me to focus on drinking water, walking around the bedroom when I could, sleeping sat up and asking how long I could hold my breath for. Contact with the outside world, whilst in self-isolation was massively important and really helped.

Watching the horrific statistics on the news whilst having the illness was really hard. It was like playing ‘Russian Roulette’ and not knowing if I would be the one of the ones to take the bullet. To keep my mind occupied, I did Sudukos, crosswords and kept a diary when my eyes and other symptoms allowed. I watched TV or listened to Podcasts when I needed other distractions.

Facing my own mortality, however, and thinking about the consequences for the children was even worse than coping with Steve dying. It was a relief to wake up on Day 9 feeling slightly better and to have turned the corner. Tears of relief flowed. I’d been advised by the GP that, once my fever had gone, I could safely leave the bedroom. On Day 10 I summoned up the energy to strip the bed and shower before reuniting with the children. Lots of tearful cuddles ensued. 

It has taken me a further two weeks to return to my normal fitness levels. I’m used to regularly going to the gym, swimming and walking around 7km each day. I’ve been enjoying hanging out with the children and doing some DIY projects in the garden together. We now have the puppy back and can finally enjoy being together and walking the dog in the beautiful countryside. I’m really grateful to feel so well and that the children didn’t develop any symptoms. But most of all I’m grateful that I am one of the lucky ones and that I managed to survive this terrible virus. My heart goes out to those who didn’t…