From the St. Paul Pioneer Press Opinion page, Aug. 30, 2020
If you’re a person who likes to have things under control, as I do, 2020 has likely gotten on your last nerve.
Last spring, we were forced to cede some control over the way we live as we learned that a new virus was circumnavigating the world.
With authorities dictating how, when and where we come and go, we navigated spring and summer, adapting and pivoting, stepping up and digging in, and pushing back.
Months later, we’re a bit better informed, though many questions remain unanswered.
Should I get tested?
If people are testing positive but aren’t ill, isn’t that a good thing?
When will a vaccine be available?
Will children go to school?
How will working parents manage unpredictable school schedules?
Will college students live on campus?
What businesses and nonprofits will survive?
Is it safe to hug my grandkids?
The answers are blowing in the wind, as the song goes.
Since I can’t control the answers, I’m trying to focus on what I can control.
The past few months have presented an unexpected opportunity to pause and recalibrate.
Those who have the time and inclination have seized this moment to reflect and regroup; to rekindle old pastimes, and begin new ones.
Coronavirus rules of engagement have certainly complicated life.
It’s been difficult to spend time with some people, particularly those who live far away.
But it’s also afforded an unexpected opportunity to spend time together. Families like mine, who’ve had an adult child “boomerang” home, may consider it a silver lining, as I do, or one more thing to fray tattered nerves.
Technology has been useful. Zoom and FaceTime have brought family and friends into our homes for happy hours and visits. The remote interactions fill a need to remain connected and to laugh in the face of so much uncertainty and unrest.
Every day we’re greeted with the death count from COVID-19.
I’m reminded of my mortality, which reminds me of the importance of planning.
These past months, people of various ages have been isolated in hospitals, often on ventilators. I wonder if they had made critical decisions about end-of-life matters while they were conscious, coherent, and capable.
For most of my life I wasn’t a planner. I learned to respond to whatever came my way, as if I was a passenger, not the driver at the wheel of my own life.
But then I was unexpectedly widowed.
As I muddled through an array of decisions in a fog, I discovered the worst time to make difficult decisions is in the throes of a crisis.
When the fog lifted, I turned my attention to the issues I’d long avoided.
I began by identifying my values. They included staying active and adventurous, doing meaningful work, and procuring the right insurance to protect my loved ones.
By identifying my values, I created the foundation for my estate planning as well as a framework for evaluating whether I’m spending time and money on what matters most.
In these extraordinary times, it’s especially critical that we consider and share decisions about how we want to leave this life.
Do we want to be resuscitated; be an organ donor; be buried or cremated?
We need to put our wishes in writing, so our loved ones don’t need to make the decisions we’ve avoided.
Every adult, regardless of net worth, needs a will. And yet, most Americans don’t have one.
We also need to plan for the worst-case scenarios, which is admittedly no easy task.
Parents should designate guardians for their minor children.
Parents of children with special needs (of any age) should make a life plan for them.
Organization is important, be it passwords, health care directives, or life insurance policies. Shoe boxes are for shoes, not titles to cars or life insurance policies.
When the shelter-in-place order was issued last March, we thought it would last a few weeks. As one week rolled into another, it helped to know warmer days were ahead and we’d have the freedom to get outdoors to exercise and socialize.
It won’t be long before summer slides into autumn, then winter, and socially distanced dinners on the patio become a memory.
With a contentious election, civil unrest and coronavirus co-existing, I fear we’re in for a rocky end to 2020 and beginning of 2021. I’m concerned about our collective psyche.
We must be mindful of our emotional well-being.
We need to be thinking about how we are going to live with this virus in the months to come.
We cannot live in fear, but we must remain vigilant.
We may need to think about politically distancing to maintain the peace with people who hold differing political views.
How will you find peace, harmony, and joy in the midst of a health and societal crisis?
Is this the time to take up a paintbrush or a good book, to renew Zoom happy hours, or replace newscasts with healing music?
Taking the time to reflect on what is important and to make a plan was one of the biggest gifts I’ve given my loved ones – and myself.
Taking thoughtful and deliberate steps to manage things we can control empowers us and replaces angst with peace.
For those who want – need – an element of control in their lives, I suggest making a plan — or revisiting an existing one to ensure it’s up to date.
Planning might be one of the answers that’s blowing in the wind.
~~~If you would like to read more of Caryn’s work, you can purchase a signed copy of her award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” filled with inspirational stories about navigating life, here.