July-August 2020

Stuck at home

With little warning, local residents had nowhere to go so they tried to make the best of it. We checked in with 12 of them in April and May to see how the pandemic was affecting their lives.

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Photo by Love and Adventure Photography

Kristin Richards and Jeff Braden

Kristin: We met in February 2016. It’s a bit of a long story, but we were both dating other people. Not seriously, but it took a few months of being friendly and slowly deciding if we wanted to pursue it or stay with the people we were dating. We officially got together in June 2016.

Jeff: We’ve always wanted to do a trip around the world. Last year we traveled to 22 countries over the course of nine months.

Kristin: One time we were in Zambia and he asked, ‘What would be your perfect engagement?’ I was like, ‘This safari seems pretty good.’ We were in a car alone, there was a magical sunrise, there was a professional photographer there.

Jeff: I picked up the ring in Tanzania in June. I had a few plans for the engagement process, and that was going to take a little time. Our last big spot was Antarctica.

Kristin: You only get 45 minutes on land each time you do an excursion, so we were back in our little cabin. I’m a bit nontraditional, so he ended with, ‘I don’t know if getting down on one knee is part of an oppressive patriarchal institution of marriage, but it’s the only way I know how to ask: Will you marry me?’

The wedding was scheduled for May 24 [of this year]. We were going to have it in Leesburg, Virginia. We invited over 200 people.

Jeff: We kind of knew it wasn’t going to happen, but we were very resistant. We finally sent out the postponed save the date on March 30.

Photo by Love and Adventure Photography

Kristin: All your venues and vendors really want you to just pick a new date. But I will be in the Foreign Service. Because the State Department can send me abroad at any point, and we don’t know when, we couldn’t do that. We can’t recommit to November, we could be living in Thailand.

Jeff: We decided to just focus on what we could control. How do the two of us want to make our marriage special? It should mean something. We’ll worry about a big party later. Then it was just the technicality of: Where can you do this?

Kristin: We found out we could get an emergency license in Montgomery County. You could use an officiant of your choosing who gets certified online.

Jeff: When Kristin found out we could get Ginger, our [relationship] counselor, to officiate, that was the deciding factor. We’d been living in this house in Bannockburn since a year after we got together. There’s a magnificent oak tree out front, and we thought we could just do it here. I love this neighborhood; it’s very close knit, very communal. I was in charge of the outdoor preparations. On our runs and walks with the dog we realized there are so many flowers here. I loved the idea of surrounding ourselves in community, so I wrote a message on the neighborhood listserv that said, ‘If anybody wants to donate flowers, we’re looking for little clippings and we’re going to put them around us in a circle outside.’

We got over 100 comments back. I posted on a Thursday and we had people dropping off flowers nonstop. We were even getting bottles of champagne.

Kristin: Like really nice champagne.

Jeff: We got cards from people we’ve never met.

Kristin: Since our broader global community couldn’t come to our wedding, our local community created our symbolic circle of support for us.

Jeff: We really wrestled with how to handle our families. I have two brothers that are local. Her family is in Michigan, my parents are in New Jersey. We’re very close to them and would have wanted them to be here, but we were trying to respect the [rule about] no gatherings [of] more than 10. We said if the people closest to us can’t be here, nobody’s going to be here.

Kristin: We got married on May 2. It was the most beautiful day of the year. Almost every house on the whole block had people on their front lawns. You got chills right away. You felt supported and festive. Especially since we’re trying to start a family, I don’t know if I will fit into the dress the next time we get to celebrate with everyone, so I really wanted to wear it. My neighbor was going to be one of my bridesmaids. She already had her dress, so she wore it while she watched from across the street. The little girls next door got dressed up, too.

Jeff: Our dog, Moose, was the ring bearer. Some of my preparation for the wedding was to take him on a long run to make sure he was worn out.

Photo by Love and Adventure Photography

Kristin: We put a little bed out there for him. He was half on it. When we were doing our vows, he gets up and does the little twirl that dogs do when they’re getting ready to lie down, and he lies right on my train. It was awesome.

When we wrote our vows, we didn’t have to worry about people getting hot in the sun or wanting cocktail hour to start. We could say what we wanted to say to each other. It was so authentic and romantic. Jeff was my wedding planner, my florist. The whole wedding was a gift to me and symbolic of the work he’s going to put into our marriage.

Jeff: After the ceremony, there was this pregnant pause and then everyone started clapping and cheering.

Kristin: We didn’t really intend to have a party. We bought a cake just for us so we could have a cake-cutting picture. And we bought champagne because Jeff really wanted a picture of us shaking up champagne and spraying it. But since all these people were there we said come share. So I went inside and washed my hands, and we used paper plates and plastic forks and we offered cake to everyone.

Jeff: It had like the feel of a block party. People moved from their lawns down to the street but still distanced themselves.

I have been married before. I don’t think you need to have gone through it before to know this, but perspective helps. Weddings are set up so you do certain things. You toss the bouquet. You do the first dance. You do these things because you’re supposed to do them. And you spend $30,000 because you’re supposed to spend $30,000. This was the exact opposite. It just felt really organic. We felt like people were thanking us just as much as we were thanking them. It made the community so happy.

Kristin: People needed it. This was everything we dreamed, but we didn’t know it. It was perfect.

From left: Sydney, Ian, Rowan, Emmy and Kate. Photo by Liz Lynch

Kate Mitchell

I’m an ESOL teacher at Bayard Rustin Elementary School in Rockville, so I have class from 9:45 to 10:30, then again from 10:30 to 11:15. I either work in the kitchen or, if the kids are being particularly loud, I’ll go in the bedroom. I have three daughters. My oldest is Sydney, she’s 6. My daughter Rowan is 4, and Emmy is 2.

Kids can be a little unpredictable. Rowan once took off her dress in the background of a [Zoom] meeting. She was changing into dress-up clothes while I was in the kitchen. It was just teachers, luckily. Emmy, in the middle of lessons, once said, ‘I have poop.’ I was with kids but I don’t think they actually heard that.

My husband, Ian, works for a division of Clark Construction. At night we go over our schedules for the next day. We have early risers, so the kids are up at 5:30. My husband starts working at 7. We usually eat breakfast and watch a couple episodes on Disney. Then we finish up my kindergartner’s math problems. At 8:45, Sydney goes up in the office with him and does her class until 9:30. She was fine logging into Zoom, but then she would have to watch an additional video, and that was a struggle. So often I watched the video and would teach her the main parts she needed to know. She misses school, but fortunately because she has younger sisters she’s been entertained.

In between, Rowan and Emmy are playing and occasionally I’m stopping my class and helping them with certain things. A lot of it is breaking up fights and disagreements about toys. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming and calling each other stupid—that’s the word right now in our family.

In the morning, I set them up with games and activities that hopefully will entertain them. When that doesn’t work and there’s fighting, it’s giving them their Kindle Fire or the iPad. They love watching videos of kids opening surprise packages and playing with toys. I’m not really worried about screen time, considering the circumstances. When we’re done with our day—when I’m logged off—then the screens are off.

As soon as I’m done with class, we either go outside or play something together just to give them lots of attention from us. We are playing more Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders than we ever have. One of the nice parts about all this is we’re all having so much more family time.
I hop back on at 1 because I do another live lesson for kindergartners and first graders. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays we have planning meetings in the afternoon. Between that we’re squeezing in laundry, dishes, dinner.

My 2-year-old is fascinated by my live lessons, so she often wants to sit on my lap during them. Since she started being home with her big sisters, she doesn’t want to nap anymore. Getting her to nap is a battle. And when she doesn’t nap, she’s a lot more clingy and sensitive.

Bedtime is around 7:30 or 8. I’m very tired after they go to bed. Even the bustle of picking up the kids, getting them home from day care, it’s not as exhausting as being at home because you’re constantly thinking, How am I going to keep them entertained when I’m trying to teach? What am I going to do to wear them out so that I’ll have a little bit of downtime when I’m with my next group?

My husband and I will usually watch TV for a little bit after dinner and go over the next day. We just finished the Michael Jordan documentary, and we’ve been watching reruns of The Office and Parks and Rec. I don’t know why, but now my kids are getting up in the middle of the night again.
Every day is exhausting and you think it must be Thursday. Nope, it’s Monday. We just keep reminding ourselves that we have jobs; we are healthy; there are worse situations we could be in. Trying to put things in perspective always helps.

Photo by Lisa Helfert

Trey Zaslav

I’m in second grade at Jones Lane. It’s been weird because a normal school day would be six hours long, but Zoom is only 45 minutes. I try to keep
looking at the screen, but it’s hard.

Right now we’re learning about the past, like the Wild West. I learned that their transportation was horses and trains. I miss that I can’t see my friends and talk to them. At school, there’s recess and I can play with my friends. In the classroom, we’re not really allowed to talk that much. Lunch is when we really talk. At school every Friday I buy lunch. It’s pizza. I like cheese and pepperoni, and I like sausage but they don’t have sausage.

When I’m not doing schoolwork, I play on my Xbox and watch wrestling videos. I love WWE. My favorite wrestler is Roman Reigns. I play WWE 2K20, which is a new one. My brother’s name is Drew. We’ve been fighting and getting along. We get in arguments. I say one thing about the WWE and he says it’s wrong. We pretend to be wrestlers and wrestle each other every night. We made a big fort a few weeks ago.

I don’t do sports right now, which is the worst part. I played flag football, soccer and baseball. I also used to watch sports. My favorite sport to watch is football. I like the Giants and the Browns because Odell Beckham Jr. is my favorite player. My favorite sport to play is soccer.

Being with my family has been kind of fun. The best part is that I’m not busy during the week. We get to go to bed later than usual, like 9:15 or 10, and I’ve been waking up really late, like 8:30. I play with our dog, Georgie. He does a lot of funny stuff. He takes my mom’s clothes and tries to rip them up.

The coronavirus is spreading, so we have to do social distancing, and now we’re on lockdown. I’m not scared of it because it’s in the air, it’s not a person. I’ve been washing my hands a lot.

I usually get my hair cut, but we can’t now. This is maybe the longest my hair has ever been. I don’t like it—it keeps getting in my face. My mom did the back and it got really messed up.

I started to write a book called ‘I Survived the Coronavirus.’ I’ll read the first part.

‘It was a normal day in the world. People at restaurants, work, casinos and stuff. But in China people are having bat stew. The bats have viruses, bad viruses, and the people got it and it started to spread, but America was fine for a little while. There was a boy named Trey. He lived in Maryland. He knew about it and he knew he will not die because it barely affects kids. So he’s not worried about himself; he was worried about his grandparents because it really, really, really affects old people, like 70 and up.’

Courtney Keeler, standing, with Khary (holding the dog, Sasha Fierce) and Kaitlin. Photo by Lisa Helfert

Courtney Keeler

I consider myself an only parent. I’m divorced, but I have been the only person in both my children’s lives for the last 19 years.

My son, Khary, who’s 22, is autistic. He’s very emotionally immature. He doesn’t really understand what’s going on with this pandemic. He knows he has to wear a mask and gloves. He sees the numbers spiking on TV, but he doesn’t understand what the numbers represent. He’s tracking statistics without knowing the meaning behind it. He attends Montgomery College, where he’s working toward a degree in computer programming and gaming. Right now they’re doing Zoom and conference calls for classes. We’ve also taken to doing some learning on the computer. He struggles with reading comprehension, so we’re looking for ways to do more visual learning, which is a lot of what we’ve had to do through this pandemic. He also loves doing puzzles and playing games like Sudoku.

My daughter, Kaitlin, is 19 and has ADHD and anxiety. She also suffers from PTSD. She was hit by a car on her way home from school when she was a freshman in high school. She’s also at Montgomery College. She’s going to be an art major. She paints, she draws, and she’s recently gotten into graphic art. She does portraits of people. I think she’s coping with her anxiety through trying to help give back. She sells some of her art to family and friends, and she’s been using that money to make little packages with masks and sanitizers for frontline workers. We’ve been delivering them to Safeway and leaving them for Instacart workers and mail carriers.

My kids are polar opposites. My son rarely talks and prefers alone time, whereas my daughter is extremely high strung. She struggles with impulse control and she worries all the time. I don’t think she’s been sleeping as much. She asks me a lot of questions about what’s going to happen. Because we don’t know, I try to focus on what we can do to keep ourselves safe at this time.

It’s been a struggle trying to make sure one understands how urgent this is, and trying to keep one calm because she sees everything catastrophic going on around her. I’ve been trying to find that balance with the two of them. They have this way of working together. She helps him with his reading comprehension, and he helps her with her math.

I take things one day at a time. Sometimes I have to break it down to an hour at a time. I was more worried about my daughter, because my son will almost accept a new norm. I went up to her a couple weeks ago and said, ‘How are you doing so well?’ She said, ‘I’m watching you.’ I realized when she said this that she’s drawing from what I’m thinking and feeling and doing. There’s many nights that I’m up worrying, sometimes fearful, sometimes sad, but when I get up, I put this face on of hope.

I’ve always lived my life trying to find the silver lining in everything because I think it helps give me that attitude to make sure that I’m doing the best that I can for my family every day. I’m choosing to focus on the fact that this pandemic has brought out the best in a lot of people. I feel like it’s really giving me the opportunity to show my family that they can witness and then practice things like compassion, empathy and hope. Things like those really defy limitations. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or a special need—that’s universal to everyone.

Photo by Liz Lynch

Donna Moss

I am a freelance writer and editor, so I’ve been working from home all the time anyway. I’m used to having very few distractions. We thought we were close to being empty nesters, but it has gone the other way.

Two of my sons are in college. Now we are fully on lockdown with them, our younger son, and our dog, Albie. I’d been coughing, so I’d been isolating from them for a few weeks. I took over the master suite and just stayed in there. I binged so many movies and shows. People would come say hi to me from the hallway—that was it. It seems like either isolating worked or it wasn’t coronavirus. I didn’t get tested.

At one point the family decided it was probably better if Albie did not come into my room. We didn’t know if the virus could live on his fur. Those were two very depressing days for me. He kept trying to sneak in, then one time the door was left open by accident and he came in and we just looked at each other and I was like, ‘I can’t kick you out.’

Albie is a rescue, we got him from the Humane Society in Rockville 11 years ago. He was the most gentle, sweet little guy, so we nabbed him. It turns out he was a purebred affenpinscher. I don’t know why anyone would give him up.

When it was just the three of us, he spent most days in the bed sleeping. Then all of a sudden everyone’s home and he’s got this new life in him. He bounces around like a bunny rabbit. Before this, he would sleep either in my bed or my son Gabriel’s bed. Now we never know where he slept. He walks around sort of chatting with everybody, deciding where he’s going to spend that night. Nobody wants him because he tries to sleep tucked into you, and if you move over an inch, he takes that inch.

We have a fenced backyard, so before he would stand by the back door and we would let him out into the yard by himself. If the weather and the timing fit, after dinner he would get one lap around the block. Now he’s going on these hourlong adventures every single day. He spends most of it off leash. He takes a good long nap when he gets home. I think he’s going to be sad again when this is over.

From left: Tori, 11; Paul Hutcherson, Kennedi’s dad; Taylor, 7; William, 12; and Meg, holding Kennedi. Photo by Lisa Helfert

Meg Breitenbach

I had heard about the virus prior to having my daughter Kennedi on March 5, but it didn’t impact me until I was at the hospital. Holy Cross was like a ghost town. There were police in the lobby, there was almost no one in the cafeteria. It was eerie.

My uterus was rupturing, so it was a had-to-get-her-out-right-away type of thing. She was six weeks early. She ended up going to the NICU for 12 days. My last child was in the NICU and at least family got to come visit. This time, my other three children and my parents weren’t able to come see her; it was just me and her dad, Paul, in there.

It was harder emotionally for sure. You have your kids at home and you’ve got to spend your time in the hospital and they can’t come. I visited her every day, and when I would come home at night we would do the full strip down and really scrub and clean and change our clothes. I was very nervous that I was going to bring something back.

Life now is difficult and chaotic. Trying to take care of the infant and help the other kids with their schoolwork every morning—it’s pretty intense. My parents own a home in Ocean City, so just to get away we came down here. It relieves a lot of stress just being by the ocean.

This is a totally different experience than with my first three kids. Now, when I go out to the grocery store or if the kids go outside to ride their bikes, it’s come in, completely change your clothes, scrub. I’m nervous and on edge. Always. I thought I would be so chill and relaxed, and now every two seconds if one of the kids touches her I’m like, ‘Did you wash your hands?’ I was never like that before.

I’m a CFO for a child care company. Most of our facilities are shut down, although we have some open for essential workers. I had a breakdown this morning because I was like, how am I going to start working when I am up all night with a baby? I’m constantly Cloroxing and cleaning and doing laundry. Between that and online schooling it’s going to be a huge battle.

She did meet Paul’s mother. We took her outside and she stayed 6 feet away. That’s a moment when this hit me. Who would think the first time you’re going to meet your grandchild you’re not going to hold them?

I’m so used to having a baby and showing them off. But how can you not feel joy when you look at her little face? It’s the cutest thing in the world.

Courtesy photo

John Sackett

Physically, I couldn’t be better as far as someone with cystic fibrosis goes. But my doctor said, ‘John, you need to understand that this is serious for you. You just need to hide. You need to go out of circulation.’

My wife goes grocery shopping, so even when we’re at home we’re distancing, which is not something you want to do with your wife. My son and his girlfriend live in the basement. I’ve always been cognizant of washing hands, but now when we get the mail we spread it out on the floor and we let it sit there for 48 hours and wash our hands afterwards. We wipe down the groceries as well. We have a long table—I eat at one end, and 6 feet down they eat at the other end. No physical contact whatsoever. It’s taxing.

I try to keep my spirits up. I still run a mile every day, early in the morning when there’s nobody out there. I’m lifting weights and doing pushups. I’m an amateur cellist, and that helps as well. I make sure I get enough sleep. I’m not as good at that as I should be.

Being on house arrest is frustrating. When you’re a leader you need to be yelling ‘Charge!’ from the front of the line, not from the back. [As chief operating officer of Adventist HealthCare in Gaithersburg], I stay in close contact with the hospital presidents who report to me. We have four hospitals in the system. We have well over 100 COVID patients. Most people are going to do just fine with it. A percentage of those get bad enough that they have to have a ventilator. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to put your patients on a ventilator because it’s so invasive to the lungs.

We’ve had to think about what are we going to do if we have more patients than we do ventilators? We’ve mapped out our process to make sure that it’s fair. If we ever have to do that, we will do that, but we won’t do it without a great deal of regret.

It’s painful, but doing your advance directive—even if you’re very young—is really important. In my case, if they know I’m going to die within the next 60 days, they should feel comfortable removing the ventilator from me right now. Don’t drag out the dying process. If families talk about it, it makes it so much easier for everybody.

We don’t let any visitors into the hospital—you can’t have a loved one at the bedside. I really don’t think there’s a way to adequately talk about how sad that is. It tears caregivers up.

Our No. 1 priority is to ensure the safety of every caregiver that we have. They are true heroes—that is not an understatement. The last thing they want to do is take this virus home with them, so there’s a huge amount of stress. Who should they [be] most loyal to? As an employer, it’s my job to give them every indication that they’re going to be as safe as possible.

I’ve had to face my own mortality my whole life. I’m going to do my best to stay out of harm’s way, but if I ended up with COVID and my life ended, I’m comfortable with that. At some point, we all have to face death, and I have lived an incredible life. I’m thankful for every day I’ve had, but I’m not afraid of dying when the time comes.

From left: Lisa, Aviva and Liat Katz. Courtesy photo

Liat Katz

My oldest daughter’s name is Aviva. It means “spring” in Hebrew. Her bat mitzvah was scheduled for April 18. She’d been studying to read the Torah for more than six months. She goes to Hebrew school on Sunday mornings, then she had to go to tutoring for an hour. She practiced most nights of the week to learn it.

Her birthday was March 18. She was supposed to have a sleepover, which was canceled. We had put a lot of things in place [for the bat mitzvah]. I’m a social worker, my wife is a counselor. We don’t make a whole lot of money, so we had been saving for a while. There was planning with looking at different venues, deciding to get a caterer, getting a DJ. Eighty people were invited. About half of those were kids.

We’re friends with the rabbi, so we talk to him all the time. First he thought it wasn’t going to happen at all, and then we thought we could do it by Zoom. He was amenable to it, but at first I was not. I felt like it wasn’t authentic enough. There’s something about being in the synagogue with everybody there that was important to me. But Aviva was like, ‘No, that’s cool. Let’s just do it.’

We all got dressed up and did it from the dining room. My mom had a portion to read, and she did it from her house in Riderwood, a retirement facility. My wife, Lisa, who is not Jewish, did the prayer for our country because it’s a portion you can do without being Jewish. My father, Fred Katz, is a

Holocaust survivor. He was able to attend the service precisely because it was on Zoom. He has bronchitis and is 92, and regardless of corona he cannot travel from his home in Baltimore. Aviva and Maya, my younger daughter, are his only grandchildren. His parents were killed in the camps, so this bat mitzvah was a meaningful story of survival as well.

People were sweet enough to send me snapshots from Zoom, and I realized that I looked grumpy through the whole thing because I didn’t realize I was being filmed. But it went off pretty well. There were probably 100 people logged on.

She did really well. She thought she made some mistakes, but fortunately most people don’t know what she’s reading anyway. She sang loudly and confidently. I’ve been to bat mitzvahs when you could barely hear somebody mumbling—but she belted it out.

There couldn’t really be a party afterward, but we scheduled a surprise Zoom meeting at 4 p.m. for her and her camp friends. Some of her friends have made new dates for parties, but we have not. We’re going to wait and see.

Her attitude throughout all of this was really good. She did ask if she would still get presents. That’s just where a 13-year-old is at. She is a kid that has struggled with depression and anxiety. She really took this on, which was amazing. It was a celebration of her. I’m so proud of her.

Kathleen Wilks
Chevy Chase

I am chief marketing officer at Washington Fine Properties. Where I work, the men are in suits and ties, and we all wear dresses. I very quickly adjusted to pajama life, and I think my daughter Callie, after seeing me in pajamas for the entire week, said we need to do something about this. She suggested dress-up dinners with themes.

We’ll sit in the dining room and I’ll set a really pretty table. I’m very lucky that my husband, Jeff, loves to cook. I call him our Chef Jeff. Taco night is a big one. He’ll grill halibut or tilapia and we’ll have fish tacos. My daughter Courtney is not a big seafood person, so we always make sure to grill some chicken for her. We’ll have avocado, guacamole, homemade sauces. And of course there are lots of cocktails. Jeff’s done margaritas—everything is homemade. Our other theme nights have been Caribbean or reggae. One time we actually wore beach cover-ups. Jeff and our son, Christopher, had on bathing suits and T-shirts. I don’t want to sound like an annoying perfect family because we are not. We might fight, but it’s usually between the siblings, trivial—‘I don’t want to watch your stupid show’—and quickly resolved.

My husband had an idea that we would rotate among the five of us and we would pick a TED Talk, watch it together, then discuss it. It stimulates good conversation, which has been fascinating. We watch them after dinner. Sometimes the conversations are 10 minutes, and sometimes they’re half an hour. And then we have dessert. Callie presented one by the mother of Dylan Klebold, [one of the shooters] at Columbine. It was an interesting perspective about her as a parent being the mother of a person who caused all this heartache and her shame and embarrassment, and how she handled that. The reason that she chose it was because it was the first March in 18 years that there [hadn’t] been a school shooting.

My kids keep teasing me that I keep posting pictures using the hashtag #silverlining. I had a hard time when they went off to college because I love having them around. What’s so unique and special about this time is that even when the kids are home, they have all their friends and they’re busy. This is forced family fun. They’re all captive. I will cherish this time forever.

Sue Ducat and Stan Cohen. Photo by Goodman/Van Riper Photography

Sue Ducat
Chevy Chase

Stan and I would have been married 32 years in June. I was in my early 30s when we met, and had had my share of relationships. I had been in Washington about five years. I realized that above all I was looking for someone who didn’t take life as seriously as everyone else here seemed to. I wanted someone with a sense of humor, and he definitely had one.

He was 19 years older than me and was still working full time until the beginning of 2019. He was 86 and had some mobility issues. He had an accident in his office at the Department of Education, where he worked for more than 40 years. He suffered a spinal compression fracture that seriously immobilized him, and he was in a great deal of pain. He was sent to a rehab center. It was a long recovery. He needed a lot of support.
He was living at the Hebrew Home in Rockville in March 2019 and we determined it was the best place for him, so he stayed. He was a real people person, and being at the Hebrew Home gave him a new circle of people.

We made a good life out of it. I worked full time, but every day went to see him at 4:30 or so. By the end of 2019 he was more or less stable and we were able to get him out every couple weeks in his wheelchair. We went to an office holiday party, out to a restaurant and the Kennedy Center for his birthday, his daughter’s house for dinner. As much as he was frustrated by his limitations, he was determined to enjoy life.

When this started, the restrictions on visiting got tighter and tighter. Starting on March 11, even immediate family members were no longer allowed to visit. Residents couldn’t visit each other’s rooms, they couldn’t have food together in the dining room. I figured this would really make him depressed, but he was still himself. We talked on the phone four or five times a day, but March 11 was the last time I saw him [in person].

April 8 was the first night of Passover. I organized a Zoom Seder. [Passover] was one of the highlights of Stan’s social life. He had tons of people over and led this amazing Seder that was way too long for everyone but himself. He sang songs with us and enjoyed it. [On the Zoom], he fell asleep after about 45 minutes. The next morning I got a call saying that he was running a fever. They thought it was a urinary tract infection. Nobody was terribly alarmed. They put him on the usual medication and the fever went away.

On April 14, I got a call at 7:30 saying he was having trouble breathing and running a fever. They sent him to Suburban, where they were giving him high-pressure oxygen and he was responding quite decently for a few days. But on the 18th a test came back showing that it was COVID. He started responding less well to the oxygen. There was really nothing they could do. He passed away on Monday the 20th.

I was not able to visit him at Suburban. At the very end, when death was near, they offered one or two family members the chance to come. Our daughter went and was with him when he died. I was told that he was sleeping, and I felt it would be really traumatizing for me to see him again.
The funeral was three days later and only a very small number of the immediate family was allowed to be there, keeping distance, wearing gloves and masks. The rest of the family and friends were able to watch on Zoom. I don’t want to say it’s a benefit, but a lot of people who were on the funeral and shiva Zooms would probably not have been there because they either live far away or they can’t travel because of their own health impairments. That was one bright spot.

Of course, the disadvantage is that it’s all talk, no hugs. I’ve gotten a lot of outpouring of love and food, but the only time I’ve seen people is if we take walks together, and not everyone wants to do that.

I go up and down. I’m flooded with memories. In normal times I’d be going to synagogue daily, but now I’m tuning into a Zoom. It’s convenient—I don’t have to go anywhere, but it would be nice to be in a physical community, not just a virtual one.

Although in the last year I served as a caretaker as well, we still were very much partners and spouses. We talked about things that only he understood. I don’t have that person anymore. I lost my best friend.

Courtesy photo

Sydney Skalka

Freshman year you look around and think, oh my gosh, I can’t wait for prom and graduation. Now it’s so much different. Every Monday they assign work for the week, and then we can turn it in anytime as long as it’s in before Friday. There’s optional Zoom calls for check-ins with teachers. It’s definitely less work than it would be if we were going into school. I’ve been saving it for the end of the week. I’d say it takes about an hour a day. My sleep schedule is messed up. Now I’ve been going to bed at 12:30, but at first it was like 2. I used to get up at 6:50 or 7, but now I’d say the average is 11.

I had just started my lacrosse season in the spring—I’ve been on the varsity team [at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School] for four years. When they first announced that school was closing, I was at lacrosse practice. The track kids were screaming because they were so excited. But when I heard we were closed for two weeks, the season is already so short, I realized that was over. I’m definitely super sad—I thought we had a chance to go undefeated this year, so it’s a bummer.

May 1 would have been Decision Day. That’s always been a tradition. All the seniors get to school early and they all wear their college shirts. It’s a way to come together and meet groups of kids who are going to the same school. It’s something that everyone looks forward to. Our school is trying to think of alternatives for all of this, so they’re launching an Instagram account and they’re going to do a post for everyone.

I’ve never been to prom. It’s definitely sad [that prom was canceled], but I understand that we have to pay a small price to end this global pandemic. These events are so small on the greater scale, but it’s still disappointing. All the things you were looking forward to are not happening anymore.

Being a second-semester senior is the best time because [the workload] definitely chills out a lot. I had fun every single day at school being with friends, laughing. I miss seeing everyone. Every day we talk in our group chats—my main one is 12 girls. We’re all definitely on our phones more than we were when we were in school. We all had senioritis, so being home was nice at first, getting a chance to clean out my room and spend more time with my family.

I am getting anxious because I do want to see my friends and I don’t know how long this is going to last. I’m hoping we can spend time together before college. I’ve seen some friends when we did a drive-by for my friend’s birthday. We sat in our cars and talked in a parking lot from a safe distance. They just did a drive-by for my lacrosse senior night. That was cool to see everyone. The whole team drove by my house. The coach was in one of the cars and gave a speech. They gave me balloons and a shirt.

Obviously no one had any idea this would happen. It’s crazy. Now we’re all at the point where it’s kind of like, it sucks, but we’ve accepted it. The next thing is: Are we going to start in the fall? Is college going to be different now?