3.0…or was it?
Saturday marked the commencement of the third lockdown Paris has experienced in the last year. The first one started, if you can believe it, on March 17, 2020 and lasted until Mid May. If my confinement-impaired memory serves me (somewhat) correctly, October saw our 2nd lockdown. And now, 12 months later, we are in for at least four weeks of what is termed ‘le confinement.’
Large department stores had already been closed prior to this new move by the government. Infection rates were leaping by 20% or more each week in Paris, so something had to be done. But just what was done remains a slight mystery to me and many other residents of our fair city.
“Non essential” shops were to be closed once again, but I saw a rum shop open for business on one of my daily walks. I bought coffee this morning from the Ralph Lauren coffee truck which remains parked in front of the flagship store on the boulevard Saint Germaine. The barista and I joked about the new lockdown, agreeing that it seemed little different than the previous restrictions we’d been living under.
But do not be fooled, dear reader. As the police watched citizens loiter and soak up a rare day of sunshine on the banks of the Seine Saturday, Sunday’s cold and rain sent loiterers inside for dryer, warmer environs. Today, however, it was down to brass tacks: policemen stopped cyclists regularly on the Pont Sully, requesting valid ID and pulling out a map to determine if riders were more than the allotted 10 kilometers from their residence.
So, it is, after, a real, new lockdown. You can get out and exercise. You can go to the grocery store or the pharmacy. But you can’t hang out, stand close, talk and laugh, and spread the virus. The Frenchies, as is their way, just took a moment, gave everybody a chance to adjust, and are now bringing the hammer down. The ‘attestations’ that were initially required (a paper you fill out and carry with you each trip outside to detail where, why, and when you’re going out) have been scrapped, but the vigilance continues.
Just what effect it will have on infection rates is anyone’s guess. In spacious apartments all over the city, clandestine and crowded house parties continue late into the night, with young, affluent Parisians mixing and mingling and smoking and drinking as if nothing was amiss. They shrug at the health risks on Saturday nights. Then stand outside pharmacies with pensive looks, waiting for a Covid test on Monday mornings when they feel sick. (I know because I saw a line of them in the Marais this morning.)
Statistics confirm this flaneur’s assessment: France’s affluent are twice as likely to contract the disease when compared to the poorest people in France, according to a health survey conducted by the French government. They continue to socialize. They feel above it all. And they contribute to the crisis.
Nonchalance is an attitude mastered by the French, especially Parisians. Most of the time it’s an admirable quality. Just not right now.
This attitude creeps into the French public’s reluctance to get Covid vaccine shots, too. Estimates are that about 40 to 50% of French people aren’t interested in getting vaccinated right now. They don’t trust their government. They don’t trust the research and trials conducted on the vaccines. They don’t want to risk the side effects. They’d just as soon wait it out.
This attitude fits perfectly with my experience: the French will do what they’re passionate about, and do it as well or better than anyone else in the world. With everything else, they will do only what they absolutely have to do…and not one molecule more.
I see their point to a certain extent: the vaccines were developed, tested, and produced in a crisis environment. Many governments had no choice but to fast-track them. Governments will always tell their people that something is safe, even if there is underlying danger or unknowns, just to get the job done. Yes, side effects or reactions are not present in those who’ve received the vaccines right now. What we learn in 6 months or a year or five years from now may be completely different. (Two medical professionals that I’ve spoken with in the US have referred to the vaccine roll out as ‘an experiment’. Both used the same word, and neither of them knows the other one.)
However, it is a global health crisis. So if you’re not going to self-isolate, wear a mask, and wash your hands, and do the tough, dull work of just not doing a whole hell of a lot during this time, don’t draw a line in the sand about vaccines that will probably save lives in the short term. And if you didn’t self-isolate, wear a mask or wash your hands, then, congratulations: you get a vaccine and all that may come with it, for better or for worse.
Coming of Age
There is also a third group of global citizens who really have no choice but to protect themselves and their loved ones as much as possible, and that’s those of us caring for aging parents. Luckily for me, Mommy Dearest is ensconced in an affluent and secluded neighborhood outside Los Angeles, bubbled against the ravages of the disease that have decimated the metropolis.
Most every friend and acquaintance I know is, in one way or another, juggling this issue or struggling with it in some way, shape or form. The components are the physical health of your parent, their mental health, their financial situation, their social situation, their geographic location, and the road ahead.
The physical situation is obvious: are they healthy? Can they take care of themselves on a daily basis? Their mental health begins to shade that second question. Do they require full time care? Who’s going to do that? Who’s going to pay for that? That shades into the financial situation. Can we afford to take care of them? Or, more accurately, how can we afford to take care of them? Because for decent adult children, it’s not really a choice: you have to take care of your parents responsibly and thoughtfully.
Their social situation relates to: are they alone? Are they in a relationship that’s safe and stable? Are they in a community where they can socialize? And where are they? Close by? Or, as in my case, an ocean and a continent away?
And for all of us, what lies in the immediate and distant future?
Books have been written about this and industries built on it. My solutions are, not surprisingly, straightforward and pragmatic. First, have candid and even difficult conversations with your parents right now, before these issues are even on the horizon. One stroke or one car accident can bring them crashing forward into the present. And you want to be as prepared as you can be.
Second, get help. Take a Saturday morning twice a month and research what facilities, personnel, and resources are available to you as the caretaker of an aging parent. You’ll be surprised at the scope of what local, state, and federal agencies offer in terms of assistance and information.
If you’re caring for an aging parent, be responsible: your parents brought you into this world and cared for you, probably doing their best. Honor that, and honor them. If you are an aging parent, be realistic: your kids can’t drop everything to take care of you or spend every evening with you. Stay involved. Stay interested. Be fair.
This process is not without challenges, I will tell you. Your parents will not always do what you think is best for them, just as you ignored some of their good advice growing up. You may find yourself in a position of watching a lifetime’s worth of work, investment, and savings going toward expenses involved in caring for your aging parent at a nursing home, assisted living center, or hospital. You may witness the man or woman who was your invincible ‘rock’ deteriorate slowly–or quickly–right in front of you, and then reach out to you, helpless, vulnerable, and terrified.
Even with the best healthcare systems and most well-intentioned support from family and friends, this is no easy road. It is cold comfort to point out that it is inevitable for all of us. We will all age and eventually die.
What we must take shelter in is preparation, communication, compassion, and duty. As parents, it would be fair to your children if you took care of yourself, exercised, and ate right so that you didn’t make yourself a target for preventable illnesses. It would also help if you got your financial affairs in order prior to needs arising and circumstances changing. This means a will, some medical directives, and a plan for longterm care. It would help if you listened to your children’s concerns, and made sensible choices.
As the children of aging parents, we have to ask the tough questions. And then shut up and listen. And be ready for answers that don’t fit into our agendas. What was the name of that film…? Oh, yeah, An Inconvenient Truth. Well, that’s what we may have facing us: our parents are due some input into how the final act of their lives plays out, and that may result in hearing some ideas that we don’t think are great, but that we must acknowledge none the less.
Everyone will be blessed if their parents and their children are open, honest, fair, kind, and pragmatic. As this pandemic began, my mother instructed me that I was to, under no circumstances, travel from Paris to Los Angeles if she became ill and was hospitalized. “They wouldn’t even let you in the hospital to see me, and you’d only be risking your life to sit out there in the parking lot, waiting for news on my health. You could do that safely in Paris. Don’t come.” I was grateful for the candor, even if I might have ignored the order.
I know of a father who instructed his son not to waste the family fortune with expensive and elaborate care as his health deteriorated. The father would suffer, but his son shouldn’t have to, at least not financially. That kind of foresight and realism takes courage and vision, both on the part of the parent and the child.
So think now. Have candid conversations soon. Plan deliberately. Review plans frequently. And try to love unconditionally. It’s work, but that’s family for you.