Step One: Model Calm Acceptance

Esterillos beach in after sunrise
The calm before the storm.
On March 7th my family and I left to go to Costa Rica for vacation. On the days leading up to our departure I (selfishly) kept hoping the COVID-19 numbers wouldn’t spike and we would be able to get onto the plane. My husband got laid off in January and we had paid for the trip in December. There was no way we were going to miss it.

We made it to Costa Rica and we had a wonderful time. But I kept reading updates on the virus and by the middle of the week I was feeling a sense of dread, not knowing what we were coming home to. Half way through we got the update that my kids schools were closing for two weeks.

I began to wonder: should we just stay here? There were very few people on the beach. There were worse ways to practice social distancing. My husband didn’t have a job, my kids didn’t have school. In my dream world I would pack everyone in the car and explore the country on a shoestring budget.

But I had a job to go back to. I wasn’t sure what the impending crisis was going to look like from a hospice perspective, but at the very least I had to go home, show up for work, and collect a paycheck. Staying in Costa Rica was only a fantasy. My family was getting tired of running out of water (a common occurrence in CR) and hearing geckos scratch on their walls at night. They were anxious to get back to the US. So I started to think of my vacation as a last hurrah, gifted to me by the universe, before things started to go south.

On March 14th we left for the airport and that’s when the terror started to take hold. On the crowded shuttle bus I realized there was no way not to catch the virus. The airport of course was packed, as was the plane ride home. I tried not to think about it. There was no way to avoid it. I spent 5 blissful oblivious hours on the plane watching “A Star is Born,” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” But then we landed in Baltimore and the dread came back in a visceral way.

In hospice we have a “Death checklist.” It might sound morbid for anyone not accustomed to working with death, but when someone dies there are practical tasks to be done (discharging from EPIC, starting the death certificate, wasting narcotics, etc.) Step one of the Death Checklist is “Model Calm Acceptance.” I decided that would be my mantra. My children (ages 10, 10, and 12) seemed thrilled not to have school but they knew. They could feel the underlying collective anxiety. And the country we returned home to was different from the one we had departed from a short week ago.