If it be now, ’tis not to come.
– Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 2
For the last 17 years of his life my father had a degenerative neurological condition. He wasn’t one to discuss his feelings, at least not with me, so I can’t swear to his state of mind. But his verbalized interest in his mortality centered on the manner of his death, given that degenerative neurological condition. I never heard him fuss about the uncertainty of the timing.
By contrast, my mother was healthy until she wasn’t. Congestive heart failure led to her death about two months after its observable onset. During those two months I never heard her ask about the likely manner of her impending death, but she was understandably curious about its timing. She was never obnoxious or impatient, but she tried several times to get the doctor to predict the time she had left, sidling up to the question from a different angle each time. Did she think that the problem was with how she was phrasing the question? Dunno.
If it be not to come, it will be now.
She wasn’t the only one who wanted to know. It wasn’t that I wanted her to die (at all or quickly), but I wondered whether I should fly back and forth across the country to my Ottawa home or just settle into my sister’s house in Vancouver for the duration. I could do whatever was needed but were we talking one month? Three? Six? My sister likely had an interest in this for her own reasons.
After three days, fish and visitors both stink.
– No, not Shakespeare or Benjamin Franklin
We were all unsuccessful in getting an answer to what seemed like a pretty simple question. These days I watch reporters asking epidemiological experts more-or-less this same simple-sounding question about the COVID-19 pandemic, also unsuccessfully.
How. MUCH. LONGER?
I understand that question: that desire for some schedule certainty here. Immediately, please. The Big Guy and I have been in full-on isolation for 14 days since returning from the USA. Even under privileged conditions it stinks. It seems we are now hunkering down for another month. Will that turn into three? Six? Hey! You over there! Don’t even think “twelve.”
If it be not now, yet it will come — the readiness is all.
– OK, back to Hamlet
Well, our readiness as a society seems lacking for many aspects of this crisis. I can’t do much about that, or not immediately. All I can do is to manage the uncertainty with as much grace as I can muster and be ready for whatever happens.
With respecting to managing myself, I think this is one of the best articles I’ve read on the pandemic’s emotional fallout. I highly recommend it. Here are a few excerpts:
The rest of this piece is an offering. I have been asked by my colleagues around the world to share my experiences of adapting to conditions of crisis. Of course, I am just a human, struggling like everyone else to adjust to the pandemic. However, I have worked and lived under conditions of war, violent conflict, poverty, and disaster in many places around the world. I have experienced food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement. . . .
Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12 to 18 months, followed by a slow recovery. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised. Right now, work toward establishing your serenity, productivity, and wellness under sustained disaster conditions.