As the COVID-19 crisis forced most of us to shelter at home, away from our workplaces, friends, loved ones, and small pleasures that we’ve come to know as life, we discovered our new normal, day by day. For each of us, the losses and gains that came with it were unique to our lives. Here, five local women share their experiences during this frightening, historic, and unforgettable 4 months that shook our lives to the very core.
Ashley Norman, Capital Health, patient transportation
I grew up with adoptive parents. I’m 28 now, but I really didn’t have a relationship with my biological father until I was about 12. As I’ve gotten older and had kids of my own, I’ve come to understand his path and why he made certain choices in his life. In recent years, he’s had health challenges. In addition to diabetes, he has just one kidney, so he’s had to have regular dialysis. At the beginning of the year, my father had to spend time in Atrium Rehabilitation, and he was doing much better. Then, suddenly, his health took a dramatic turn for the worse. He couldn’t breathe on his own. They told us he had COVID, and as an escort at Capital Health, I knew all too well what that could mean.
Sure enough, his organs shut down. Since I had the PPE from work, I was able to visit my dad before he died. It was so painful, but I know how lucky I am to have had the chance to say goodbye. Most people will never get that opportunity.
What I’m seeing at the hospital is so hard because everyone is isolated. These people are alone and sick, and it hurts to breathe. They are shaking, they are scared, and they can’t talk. We want to be there and help them, but if we get sick, how can we help anybody else?
You want to say, Can I get you water? Can I get you a warm blanket? Can I hold your hand? But you can’t. It’s so upsetting, and it’s heartbreaking.
I used to love going to work, but since COVID, every day is a struggle. My co-workers have been amazingly supportive, but it’s so hard to see so many people suffering and worry about exposing my two young kids to this. I’m seeing patients sitting in the hospital not knowing if they’re going to beat this. They don’t know if they’ll get to say goodbye. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. When it’s too much, I find a closet to cry in. I speak to people when I can express it, but otherwise, I just cry. And I pray.
I cry for my father, for my two adoptive parents who are fighting cancer through all of this. I cry for you the young and elderly whose lives are cut short because of COVID, who leave this world alone.
Maybe we’ll be able to go back to the way life was and we’ll get a vaccine, but for now, I just cry.
I used to love going to work, but since COVID, every day is a struggle. My co-workers have been amazingly supportive, but it’s so hard to see so many people suffering and worry about exposing my two young kids to this.Ashley Norman
Even though it’s so early in my career, I know the things I’ve learned this year will stay with me forever.Bridget Festa
Bridget Festa, Fourth-grade teacher
I come from a long line of public-school educators. My grandfather and uncle were high school history teachers. My dad is currently a third-grade teacher. So, as I grew up in Scranton, Pa., I don’t think I had much doubt that I would become a teacher someday. But I never imagined it quite like this.
As I do my best to execute curriculum for my students to distance-learn their way through fourth grade, I know this isn’t how I would have drawn up my first full year as a teacher. On the one hand, I couldn’t have asked for a better class. There’s been such a focus on how teachers have adapted and worked so hard to be nimble and navigate these difficult circumstances, but the kids have been amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my profession. It’s true that teachers everywhere have really stepped up, but I also feel what’s not getting as much attention is how the kids have stepped up. The day they left my classroom with an air hug and a goodbye, I really thought that we’d be seeing each other again, and that turned out to not be true. We’ve asked so much of them, and they have really risen to the occasion. We need to take a moment just to acknowledge their flexibility, their resiliency, and their positivity throughout this because their little worlds were shaken up in a matter of hours.
While some of my students were able to handle the changes seamlessly, others were dealt a pretty tough hand. That’s actually been the hardest part for me, seeing the students who are battling to keep up once their school routine was uprooted. I have one student who has struggled with home/life challenges all year long, and once in-school learning ended, we have had virtually no contact with that student. It’s gutting when your attempts to reach out are met with silence. I’m sure that there’s so much going on, but it’s hard to stomach when there just isn’t even a connection saying, I’m here. I’m okay. It’s all good. Just thinking about what that situation is like for that student has been one of the toughest aspects for me as this crisis has gone on.
Even though it’s so early in my career, I know the things I’ve learned this year will stay with me forever. For one, it’s going to make certain that I don’t take for granted a single day in the classroom. I’m someone who very much looks forward to getting up and going to my job, but everyone has those days where they’re just not in the headspace for it, but it is going to make me really appreciate the time that I have with my kiddos in person.
I also feel sure the things I’ve learned this year will encourage me to better integrate technology in my classroom when we’re finally back. Because COVID did force me and a lot of other educators to embrace different ways of teaching that we hadn’t had to use before. So, I do think that bringing that new sense of understanding is going to change how I present technology to the students in the classroom in the future.
But more than anything, no matter what it looks like, I am just going to be so happy to be back.
I thought we would be celebrating our 25th year in business, but these days all I do is cry.Joanne Farrugia
Joanne Farrugia, owner of JaZams toy stores
As I approached my 25th year as owner of jaZams toy store in Princeton and Lahaska, Pa., I was sure this was going to be a big year for us. After a few down years—with online retailers like Amazon siphoning business away from local toy stores like ours—I just had a good feeling in my gut. And sure enough, January and February were amazing. That’s why we decided to invest in this year’s Nuremberg Toy Fair (Spielwarenmesse), the biggest event in the business. But while we were there, the coronavirus was making its way from China to Europe, and many exhibitors and attendees were wearing masks. We even saw signs that said no Chinese people were allowed in. It was frightening and intense, and, by the end, my business partner, Dean Smith, convinced me that drastic times were ahead at home in America as well.
The feeling in my gut went from buzzing anticipation to stomach-churning dread.
When we got home from Germany in mid-February, we realized we were a little ahead of the curve. Since the first COVID-19 cases were starting to surface in the United States, many people thought the idea that we’d have to close the store and move inventory online sounded extreme. We met with other local vendors as well as the mayor of Princeton and the city’s health officer to start constructing a plan and implementing the first steps. We held off hiring employees and pulled all the play tables and ride-on toys from the floor. The things that defined the whimsical toy store I opened when I was 29 began to disappear, but we knew we had to do that to keep people safe.
And then came the middle of March, and suddenly the public caught up to where we were a month prior, and there we were, laying off staff and sitting with a ton of inventory that we owed money on.
On paper, we have cash flow, but it’s actually a bit of a nightmare—waiting on loans that will likely never come and working in an endless loop of 10- to 14-hour days just to stay afloat.
It’s hard to think back to January when there was so much hope and promise that our 25th year would bring so much excitement and success. But there have been a few real bright spots. First, we started working with the Princeton Public Schools to handpick books for every child who wanted it, and we partnered with Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood Project to increase those efforts. It feels good to be able to do something, especially when people are hurting and scared.
The other positive is what I’m seeing all around me. While my own work hours keep me from spending time with my son, I can’t help but see what’s happened to so many families, and it’s kind of a magical thing. Families spent real time together and the community came together, taking care of people who couldn’t. And I can only hope that continues after the COVID-19 crisis is behind us.
Kate Grob & Megan, married couple
On the totem pole of dream settings for a wedding, my cousin’s place in the Sugarloaf Key, Fla. was pretty close to the top. It’s right on the water with all the sand and sunshine my wife and I could have ever wanted for the backdrop of our wedding. Plus, we love Florida—I proposed to Katie on Marco Island last summer with her family.
Planning a wedding can be so stressful, but as our day got closer, everything seemed to be falling into place. Our family and friends were so incredibly supportive, and we seamlessly moved into Katie’s parents’ house to save money for our own home. We were so in love. Everything just felt exactly as it should be.
When we first heard about coronavirus at the end of February, it felt like it was being blown out of proportion, so we kept moving forward, kept hatching plans. But then things started escalating pretty quickly. Some of our friends started reaching out and bridesmaids started expressing concerns about flying.
But by the end of March, it was clear we were facing a decision that would impact the safety of our family and friends, so we made a choice that felt pretty terrible at the time. Katie was so caring and loving and tried to remind me that we didn’t need a big ceremony to have an unforgettable day. While plenty of people suggested postponing the wedding, we decided to keep the original date of April 25 and get married on the back patio at Katie’s parents’ house in Buckingham, Pa. with our friends and family watching remotely.
For a week, I was crushed. I didn’t really want to talk about it. I just sobbed. But I knew that more than anything, what I wanted was to marry Katie, so I pivoted and did my best to embrace the circumstances.
In truth, our wedding was more than I could have ever hoped. Even without the wedding gowns, we picked out and the sand and the waves under our feet, our wedding was memorable in every way that matters. We figured out how to have a DJ on Zoom, and our guests had private receptions in their own living rooms. We felt so loved.
I still feel a pang when I think of that house in the Florida Keys. And who knows—maybe next year we’ll get that dream ceremony and the honeymoon we always imagined we’d have. But for now, I have the wife of my dreams, and that’s all I ever really wanted.
For a week, I was crushed. I didn’t really want to talk about it. I just sobbed. But I knew that more than anything, what I wanted was to marry Katie, so I pivoted and did my best to embrace the circumstances.Megan Barkley
I’m forever part of the class of 2020, one of a group of young people who are fully engaged and who will start the next phase of life all too aware that things can be taken away at a moment’s notice.Samantha Zanine
Samantha Zanine, Freshman, Penn State University
I started Irish dancing when I was 5, so I’ve seen 12 classes of seniors celebrated on stage during the big spring show before they headed off to college, including my older sister. In addition to starring in most of the dance numbers, the seniors choreograph one of them and get flowers and a little speech from the company director. My show was last week, and, like just about everything else I’d been building toward since I was 5, it was relegated to a socially distant version in my driveway with a few loved ones watching on Zoom.
My 18th birthday. Senior Prom. The science fair. Decision Day. Graduation at War Memorial Field at CB West High School. It was all washed away by the COVID-19 tsunami and left us seniors to settle for the remnants of our rites of passage left behind in its wake.
In the midst of all that, I decided to major in biomedical engineering at Penn State, and I “attended” my freshman orientation on the same computer where I’ve watched all the major events in my life become two-dimensional.
Even though the class of 2020 will never be forgotten for all that we missed, I’d rather have just been part of some ordinary class that got to experience all those big events and put them in the memory bank. And I’m pretty upset that these final months with my friends were relegated to FaceTime.
But there have been upsides. If it wasn’t for quarantine, I would have spent hours at the BioTech Center, practicing for the dance show, studying for finals, and soaking up every minute with my friends. Instead, I spent the kind of time with my family that I won’t forget, watching marathons of Jack Ryan and cooking fish tacos.
It’s also made me look forward to college in a way I can hardly describe. Like the butterflies-in-the-stomach, countdown-days-on-the-calendar way. I’m forever part of the class of 2020, one of a group of young people who are fully engaged and who will start the next phase of life all too aware that things can be taken away at a moment’s notice. And I have a feeling that will serve us well.