Living through a year of ‘blursdays’

Despite many challenges, the writer has much to be grateful for.

ALIVE and well and deeply thankful for it. That pretty much sums up what I feel about 2020.

In Malaysia, we have about 106,000 Covid-19 cases and 455 deaths (at the time of writing). That may not look so bad when compared with the global count of 80 million cases and 1.8 million deaths, but every death impacts a family horribly. That’s because the patient dies alone, isolated from his or her loved ones. I can only convey my heartfelt condolences to everyone who lost a family member or friend in such a devastating way.

And selfishly, I am eternally grateful I have not lost any of my loved ones. The person I was most scared of losing to Covid-19 was my mother. At 86 and with many underlying health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure, she ticked all the boxes for the highest risk group in terms of the mortality rate.

At 61, I am not that far behind as a person at risk but I am quite healthy. I make sure I mask, sanitise like crazy, avoid crowded places and keep my outings, usually to buy groceries, quick.

My house is my refuge, my sanctuary. As I have shared in previous columns, staying home wasn’t very hard for me as eight months of retirement had prepared me for it.

It was a different story for the working adults in the family. They had to get used to working from home. Initially, it was all right. They just needed a good Internet connection and they had their own rooms to work in.

Over the months, though, it became less all right as working hours seem endless, with bosses calling for meetings at all sorts of hours, often well into the night. Still, my kids do not complain, knowing well they are lucky to still have jobs with no pay cuts.

The biggest difference in being homebound is how my lifestyle and attitude towards life itself have changed.

My world has become very small, mainly revolving around my kitchen and trying to find ways to stimulate Mum, who is slowly fading away.

Like others who fell in love with the joys of cooking and baking during this pandemic, I have improved so much I am able to take orders for my cakes and other baked goods from friends. That keeps me slightly gainfully employed.

Being home almost all the time has resulted in my vanity quotient falling by at least 70%. I was at my vainest when I was working. I constantly shopped for cosmetics, clothes, accessories, shoes, handbags. Then my focus was on my appearance as a senior company executive. Now the focus is on the comfort of my home and the well-being of the people in it.

My current daily wear are cool cotton T-shirts, shorts and, when I am in the kitchen, a hairnet and apron!

On the rare occasion I venture out to meet friends, it’s comfort over style with shift dresses or loose-fitting tops with pedal-pushers, leggings or sweatpants. On my feet are house slippers.

When I go out, it’s sandals, sneakers or loafers. My once beloved high heels are quietly rotting away in the shoe cupboard.

Face-wise, before Covid-19, I would never leave home without lipstick. Now it’s all about the eyes since that’s the part of the face not covered by the mask. That’s where my remaining 30% vanity quotient lies.

I have always envied women with lovely long eyelashes as mine are practically invisible. Recently, I discovered magnetic eyelashes which you can put on yourself and which won’t kill your own lashes. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s such silly things that cheer me up nowadays. After watching an eye surgeon on YouTube test them out and give her a thumbs up, I ordered a pair online.

I eagerly await their arrival. Speaking of which, online deliveries have become commonplace at my house. Before Covid-19, I was a completely old school shopper, believing I must test, feel or try a product before buying. Not anymore.

Shopping online can be tedious as one has to check out many sellers of the same product on different websites to compare price, quality and reliability. The results, however, have been pretty good with few disappointments.

One of my best online buys is a 1.5m aluminium wheelchair ramp I have placed over the two steps at my front door – it makes it so much safer and easier for us to wheel Mum out and take her for strolls around the neighbourhood.

My kids and I have started checking out nearby parks to see how wheelchair-friendly they are so that we can take Mum there as going round the neighbourhood has become rather boring.

Life has indeed become boring for many of us. Every day is a “blursday”, one of Oxford Dictionaries’ 2020 Words of the Year, which aptly describes how days seem to merge as we can hardly differentiate them.

Looking back on the year, admittedly I could have done more. I could perhaps have done volunteer work, for example, but my priority was keeping my mum safe and the most effective way for me and other family members to do that was to obey the government’s exhortation to stay home.

As we bid adieu to this annus horribilis, I give thanks for all the small mercies I have received, including TNB rebates and loan repayment moratoriums. I also salute the brave frontliners and others who have kept our country going.

I give thanks too for the technology – WiFi, Bluetooth, WhatsApp, Zoom, Spotify, the Internet of course – that keeps us connected, informed and entertained.

Through these enablers, I have stayed in touch with my sisters overseas, got my BTS music fixes, watched movies and dramas from around the world (but mostly from South Korea and China), and shopped and learnt from the many generous people who shared their knowledge and expertise online. My daughter learned her newfound hobby of knitting from YouTube tutorials.

That is how I have stayed sane and occupied. I can’t imagine how people survived the 1917 flu pandemic without what we have today.

Much as I look forward to 2021, I doubt our present circumstances will change much. We now have vaccines coming to our rescue but it will take many months to achieve herd immunity and new mutated strains are emerging.

Chinese New Year is just two months away and I accept it will be a quiet affair like how Christmas was. But as long as I can welcome the Year of the Ox with Mum and my immediate family, I remain thankful.

For what it is worth, Happy New Year, everyone.

The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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