When Shawn was alive, we always had a disaster plan.
We designated a place that we would meet outside the city if we had to escape, we had canned goods and backpacks of supplies, and we owned a damn generator. I mean, we were ready. But really, I wasn’t ready at all. I was just married to Shawn, and he was a tiny bit obsessed with the idea of an impending apocalypse.
Usually, he brought it up in a semi-joking way, talking about the zombie apocalypse or something similarly silly. But sometimes – like when he got an inside look at some type of government planning in case of a disaster – he would come home and make me go through our disaster plan.
I always laughed at him, and reminded him that we were much more likely to die of something like the flu, so he’d better get his flu shot.
When Shawn died, I did not keep up the disaster prep. I let the stored food expire, I threw out a lot of the backpacks and other materials when I re-did the garage, and I sold the generator. Who needed all that?
Over the past few weeks, as the coronavirus spread and the news became increasingly alarmist, I started to think about all of the disaster preparedness our family had once had in place. Now what was left of it was a few boxes of matches, a lot of dead flashlights, and a pack of size 5 diapers. That’s it.
Clearly, we were not ready. At all.
I do not like to be alarmist. I like to use facts to inform myself, and until a week ago, it seemed like everything was going to be okay. “How are you feeling about the whole coronavirus thing?” a friend texted me about a week ago. I replied, “pretty nonplussed.”
But then…things shifted. And I freaked out.
It started with a trip to Costco that I needed to make anyway. I took Tommy, and when I got there, the person at the front wiped down my cart and encouraged me to do the same with my hands and Tommy’s hands. He was wearing long gloves. Inside, the disaster preparedness supplies had been moved to the ends of the aisles, and it made me start to think. I paused in front of the batteries. Did I have extra batteries at home? Then I looked at the pharmacy. Did I have enough Advil? What about fever reducers for the kids? I had a bit of a crisis right there in Costco, as an overwhelming feeling swept through my body.
I could only think one thing: I have to protect my family.
I’ve felt a version of this emotion before, back when I was a new mother. I’d draw my babies close when I heard a crash, for example. It was instinctual, something I did without thinking.
Right there in Costco, I felt something similar.
Here’s the thing. As a rational human being, I know that the chances of anyone in my family dying from the coronavirus are slim. I know that there are very few children even in China who are getting sick enough to be diagnosed with the virus. I know that there are very real things we can do to protect ourselves, like washing our hands, that are going to be a lot more effective than the massive pack of disinfecting wipes I bought at Costco.
Many of the people I know aren’t freaking out like me. They aren’t stockpiling powdered milk (yes, I bought some yesterday) and they aren’t making contingency plans for a possible quarantine. I heard someone comment the other day that the virus is likely to only kill those who are quite old or immunocompromised.
That is true, of course. My family doesn’t fall into those categories, but there are lots of families who do. But I’ve lost someone who wasn’t “supposed” to die. I was in that very small percentage of women who lose their husbands at age 40. So, yes, I’m likely to be okay, and my children are likely to be okay. But that’s no guarantee. (To say nothing of my father, who is in great shape but is still 72.)
But the larger issue actually isn’t the small chance that one of us gets really sick. That’s not why I bought extra bags of rice and made sure we have plenty of cough medicine. The reason that I’m freaking out is because I’ve realized something very basic and primal: I’m the only one who can protect my family anymore.
My married female friends don’t share this with me. Sure, they may be the ones who are actually going to the grocery store, and yes, they may be the ones who have counted how many diapers are left. But in the back of their minds, they know that they have someone else to rely on. If shit hits the fan, they will have a partner to help protect their family.
And I will be doing it alone.
I want to be the person who is relaxed about the coronavirus. I want to laugh at the other people at CVS who are asking about bleach and medicines. I want to be cool as a cucumber when more cases pop up, knowing that the likelihood of death is actually very low.
But I am not. In just a week, I’ve gone from somewhat relaxed to really worried, and my basement shelves prove it. I have a box that I labeled “disaster” and filled with all sorts of supplies. I have more canned food than I’ve ever had even though my kids hate beans and canned vegetables. I keep reading about the coronavirus and listening to podcasts on how to prevent infection. The only reason I’m not stockpiling masks is because I know medical professionals like my sister – who is an ER nurse – need them more. But I have to physically stop myself from trying to get my hands on some.
I know it’s not healthy. I know I’m way more worried than any of my friends. I know I might end up with a bunch of food I have to donate to the food pantry in a year.
But I can’t help it. Like I said, it’s primal. Shawn is gone, and that means this:
I have to protect my family.