WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY — For the better part of two years, there have been countless seniors across this country who are still too afraid to leave the house for fear of catching COVID-19.
One of those people is my 90-year-old grandmother, who we affectionally call, “Nanny.”
Her real name is Laura and she lives just outside of New York City in a single-story home that she first bought more than three decades ago with her second husband and the man, who I always knew as my grandfather. But after he passed away, it was just Nanny, living alone in her house filled with art, family pictures and relics of the past.
At 91, Nanny has never minded the loneliness that often comes with living by yourself, until the pandemic hit.
"I use to keep my suitcase by the door and packed. I was always ready to go. But I don’t go anywhere anymore. I’ve slept in this house every night for two years. I miss people," Nanny lamented as we sat and talked on her front porch recently.
Like other grandparents her age, Nanny is vaccinated, but with the recent surge in COIVD cases, she doesn’t want to risk getting sick with the virus.
"How do you know with old people that we might have some underlying condition we aren’t even aware of? Is that what’s holding you back? I just don’t think we have all the answers yet," she explained.
We’ve checked in with Nanny a few times during the pandemic. She’s kind of like our barometer, a measurement tool we’ve come to use to see how seniors in this country are holding up.
Last January, things weren’t great. But by the summer, Nanny was vaccinated and even started feeling comfortable enough to let people back inside her house.
But here we sat at the start of 2022, back outside on Nanny’s porch on a cold January morning. With COVID cases on the rise, she has retreated into isolation.
"One day is just like another day. Sometimes when I wake up I think, ‘What’s today?’ I don’t know what day it is," she added.
Amid all the isolation, though, there are still plenty of bright spots. Once a week on Sundays, Nanny walks across the street to church and sits in the very back so no one is around her.
"I have the same seat, nobody sits there, there’s nobody around me," she said.
And in December of 2021, there was another good day. After a great deal of pleading from her family, we convinced Nanny to let us celebrate her 91st birthday indoors.
"I think about it all the time. It was so wonderful to be around all those people and talk to everyone," Nanny remarked.
For Nanny and so many other grandparents, though, there is the inevitable acceptance. At 91-years-old the pandemic will just be a piece of the rest of her life.
"I think it’s just always going to be here. And it’s, it’s upsetting because everybody’s lives are turned upside down," she added.
But while the days may run together a bit more than she’d like, Nanny is grateful that even on a cold January afternoon, she can still sit on her front porch and be hopeful about the future.
"I hope that it’ll get better and we can go back to the way it was."
Chris Conte is a National Correspondent for E.W. Scripps. He shares this story with his grandmother as part of a series of stories examining the question, 'How are you doing?' where we check in with people from different walks of life to see how they’re handling the pandemic.