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COVID is a beast, but it helped to heal my family

COVID is a beast, but it helped to heal my family

How love and community can overcome a crisis.

"My mother-in-law and I had a tricky, sometimes rough start to our relationship. Post-COVID, I have nothing but love for her."

How love and community can overcome a crisis

Having COVID-19 was one of the best things that could have happened to my relationships.

My sister, who was born five years after me, was the archetypal annoying little sister. The one who upended my only-child world.

I suppose me repeatedly telling her that she was swapped at birth and that our mom brought the wrong baby home didn’t help our relationship either.

The trauma of losing our mom when we were 9 and 4 meant a détente of sorts for at least a decade.

But then came our 20s and 30s. Our relationship was volatile, to put it mildly.

I became the archetypal older sister, judgmental and full of it, faulting her on everything she did.

By the time we reached the ages of 45 and 40, we were friendly, but cautious. Not angry at each other, just shallow in our contact.

On 7 April this year, my husband started showing flu-like symptoms. Four days later, his COVID test came back positive.

We were numb with disbelief. Both of us live with severe co-morbidities. The bogeyman we’d been terrified of had finally come for us.

Elton was put on antibiotics. We braced for impact, as his lungs are already compromised because of pulmonary arterial hypertension.

I started showing symptoms a day after his positive result. We fell like rotten trees in a Black South Easter storm.

It felt I was in a battle for my life. COVID is a brutal and terrifying beast.

I could feel every laboured breath, every bit of fluid pooling in my lungs, forming the dangerous gunk that made it hard for oxygen to reach my blood.

I don’t think enough is said about the debilitating fear and anxiety that comes with having severe COVID.

You know the odds are not in your favour. You are scarily aware of your mortality while your body puts up the fight of its life.

You are tired and weak, but you have to tell your mind to tell your body to keep fighting.

You cannot allow yourself to fall for the promise of “everything will be better if a machine can breathe for me, and I can have pain medication on a drip”. No matter how tempting it is.

I was sleeping for 22 hours a day and had to be forced to eat.

At my worst, I lived on two tablespoons of porridge a day, just so I could have something in my tummy before taking my meds.

Once I was able to walk and breathe without collapsing in a coughing fit, I had time to think about family and the people who showed up for me.

My sister and I went from a few-times-a-month WhatsApp check-ins on our nephews to hourly, then daily video call check-ins.

She became my best friend. I didn’t think I would ever see her as that.

Now we check in via video calls every night. Something I never knew I needed from my sister.

My COVID experience left me shaken. It awakened me to how much I need to be connected to my people.

People who are real, people who see me and value me.

Having COVID made me realise that most of the people I’ve been investing my time and energy in, were takers rather than givers.

Our wonderful neighbours were like family before our COVID experience. After COVID, they are family.

These women became our mothers, grannies, and nurses. They became a lifeline for us.

They fed us, shopped for us, checked our stats via WhatsApp, and they made us feel held in the comfort of their love.

It was an eye-opener to see who stepped up and took care of us, who checked in on us, and who never let us go.

My mother-in-law took charge. Instead of asking, would you like soup, she would say, I’m making soup, should I liquidise yours, or can you chew yet?

My mother-in-law and I had a tricky, sometimes rough start to our relationship. Post-COVID, I have nothing but love for her.

She drove 40 minutes in both directions to take care of us.

I could feel her prayers for us. I could feel every prayer being said for me and on my behalf as I battled.

My two friends who live in adjoining suburbs also did daily check-ins and brought us nutrient-dense dishes and medications.

I thank them for making me feel valued, cherished, and held.

All that’s left to say is that I’m in awe of my body and the extraordinary fight it put up. And I love the new and deeper connections I have made through my battle.

Rochelle Barrish

Change expert, Rochelle Barrish, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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