I was raised deep in the South, and raised deep in the Church. I am a preacher’s kid, times two. Both my father and mother are ordained ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal (or, AME) Church. They currently pastor a church that until recently was in walking distance from the now widely-known Mother Emmanuel AME Church, where nine innocent parishioners were senselessly murdered while they gathered for Bible study in 2015.
My father has been pastoring mostly small, rural AME churches since I was fourteen, with my mother wearing many hats including that of Associate Minister and First Lady. My siblings and I served as the default congregation, choir members, church musicians, ushers, Sunday school attendees, Vacation Bible School teachers, after-church repast servers, and anything else our parents or church required of us, for many years.
My parents remain deeply involved in their church and community in Charleston, SC. I joke that while they are in their sixth and seventh decades of life, they stay much busier than I do, at half their age. My Dad still pastors, and with his congregation is in the process of building a new church. He meets with his parishioners several times per week for church services, Bible study, Sunday school, board meetings and the like. He goes to more AME church conferences “than you can shake a stick at”, as he would say, both locally and in cities scattered throughout the US. My mom is there too, preaching and teaching, communing with and loving on everyone in her arms’ reach. She is also a retired registered nurse, who volunteers regularly at a free medical clinic for patients without insurance, works long shifts as a Chaplain at the hospital tending to those in spiritual need, hosts Bible Study at their home weekly, and annually organizes a conference that gathers women from all around to fellowship, relax and share their faith. My description of their lives barely scratches the surface of how much my parents give to others and their community. They are real-life heroes in my book, and I’d count myself incredibly blessed to live a life half as full and meaningful as the ones they have built.
Late last night, with news of Coronavirus swirling about in the news, on social media, in the hospital where I work, and in the private online forums for physicians that I frequent, I began to think of my beloved parents. I know they are aware of this viral pandemic, but it occurred to me that they may not have received the most accurate information about how to stay safe, from the sometimes unreliable news outlets and misinformed lay. And with their big, generous hearts and enduring commitment to reaching out and helping everyone around them, they may not have fully considered that they must be a bit more careful. In my mind I saw my parents still doing what they love to do, gathering in large congregations for services and meetings, going to hospitals and clinics for visits and volunteering, passing out handshakes and hugs to everyone, as freely as they always have. I wanted them to be informed, and most importantly be safe. So late last night, instead of going to bed, I penned my concerns and advice to my Mom and Dad about remaining safe in the Coronavirus pandemic. I wrote and sent it because I love them.
I am sharing with you, what I shared with my parents. This information applies to anyone, but in particular to those who, like my parents, have lives that revolve around church and community, gathering with and serving others. It’s for those who may need a gentle reminder that while they are spry and lively, they are still, in fact over 65 and therefore especially vulnerable to this virus that has already claimed too many precious lives.
“Dear Mom and Dad,
I hope you are staying abreast of what’s going on with the Coronavirus. It is a serious pandemic, and is most severely affecting people over the age of 65. Please wash your hands with soap and water frequently, for a minimum of 20-30 seconds. Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. And please limit your contact with other people, especially large groups and those who may be sick. Please, do not go to hospitals and clinics, waiting rooms, conferences, non- essential church services or on unnecessary trips. Consider having your meetings over phone or video instead of in person. Avoid handshakes and kisses from other people. Try to keep plenty of soap, hand sanitizer and disinfecting products at home, to keep hands and frequently touched surfaces as clean as possible. Get extra supplies of your medications from the pharmacy too, or have them delivered by mail. If you feel sick for any reason, stay at home, except for medical appointments. See your doctor right away for fever, new or worsened cough or shortness of breath. Call your doctor’s office before going so they can be prepared and prevent the spread of possible infection to others. Cover sneezes with a tissue, then throw it away. Ask your doctor about having appointments via video when possible. And no cruises. I don’t intend to be dramatic or make you worried. But I love you and want my family to be safe. Love, Jeannie”
I will add to my letter this parting advice for my readers and parents alike: keep your faith in God and love for others. These are the best protection any of us can have.
Reference: All information and guidelines about COVID-19 are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for general prevention of COVID-19, and prevention of COVID-19 for ‘people at high risk for serious illness’ including older adults and people with chronic conditions. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/