COVID Lockdowns: A Tale of Two Eighties

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”― Charles Dickens

I was recently talking to two of my wealth management clients. They are a married couple in their eighties who retired a number of years ago after selling their successful business. They are healthy, active and really rather remarkable. Impressed by their acuity and joyfulness, I asked them how they managed to stay so seemingly young and engaged, particularly during this crazy year of the pandemic and COVID lockdowns.

The husband replied, “Well, Joe, we get up every morning as if we are going to work. I dress up like I have a job to go to. And before I go to bed each night, I set at least one goal for the following day.” The wife shared too, “While it might seem like a minor detail, I make sure to put on my makeup every single morning, even if it is just to go for a walk in the park.”

I wondered at that moment if the secret to youth could really be that simple. Whatever this couple is doing is certainly working, as their health and happiness throughout COVID lockdowns is arguably better than most twenty-year-olds.

On the other hand, my own octogenarian mother has not weathered the last several months nearly as well. Up until March 2020, my go-getter mom remained very busy and involved. While we lost my Dad 23 years ago, Mom regularly engaged in all kinds of social activities at the YMCA, went out to dinner with her friends, and frequently welcomed family into her home. By all accounts, she was happy, thriving and still sharp as a tack.

But then the pandemic hit and COVID lockdowns pretty much barred every single social interaction my once-active mother enjoyed prior to getting her schedule pulled out from under her. During our calls throughout the last several months, I noticed not just an obvious sadness and loneliness in her voice, but also something much more alarming. My mom’s mental capacity was plummeting and, even perhaps more heartbreaking, there was very little my family and I could do about it. It is clear. My mom for the first time is suffering from dementia.

As I hung up after our most recent phone conversation, my eyes welled as I tried to make sense of the rapid decline of such an amazing woman. I was faced with the knowledge that the pandemic specter was collecting more souls than can be logged on a chart. It was stealing my mother.

Then the 80-year-old vibrant couple came to mind.

I had an epiphany at that moment. And while you might say others have had it before me, I was nevertheless struck by its poignancy. My mom and the elderly couple had each been living vital, active and fulfilling lives prior to the world shutting down. While the couple continue to have goals and the true luxury of social interaction, my mom has been essentially left to sit alone devoid of any meaningful purpose. And it is that purpose – or lack of thereof – that is so often the deal breaker for mental health and prosperity.

No matter the external forces, political climate or lockdown protocol, it is essential to set goals to engage and move forward. You must plan for purpose. It seems so simple, yet for so many right now, it is so elusive. My mom never approached life or her days with any defined set of personal goals, but it seems that even modest goal setting just might be one key to a healthy, happy and long existence.

So my wish for my mother – and perhaps for all humankind – is that soon the world will burst back open and this incredible woman will once again have the opportunity to engage her soul, entertain her spirit and truly enjoy her life.

By Joseph Altic, CFP®, MBA, is the President and Managing Partner at PWM.