“But how long did you wear a mask?”
Someone asked me that simple question recently. It was like they were hoping I’d justify not wearing one or perhaps wearing one, but the truth is it was the wrong question. I had hopped in on a social media post questioning when people would stop wearing masks. This person and I shared some mutual friends, so I thought my experience with my son’s life threatening disease might offer a different perspective and shared my thoughts.
At first the engagement was polite and appeared genuine until I noticed a pattern, “but when did you stop wearing a mask?” was all the person cared about. It was like they fixated on some intangible deadlines. It’s what we focus on in our current society, but six years later it’s still the wrong question.
Here are few that would have been more compassionate.
How is your son today?
From my perspective, that’s the most important one, and miraculously he’s in full remission. Six years ago he was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease. He wasn’t just immune compromised, he had no immune system. He produced no blood cells. He should be dead, and believe it or not, when he was sick, masks were not really a thing for our family that we questioned. We were drowning in a series of unfortunate events from hospital visits, blood transfusions, bone marrow biopsies, and he wore a mask at all of them. The mask was better than no mask and it told other people he was sick. He didn’t look sick. He looked like an 11 year old boy.
How did you feel wearing a mask?
I felt thankful. I wore a mask whenever I felt I could put my son at risk. I knew they weren’t perfect, but if I wasn’t feeling well, I would wear one. I decided early on that I would keep him safe even when I felt isolated and alone. Three years of social distancing changed our lives completely.
Small gatherings with family replaced birthday parties. Church was out. Kids under three were out. Our dog couldn’t live with us. I lost time with my grandmother when she was dying. She discovered she had terminal cancer while my son was waiting to see if his treatment would work. I don’t regret ever wearing a mask during those years.
How did you feel when others saw his sickness as inconvenient?
I lost peace of mind that people only cared up to their own inconvenience. People didn’t like the confusion of our social distancing. There were a lot of times we didn’t have a clear protocol for wearing it. We kept hand sanitizer outside our door. I didn’t care if I had to wear a stupid mask for the rest of my life if it meant I got one more day with him.
My child’s health was never an inconvenience to me. It was inconvenient to others though when we had to say no to parties and sleepovers. When we could only have one or two people around him at a time. There is nothing convenient about childhood illness. I didn’t consider parenthood an inconvenience. It has always been a blessing.
How does your son feel about masks?
”I have gotten used to the fact that I can’t count on people wanting to put what’s safe for me above their own discomfort.”
I think his poignancy is a direct hit about the absurd questions about how long we wore a mask. I will wear a mask until I know it no longer threatens the health of another. I get it there are people who are willing to take that risk, and that’s great, but I lived too long in our own journey with a life threatening illness to be irresponsible around others. It’s not because the government mandates it. It’s because it’s one thing I can do to be kind. How can I show compassion?
Take time to learn before you judge. Take time to see the humanity of the trauma families are facing right now. Parents are separated from children. People are seeing their loved ones pass away over an iPad. Kids are crying themselves to sleep over not seeing their friends. They're stressed with new school expectations and social confusion. Mask or not, being a face of hope can’t be hidden if it’s offering others some hope to rise again.