Embracing Our Lloyd Dobbler Moment

A few months ago I wrote about the experience of losing my grandfather and the struggle all of us have connecting to loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. For nearly a year now, we have been pulled out of our social comfort zones, videoconferencing, virtual holiday planning, and organizing drive-by birthday parties. The few of us blessed with eternal optimism rightly point out our efforts are the ultimate show of devotion to one another, a moment in time that will not be forgotten.

I count myself as one of those optimists but even I have to admit that in the moment, the experience of connecting from a distance hasn’t felt so great. As we have slowly come to the realization life would not just magically go back to normal, the thought of another Zoom happy hour makes me want to curl up and take a nap. For all the time we have spent restructuring our lives to accommodate social distancing, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed and disappointed by the solutions we have come up with. For all the technology available to us, our attempts seem lame and our words inadequate.

Will we ever be able to meet this moment?

We have all been tasked to innovate our way out of various COVID-19 challenges, but the emotional burden of isolation is a funny thing. My own creativity hasn’t responded like I had hoped. In the time it took Taylor Swift to go into the woods and make 34 albums, I unsuccessfully marinated Starburst in vodka and learned the Spanish word for “bean”.

Unfortunately, the Coronavirus doesn’t seem to care if stay-at-home orders render me incapable of doing much more than cruising online for the perfect sweatpant. At some point, we have found ourselves in situations where action, no matter how stupid or poorly planned, is the only option. This is particularly true when a loved one is in need, and desperately needs a hug.

That moment came for me one week after my maternal grandfather passed away. I received a call my grandmother on my father’s side had contracted COVID-19. While she was incredibly fortunate to survive hospitalization, her strength never recovered. She was immediately transferred to a nursing home, barely able to speak, and isolated from family and friends. It all happened so fast there was no point sitting her down and explaining everything that had changed in her life. Just figuring out a way to connect to her and tell her we loved her was our only goal.

My twice-widowed grandmother, Betty, was as independent as they come and a constant presence in my life. She was a surrogate mother, a confidant, and my biggest cheerleader. I mean that quite literally. She would don a backwards baseball cap and heckle my opponents at tennis tournaments well into her eighties. She was sharp as a tack and never held back an opinion, whether you wanted to hear it or not (much to the dismay of my tennis opponents).

She also loved furiously. I’m not sure if it was because I was blessed with a free granddaughter pass, or simply because we were so much alike, but I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of her love. She was always in my corner, wearing her rally cap and holding an infallible belief I could do anything I put my mind to. Coming full circle and returning that kind of favor would be difficult in the best of times, but the moment was here, whether I liked it or not.

Family members tried desperately to pitch in from afar, texting ideas of things that might ease her distress. I brought her blankets, pajamas, coloring books, anything I could think of to give her some comfort. She was too weak to get out of bed, so I joined the other nursing home visitors stalking outside the building, hoping for a few precious moments together. We all stood in the muddy courtyard, armed with phones, signs, balloons and anything else we could think of to share a word of encouragement and a smile. My uncle reminded me her favorite song was Moon River by Andy Williams so I decided to load up the song on a portable speaker and played it just outside her window.

“Moon River. Wider than a mile. I’m crossing you in style someday….”

I imagine my grandmother listening to that song in her younger years, channeling her inner Holly Golightly and looking forward to life’s great adventures. She was a respectable Southern woman to her core who didn’t necessarily aspire to have Breakfast at Tiffanys, but she certainly wouldn’t refuse an invitation. I couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed thinking about her as Audrey Hepburn while I’m holding up my portable speaker in my cleanest sweatpants and beige duster a la John Cusak in the 80’s teen romance Say Anything.

For those who have yet to see Say Anything (first of all, how dare you?) the scene I’m referring to is when a charismatic slacker named Lloyd Dobbler, played by John Cusak, stands outside his ex-girlfriend’s house and serenades her with his giant boombox in a last ditch effort to woo her back. The moment only lasts a few seconds which, let’s face it, was a smart directorial decision. I had the attention span of a fruitfly at 17 and what do you do when the song ends? Stop and rewind the cassette tape? Keep going and pray the next track doesn’t completely kill the mood? Not surprisingly, none of this awkwardness plays out. The gesture works and Lloyd and his girlfriend live happily ever after in 80’s teen movie bliss.

I didn’t have the same luck.

I can’t say if it was due to her lack of hearing aids, confusion from the medication, or just exhaustion from life in general, but my version of Say Anything didn’t produce the smile I was hoping for. Quite the opposite in fact. Just a few seconds into the first verse, Betty turned her head away, pursed her lips together and shed a little tear. I stood there in my duster and played Moon River in its entirety, but she never looked my way. I couldn’t bring myself to try again. I knew my Lloyd Dobbler moment was not enough.

I went several more times to her window, but was always disappointed by the experience. There was no song, sign, or memento that seemed to make things any better. There was nothing else I could do but keep showing up, but even that effort fell short. I was scheduled to work in Southern Europe for 9 months and knew my hapless window visits were over. There was a part of me that thought maybe, just MAYBE I would be able to come back and redeem myself. Not at all to my surprise, she died before I got the chance.

When I received the call she had passed, all I could think to do was sit on my balcony in Spain and listen to Moon River. My cheerleader was gone and the water was too wide to cross and say goodbye. My brain was in a fog so I walked to the beach with my portable speaker to serenade my grandmother one last time from the shores of the Mediterranean. I pointed my speaker to the sky, Lloyd Dobbler style, cranked up Moon River, and prayed there was a Costco in heaven with proper hearing aids.

I have wondered a lot about how we will remember our time during this pandemic. Will our stories of perseverance triumph over the sadness? Will we simply look back with pride that we “survived” the Coronavirus? Our job was to sit on our couch and avoid going out in public. For most people that’s an ideal Saturday. I can’t help but feel a little regret that I could not do more for the ones I love, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I admit reenacting a scene from an 80's movie does not replace holding someone’s hand, but how will we get off the couch and find our way without a few failed Lloyd Dobbler moments?

These failures are still a common occurrence in my life, but I’m slogging through them like everyone else. I stopped marinating candy in vodka, but no Zoom call seems complete without an hour-long break and two more cups of coffee..and then maybe a glass of wine…then back to coffee. There’s only so much motivation I can muster. Not every day is lost and I still sit on my balcony and listen to Moon River from time to time. Its final verse in particular helps remind me I am not the only one on this journey.

We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waiting round the bend, my huckleberry friend, Moon River and me.

There is a part of me that is comforted by the thought we are all looking forward to new adventures together, waiting for a happy ending that doesn’t involve masks and a 6ft measuring stick. Who knows how long it will take to achieve a satisfying conclusion to this pandemic? There may never actually be one, and I may still be wearing my duster and carrying around my portable speaker well into 2021. All I know for sure is there will always be someone out there who needs a hug, and there is one very special lady in heaven, wearing her rally cap, telling me to try.

Writer, Marketing Consultant, and Professional Bohemian. It’s like being a regular bohemian, but with business casual clothing and a nicer laptop.

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