Close to home

On Friday, the first person from my county died from coronavirus. He was also the first person from my relatively small, insular town. He was 47, with three kids that used to go to the school my three kids go to. I didn’t know him, mostly because his kids are a decade and a half older than mine, and my social circle revolves around them.

This virus is terrible and it is scary. But until now, it has felt sort of abstract. Until now. Two weeks ago, this guy was posting memes about toilet paper, about crisis homeschooling. Two weeks ago, he was holed up in his home, his home that is only a few minutes from mine, getting groceries where I get groceries and staying six feet away from the people I’ve been staying six feet away from. Ordering takeout from the local restaurants, the same ones I’ve been ordering takeout from. Leaving mail in the mailbox for the same carrier I get mail from.

This isn’t a Covid-19 blog although, truthfully, every blog is a Covid-19 blog now, right? It’s a personal finance blog, and so that’s the focus here.

Last night, just before my husband and I both went to bed to stare all night at the ceiling that was so very close to the ceiling that that guy had stared at before he felt sick, we took stock of our efforts to keep ourselves safe. I let my kids play with the neighbor’s rabbit last week. We went to Lowe’s to exchange our lawn mower. The takeout. Packages coming in and out. My husband has been going to work about once a week, and, most damningly, my MIL continues to work at a restaurant washing dishes, many times a week, many hours at a time. Up to her elbows in soap, sure, but by far this is the weakest link in our social isolation.

She didn’t want to quit. “I’m not afraid of the virus,” she said. But the truth is, I am. And my husband is. And if anybody is in danger here, it’s her – how can we justify continuing to send a 60-year-old woman with hypertension out into public? For something like $400 a month?

Her husband, in the motherland, is out of work. My mother-in-law’s salary is the only thing supporting her husband and her mother, who is in poor health. There are no stimulus checks or unemployment for them. That $400 isn’t so much money for us, but it’s not something she can afford to give up.

So we’re asking her to quit, and we are going to replace her income. I don’t know if there will be a job for her when this all wraps up, or if the restaurant will remain open. I don’t know if we are taking this on ourselves forever.

I was hoping to use the stimulus money to set up a real emergency fund, but alas. There are lots of families facing far worse losses of income, and at least we will (eventually?) have money from the government to help us through. I had been fooling myself into believing that since we were salaried, we wouldn’t face an economic hit (for now). And compared to a lot of people, this hit is minor…but so much for being in a position where we can stimulate the economy, help our friends and neighbors, order takeout. Let’s just hope all of this is short-lived.


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