Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
For a little more than a year now, Wendy DeLong has dealt with her husband’s death by doing what she knows: staying in motion.
Along with her grief came new tasks. Paperwork to file. Closets to clean that held his things.
But since the coronavirus hit DeLong’s Kirkland neighborhood — she lives a mile away from Life Care Center, the early U.S. epicenter of the crisis — she’s been forced to slow down on her to-do list.
“You just feel like a caged animal that is pacing back and forth,” she said.
At 68, she’s trying to protect her health by isolating at home. The daily activities that gave her purpose have been replaced with an intensified loneliness, she said.
But when DeLong’s phone rang a few weeks back, she was offered a new but brief assignment, a mission she bravely accepted.
A blue midsized SUV slows to a stop in the back of a Kirkland parking lot. The passenger window rolls down, and two women look around.
“Do you need food?” a staff member asks them.
“Yes,” the women, DeLong and Pamela Lehde, answer, in unison.
Before the coronavirus closed DeLong’s church, she played a postlude on the organ every Sunday at the conclusion of the service. Like a period at the end of a sentence, the song, for many parishioners, signaled the end — the cue to leave.
But not Lehde. She stayed in her seat every week to hear DeLong’s song.
And now, DeLong, organist at Northlake Lutheran Church, plays chauffeur, driving her friend and faithful listener, to the food bank.
After the outbreak set in, DeLong told Lehde to call if she needed anything. They could no longer gather together on Sunday, but they could still look out for one another.
She knew that picking up Lehde would possibly mean exposing herself to something dangerous. Since the beginning of March, before Lehde’s call, DeLong had left her house only once to go buy groceries.
The hidden threats of this errand did cross her mind, DeLong said. But some things are more important.
Lehde’s usual food bank, a mobile unit that used to park a block from her house in Kenmore, paused its operation after Gov. Jay Inslee’s extensive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. And without a car, it’s becoming harder for Lehde to access food.
“People like her can get lost in the shuffle if somebody isn’t checking up on them and making sure they have access to basic needs,” DeLong said.
On the morning of March 19, the two women, both in high-risk health categories, lined up at Hopelink’s Kirkland food bank, awaiting Lehde’s turn. Just weeks earlier, they would have been able to walk freely into the building that resembles a grocery store.
Now, for safety precautions, Lehde’s handed a pre-filled box — salmon, beans and canned vegetables — at the door.
“You don’t have any loaf of bread, do you?” she asks when it’s her turn.
DeLong steps in to help Lehde carry the goods: a jug of orange juice, frozen peaches, some produce. No bread.
“When there’s something that needs to be done, I will do it,” DeLong said. “And I’ll deal with the aftermath later.”
DeLong, edging closer to 70, has taken the governor’s warnings seriously. She’s stopped going to see her three grandkids. Since she lost her husband, she’s been at home, waiting out this invisible storm. Like many Americans, she’s alone.
But on this day — the first day of spring — she eases into her car and sits closer than the prescribed 6 feet away to the friend who likes to listen to the organist play, and drives away.
A trunk full of groceries. An errand of love.