We’re like, throw it at us, baby, COVID-19— what we’ve been through, this is nothing. We’ll get through this too.
– Joanne Clough

Joanne Clough, 63, tells her daughter Diane Roznowski, 24, about her experience as a grandfamily caregiver and how their family is getting through the COVID-19 pandemic. Joanne has cared for her granddaughter Carter since 2016, after her oldest daughter Emily died of an opioid overdose. We hear first from Diane.

Diane: So, what do you want people to know about what it’s like being in a grandfamily?

Joanne: First of all, I think for most people that end up in a grandfamily, it’s not anything they planned. Circumstances happen that you either step up to the plate and in my situation, raise Carter. It just changes everything. The one weird thing for me is I feel like I got my grandmother status stolen from me. She calls me mommy now, but I don’t get to be the grandparent that spoils her. I still spoil her, but I don’t get to give her back to anybody at the end of a long day. She loves me to death, she loves you to death, but it can’t be fun hanging out with a 63 year old, 24/7, seven days a week. So she needs that time to play with other kids, but she’s been pretty patient about it. She says she wants to go to the playground and we go, “You can’t right now.” She goes, “Because of the virus.” She used to come out every morning and go, “Is it still the virus, Mommy?” We go, “Yes, it’s still the virus.”

Diane: Do you think coronavirus has taught you anything about caregiving?

Joanne: The one thing that I always feel with my being a grandfamily is I don’t have backup. You’re in Silver Spring, Maryland, normally, except for the lockdown now. You were pretty much my only backup. Carter’s other family does see her occasionally, but not always when I would need the backup. So you’re pretty much in it on your own. And I don’t know how I would’ve done it if you had not come home.

I’m considered high risk for COVID. I had a heart attack when I was 58. I have really bad history with pneumonia. I get it really easily. So it also brings up the issue of, oh my God, what if something happened to me? You’re always worried if you die, who will take care of her? And I know the other family would probably try, but I don’t think it would be as good for her as the life that we’re providing her.

Diane: What do you think grandfamily caregivers need right now because of coronavirus?

Joanne: One of the things they need is respite. And it’s one of the hardest things to get because of social distancing. I literally have days when I say to Carter, “You can’t do that anymore and I know you’re only four and you’re gonna do it again anyhow, but I have had it. And it’s 10 o’clock in the morning. So not getting respite, I think is a really hard thing.

Diane: Has it told you that wow, self-care is something I really need to be doing.

Joanne: Well I don’t do self-care hardly ever at all. I mean it’s made me realize it’s important. And I think having you has helped with the self-care, too.

And I was fortunate enough to be active in a grandparent support group I helped start and we have not tried any virtual meetings. I really, really miss talking to those ladies because it was just a nice place to go. It’s like when I talk to my friends—I call it my dead mother’s club, but for other people that have lost children to opioid crisis. You can just sit with them, even if you don’t even talk about your kids, you know you’re with someone that 100% knows what your life is like now and the loss you’ve suffered. We’re like, throw it at us, baby, COVID-19—what we’ve been through, this is nothing. We’ll get through this too.

The audio-only story can be accessed here

This segment was produced by StoryCorps, a non-profit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. It was made possible with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and in partnership with Generations United. The participants are members of Generation United’s GRAND Voices Network. In summer 2020, StoryCorps recorded this conversation as part of a project that focused on helping us understand the unique impacts COVID-19 is having on various types of families, including grandfamilies.