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Gym owner: ‘How do you come back from grief?’

February 15, 2021

This community reporting project documents the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Jen Wilson, co-owner, True Grit Society gym

How do you come back from grief? I don’t think anyone has the answer to that. It gets a little easier every day, but at any given moment I could probably start crying.

I’ve read a lot of stories about other people who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus, and the main thing I hear is that there’s no ability to grieve fully. You don’t get to say goodbye, and you question what happened and how it happened. That’s a large part of what I’m struggling with. Maybe it’s a blessing and a curse not to see my mom in that state. I don’t know if I would have wanted … I would have at least liked to maybe see … I don’t know … this virus just takes people. 

I’ve been looking up passages in the Bible to see what heaven looks like. Because I want to know what she’s doing. Am I going to get to see her again? I’m trying to matter-of-factly come to terms with it in my head. I’ve been talking to a pastor, talking to a therapist, asking pretty crazy questions. … If I were a tree, this would be a marker on my stump. It’s a moment forever marked in my life. I feel like I’ll always feel it. 

I have a quick central nervous system response now. I have a friend in California who got COVID, and I was immediately mortified with fear that he or his wife might die. His wife was in the hospital with a little trouble breathing, but she did get better and they’re recovering at home. But because of the experience I had with my mom, I worried probably a great deal more than I should have. When I hear that anyone catches COVID now, I think: Is this going to be a death sentence?

As far as the gym goes, it’s tough. Numberswise, I can sum it up in a word: poopy. We’ve basically cut our number of members in half each time we closed and reopened. We had 60ish before, when we closed the second time we had 30, and now we have about 15. We’re still doing about 20 classes a week — it has to look interesting to anyone who might want to join — while pre-COVID we had about 65. But there aren’t a lot of new folks coming.

COVID cases are going down, deaths are going down, but there is still a lot of talk about strains being worse than before. Some of our people are medical professionals, and people who’ve been vaccinated are more interested in coming back, but we still don’t have the information about whether people who’ve been vaccinated still carry it but they’re not just getting sick — or if they’re not carrying it at all.

You cannot put your business first. You can’t be Minnesota Nice. COVID requires you have tough conversations right out of the gate. I don’t like any type of confrontation, little or big, but when people ask about a free month, I’ve had to call them and say, “Hey, you’ve signed up. Can you tell me what your intentions are with us? If you want to find a place maybe but you’re not really sure, we ask that you just give us some time.” I’ve had people say, “I was just looking for something to do, and I can wait.” I really appreciate that honesty! And I’ve had some people — well, one person — say, “I really want to come in and I can pay you now.” 

The Small Business Association released a second round of EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loans] in late December. We would be eligible for a $10,000 forgivable loan, except that when we applied for the first round at the very start of the pandemic, we didn’t check the box that said, “Do you want the money deposited directly into your account?” We didn’t do this because we weren’t sure if it was a forgivable loan. We lost out on $10,000 because we didn’t check the box at the start of the pandemic, and now the Small Business Association is telling me that there’s no way to change it even for the second round. So that’s cost us $20,000. 

At our daughter’s school, they have three kindergarten classrooms, and two of the classes went back to in-person learning and one stayed distance. Sachi has stayed remote and has a new teacher now. 

Frankly, it’s probably the best thing that’s happened so far. In her old class, there were 17 kids in the same class interrupting and nothing really got done. Her new teacher seems more focused and engaging, and Sachi’s amount of interaction has gone up 400%. In the new class, the teacher talks to everybody for the first 30 minutes, and then she works directly with groups of four to five children for periods of 45 minutes while the rest of the kids do on-their-own activities online. It’s good because we’re on for an hour and 15 minutes, and then we’re done.

Kids are having a hard time, so we’ve attempted to start having kids’ exercise classes at the gym once a week for ages 6-10. It hasn’t taken off yet. 

I have to clean up my pandemic crewcut. Marcus shaved it the first time last March, and I haven’t cut it for maybe six months. My hair is starting to grow back, and it’s getting gross and greasy looking. It’s looking kind of like a mullet. I want to cut it off, but Marcus is like, “Please can you try anything else.” I told him if he could give me some good ideas, I’d think about it.

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