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Dec. 6, 2021 | Monday
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Life in the pandemic: Death, disruption and maybe 'the best Christmas present ever'
Jason Bendig, with two of the seven greenery gnomes his father made. (Don Reynolds)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Life since COVID-19 has changed for all of us. We've experienced hardships, heartaches and challenges, but also new and sometimes unexpected reasons to be thankful. This new Lake Report series will share some of the stories of NOTL residents as we all reflect on our experience of life in a pandemic.

 

“It made my head spin,” recalls Jason Bendig, head of wardrobe for the Shaw Festival, recalling the moment in mid-March when everything changed.

One day, he was running the largest wardrobe team he’d had in four years, with 61 people working with purpose and intensity on costumes for "Gypsy," "Prince Caspian" and "Sherlock Holmes." Deadlines were looming since two more shows were about to move in. 

“We heard some whispers on that Monday, and by end of day Tuesday we were all at home,” he remembers. 

Not sure what to expect, Bendig packed two suitcases with his show binders, or bibles as they’re known, with all the plans and designs for the three shows they were building, so he could continue to work at home.  

As time passed, and the reality of the situation was emerging, so too did a demand for PPE, personal protective equipment.

“By early April, requests for PPE were coming in from every direction. We shifted gears, and with Shaw’s blessing, we moved to making two types of medical gowns.”

“My staff were superstars,” Bendig says. “We had two cutters and as many as 35 sewers working on the gowns. Some were going stir crazy and they were all happy to help.”

Bendig’s team made 1,500 gowns for health care workers, some of which went to the Niagara North Health Team. 

The focus then shifted to masks and the team made thousands and thousands of masks from mid-May into July.

Throughout all of this, on a personal front, Bendig was being “super diligent about not seeing people, I didn’t even have coffee at a distance. That’s not a luxury we had.”

He was taking extra care to protect his elderly parents, William and Yvonne Bendig, who had been living with him the past two and a half years. 

Bendig says his mothers’ health was declining and by July she was in hospital. COVID protocols made access very limited. 

“It was hard, only one person could visit at the time, so my father did most of the visiting, and I rotated with my brothers for some visits.” 

Bendig’s mother remained in the hospital into the fall and died in November.

It’s always hard to lose a loved one and COVID added an extra layer of challenge. But Bendig says the pandemic circumstances also “allowed me to be home and be available for my mom.”

“It was a weird, odd blessing to have had this time and the flexibility to be there for her.”

He and his father have busied themselves with projects around the house since her death. 

“Christmas will be small and quiet, but the house is looking very festive, decorating has been a distraction for us since my mom’s passing.”

The decor extends to the outside of their Virgil home as well. Bendig explains with evident pride in his voice, “My dad has made seven greenery gnomes. He’s very creative!”

Reflecting on life in this pandemic, Bendig says the hardest thing has been the isolation from other people.

He is optimistic about vaccines and says “the promise of normality coming is the best Christmas present ever. To be able to create again, to interact with people, and to have that sense of camaraderie, that’s the best.” 

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