I have been wanting to write for weeks, but I have been wordless. Literally wordless. Waking each morning, making my way through the days falling asleep at night, and not feeling like any of it really happened the next morning when I arise and do it all over again. I feel like I am living in a dream where what is happening or the lack of what is happening is just, surreal.
So we are in the midst of a pandemic. Corona virus causes the respiratory infection Covid 19 and to date there have been 2.5 million cases worldwide and 174,000 deaths. In the United States we have had 810,000 cases and 44,000 deaths. My kids and husband have been off of school since March 13th. It’s officially been 5 weeks in quarantine. We have not gone anywhere except to do curbside pickup of groceries. We are obeying all the “social distancing” rules, which is really physically distancing and not seeing our family or friends and it’s starting to take its toll.
I am working from home and like many others out there, this has been an adjustment. I have had to learn new technology and adapt to not seeing my patients in person and most importantly not giving hugs which is really important to me. I feel very connected to everyone still but there is a difference in seeing people in person. I’ve always known that I am a very “touchy feely” kind of person but this has reaffirmed for me how important human contact really is.
As the days have gone by I have longed to feel something that would move me to write. And then it happened. I was listening to NPR, it was an interview with a long time first responder EMT. He was talking about a recent experience he had with a husband whose wife had died at their home from Covid. Both husband and wife worked in health care and the wife became ill. The husband tried to call into work to stay home with her and care for her but his job said that they were short staffed and needed him to come in. He went to work. He came home the next morning to find his wife dead in their home. His wife died alone. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. The EMT was very emotional as he described how painful it was for him to be present with this man but couldn’t offer comfort in the way of a hand on the shoulder or arm, a hug, he had to stay 6 feet away from the husband as they considered him to also be positive for Covid and needed to protect themselves as well.
These are unprecedented times.
The next morning I awoke and turned on my phone and the first thing I read was a story about a woman whose husband died from Covid and the funeral was a disaster because they could only invite 10 people. Many family members were angry that they had not be chosen as part of the 10. She was unable to receive “in person” condolences of people who knew and loved her husband. There was no shared sense of grief. The community aspect of grief was gone, she felt completely alone.
Since I was on a roll I decided to keep reading more articles and the next I read was about a local man who died from Covid alone in the hospital. The daughter spoke to a local news station and was very upset about her dad being alone, how unfair it was for him to be by himself when he took his last breath. Sadly all of the people who are dying in the hospital are dying alone since there are no visitors allowed right now.
When this initially began I think I was in shock about all of this happening and I couldn’t feel anything because it was all too much, but something about the combination of hearing these three stories in one day flipped a switch for me.
I had a panic attack that day. It was an existential crisis kind of moment. The same kind of moment when I learned I had a brain tumor.
Facing your own mortality is something I am accustomed to (based on the work that I do) but some days it just hits me harder than others. There was something about the aloneness piece that I kept coming back to.
What was that?
And then like the skies parting on a cloudy day and the sun shining through, I knew.
When I was about 25 my grandmother died. I drove with my parents to Florida to attend the services for her. We have a very small family. My dad has one brother. That brother has three children. My uncles wife and children did not come to the funeral. So there was me, my brother and my parents, my grandfather and my uncle. One “friend” of my grandfathers showed up and when they arrived they whispered in my ear that they were only there to support me, not my grandfather (he had made some questionable choices at the end of my grandmothers life). I had always made an effort to visit these friends when I would go visit my grandparents, I still send Christmas cards even though I haven’t seen them in almost 20 years. Anyway, the entire event was tragic. Tragically sad that someone died and so few people cared.
The next day my mom and I were swimming in the ocean and I remember being very quiet, pondering the event from the day before. I finally decided to speak and said “Mom, I think that was the most depressing thing I have ever witnessed. It feels like no one cares that she died, her daughter in law and grandchildren didn’t even come. She had no friends, no coworkers, no connections to anyone. I don’t ever want that to be me”. My mom and I talked at length about the decisions we make in our lives having lasting implications.
This was a pivotal moment in my life. It quite literally changed the way in which I saw myself and how I showed up in the world. I can admit that I became a bit sidetracked with thinking about how many people would show up if I died, would people have nice things to say, would I die with a list of regrets, how could I ensure that I would be remembered fondly?
When I became a counselor a decade later I realized that some of this was ego driven. The need to be liked, the desire to be missed. Really it was so much more than that though. At my core what I really want is to live a life that matters to others, to make a difference in peoples lives. I want people to feel that they are better for knowing me and that I was part of their growth. I want to be present for others with no pretenses, I just want to be someone who will walk through hard shit with you.
I think what really triggered me the other day listening to these stories of people who have died from Covid is that they very may well have lived lives that mattered, but still they died alone, and their families are forced to grieve alone.
It is a sad time in our country, and there is a heaviness of grief everywhere. Life is different, things have changed and may never be the same. Families and friends are missing one another. People are missing community interaction.
This isn’t to say that there have not been silver linings in all of this, there certainly are and I will save that for another post! Our animals, they are winning. Our dog and cat have never gotten this much attention or exercise!
In brain tumor news I am supposed to be having another MRI in 2 weeks. I haven’t called to schedule it because I cannot imagine how they can sterilize the insides of the machines as well as the air in the room. I can’t wear a mask because they have tiny pieces of metal in them. The doctor at Johns Hopkins thinks it’s fine to wait a bit but the question is how long? How long will Covid go on? I suppose I will start to have symptoms if the tumor is growing but then am I putting myself at risk for other issues? Like many things in life sometimes there are not clear answers and we have to just do the best with the information we have and hope it’s good enough.
Until I find more words or have more news…