The sound of heavy winds wake you up around dawn that first morning after, cozy in your warm bed, the feel of soft blankets cocooning your body. For a split second you forget and you feel good. Then the memories smack you in the face. The blankets feel scratchy and heavy, your legs feel antsy, memories are suffocating your mind, the dark house doesn’t seem as forbidding as staying in bed alone with your thoughts. Your thoughts feel like a festering pustule.
Bleary eyed, you try to unlock your phone to turn off your alarm for later, you won’t need it, grief woke you. You stand up and wrap your robe, one side, the second side, take in a deep breath, at least you get to still do that, then you loosely tie it with the belt, standing in your dark room, that brutal recollection of reality feels raw.
You greet your dog in the kitchen, his tail wagging wildly, he’s so happy to see you. He’s oblivious, oh, how you wish you were him. What a gift it would be to be that oblivious to yesterday’s tragedy. You stand in front of your coffee maker, the smell of beans doing nothing to wake up your exhausted soul. The dog rests at your feet. He’s been following you around more so than usual. Maybe he’s not that oblivious. Maybe he’s your caregiver right now. After all, your motto is that all dogs are emotional support dogs. As you watch your breath create ripples cooling your coffee, you hear your wind chimes dancing in the heavy winter winds, and try to find the childlike wonder of believing maybe that’s her.
With the sips of coffee passing your lips, cynical jaded you is stirred. That wind? It’s just the coming snowstorm. Grandma is dead. She died yesterday. From COVID-19. She isolated in her assisted living facility for eight months. Somehow, COVID snuck beyond all the facility precautions and killed her. You don’t know how, but you wish you did. Your racing thoughts take over, maybe a nurse went to a gathering, maybe a vendor doesn’t believe in mask wearing outside of work, maybe a staff member was exhausted of not seeing family and thought “just this once, it will be fine.” Except it wasn’t and someone died. That someone belonged to you.
I lost my grandma to COVID this November. November 29th to be exact. The first morning after losing someone you love to COVID moves in slow motion. You’ve been inducted into a club that not everyone is a part of. A club you categorically do not want to be a member of, nor did you have a choice on your induction. It just happens to you, without control or a normal grieving process. You’re just collateral damage in this apocalyptic nightmare. Except, this time you can’t wake from it, no matter how hard you pinch yourself. And it’s soul crushing.
Later that day, you see the numbers on the TV. The right side bars on cable news that show astronomical numbers. Today, your loved one is one of the numbers. Everyone else just sees numbers, numb to the lives behind those digits, statistics, and graphs. It’s easy to dismiss them all. It’s not you, after all, right? It’s not your loved one, after all, right? They’re just numbers, after all, right? It’s just a side bar, after all, right? Who even pays attention to the side bar?
Except every single number that has been plastered on news side bars for nine months are actual human beings. People with names and lives and memories and loved ones and misgivings and arguments and joy and sorrow and demons and goodness. They’re not just numbers. They were tangible. They were real. They lived and breathed in the same air as the rest of us. Until they couldn’t anymore, COVID ravaging their lungs. Their lives have been destroyed, cut short, their families left in agonizing pain. They’re people who died with a stranger holding their hands instead of the people who love and support them. Their families sobbing over shaky group FaceTime calls, shouting goodbye to a sedated family member while a nurse in full PPE holds the phone until you’re all ready to hang up. And none of you are really ready to hang up. But there is an awkwardness after a while. What more is there to say? What more is there to do? Can we really ask a nurse to hold up a phone for hours at a time? No, at least we couldn’t. Is it awful if you end it too soon? What would be too soon? What do other families do, how long do they stay on? There are no FaceTime goodbye guidelines on the CDC website. We’re just left here, in the rubble to process this alone.
In the years before this pandemic, I’d been in the hospice rooms of two of my other grandparents. It was tough then, losing someone slowly, watching the light fade from their faces, the death rattle that fills the room. None of it is never easy. But this is different. The grief of not being able to be in the room is immense. To not touch their hand, or stroke their hair. To whisper goodbyes. To sit with them until they peacefully pass on, and while it hurts you, deep down, you know they weren’t without their loved ones around them. But those moments of peace and grief and closure have been violently ripped away from nearly 270k families. Patients left to die alone or with a stranger in the room, instead of the people who fill the lifetime of memories they created. It’s all so lonely.
This is not my come to Jesus moment. I’ve been vigilant with social distancing, isolating, and mask wearing since April. I have done everything right. I’ve made sure my husband and kids have done everything right. I won’t waiver. I will remain vigilant. But I’m asking for this to be your come to Jesus moment if you’re not already doing these things. You do not want to be a part of this club my family is a part of. No one does. And you don’t want to be the one that dies, inducting your loved ones into this club. Maybe if we showed recordings of people sobbing over these group FaceTime calls while their loved one lays unconscious and alone, people would understand the toll. I was of sound enough mind to snap that screenshot, but I’m kicking myself for not doing a screen recording. Maybe instead of fining people that won’t wear masks, they should be assigned a sort of community service by being made to watch thirty minutes of families who’ve gone through this kind of unimaginable goodbye.
I bet a lot of minds would be changed.
It didn’t have to be this way. But, we’ve failed at this group project, America, we have utterly and miserably failed. Those of us that have been vigilant with following guidelines cannot carry the nation on our shoulders alone. We’ve really tried, and it’s clear, we need the rest of you to get with it. Suck it up, wear a mask, hunker down, or too many of us won’t be here for more celebrations. My grandma was 78. She had a lot more time left…if only. It’s a domino effect. Someone killed her. Someone made a choice to skirt a COVID rule, and somehow, that decision trickled across days or weeks and made its way back to her and zeroed in and murdered her slowly over a week. It took one short, yet agonizingly long, week.
And now we are here, alone, without her bright smile and laughter and her love of her family. This Christmas she won’t be with us. She’ll never see another Christmas again.
Her great-grandchildren will never know her embrace again.