The virus finally came to my family after fourteen months of our pandemic living. All the social distancing, mask wearing, hand sanitizing, avoidance of gatherings, all of it, turned out to have no power to protect and keep us all safe until this plague comes to its inevitable end.
The dreaded virus, whose scientific name I refuse to write down here, fooling myself that I can give it less power by not naming it, took away one of my family members, only after a few weeks of ICU and all the attempts of hospital staff to save his life.
The cruelest part of this pandemic is not only the lives it has, and continues to take, but it’s also how it’s taken away our human social life: it’s destroyed all our rituals around grief and our ability to come together as family and friends to be with each other at the most vulnerable time of loss.
We said our goodbyes on Zoom; we visited the funeral home in carefully selected small numbers, unable to offer an embrace to our dear cousin who lost her husband, as she and her son sat roped-off, and we, her cousins and friends, could only gesture our grief from afar; we watched the funeral Mass on live stream and couldn’t be there for the interment. We live in the same city but we might as well have been living across an ocean.
All of this is a sadness that will forever have changed us.
We all die. This I do accept and am at peace with. It’s our human condition: we are born and we eventually die.
But dying because of this virus, or even just dying during this time, is a wretched thing because we have also had our collective humanity taken away. We must grieve alone. Grief is ultimately a private experience and we can’t take away the pain of loss felt by those who grieve, but our normal attempts to offer comfort and support to the bereaved have also been taken away and we grieve in ways that don’t offer healing to the wounded heart.
I know that we must not give in to despair and remain forever devastated by grief and loss. After a time of feeling that your world has ended and changed forever, human experience shows us that we do go on, that we rebuild a life for ourselves without our loved one, but right now it’s a time of grief for my family, and we need to be with our loss.
There’s an absence now of someone loved, whose time perhaps came at the wrong time, and whose smile we won’t see again except in memory.
I hope this pandemic ends soon but the damage it has done will always stay with us, with all of us around the world who, in one way or another, are touched by it.