When my mother passed away, I was sleeping in the same room. We had taken her home from hospice, and her hospital bed was in the bedroom she had shared with my father for decades.
The night that she died, I was able to sit with her and hold her hand and monitor her breathing, laborious and pained, as she moved from one life to the next. I sang “You are are my sunshine” into her ears, not knowing if she heard me, but hoping that there was some recognition of that song, the one that her father used to sing to her as a child. She died in the early hours of an August morning, before sunrise. To have been with her, along with my siblings, was a gift and a grace.
I thought of my mother’s passing when I heard of the family in Washington state who lost their own mother to coronavirus. Six children, all under the age of 25, were deprived of those last moments of connection and farewell because of the highly communicable infection that has shut down our cities and made us prisoners in our homes. Six children were forced to say goodbye through a walkie talkie that had been placed by their mother’s pillow, since none of them were able to be in the same room with her. They could only watch, through a glass, as she died.
The thought of six orphaned children deprived of their mother’s touch, her scent, the rhythm of her breathing and the look in her eyes, crushed me because I knew what it had meant to me. It was especially tragic since their father had passed away a couple of years before. These children had each other, true. But in a very real sense, they were alone against the world.
There have been many similar stories have touched me, including the sad history of an Italian-American family in New Jersey that looked so much like my own, and lost four family members to the virus in less than a week. Another incident that literally stopped me in my tracks was the story of the British doctor who had died after spending days on end treating victims of COVID-19, before becoming infected herself. Only a few weeks before, she had posted on Twitter that she was excited and honored to be hired by a hospital in the National Health System after years of study and apprenticeship.
COVID-19 is a disease of incredible cruelty. Unlike AIDS, which was not airborne, or Ebola, which seemed foreign and didn’t really touch us in the United States, this virus is a silent, creeping killer. It is in our neighborhoods, in our streets, in the 6 feet between us as we wait in line for groceries or as we walk in public places. Fear of it flickers in the eyes of strangers, eyes we can only see above masked mouths and covered noses. It is unpredictable, and for that, profoundly unsettling.
We are all adjusting to life in the post-coronavirus environment. We have learned new habits, and are weighing both our options and the repercussions of going out to take the dog for a walk, something that might never again be second nature. We see empty shelves, and for those of us born after the Great Depression, we are learning what it means to be hungry, even though a hidden American population could have told us what that means if we’d asked.
But there are some things you cannot adjust to, and never will. Not being able to hold your loved one as they leave, and being forced to keep a physical distance from the mothers, fathers, spouses, children and other loved ones who only days ago were an arm’s length away is a sacrifice and a suffering that no one should have to bear.
Only now, many of us will.
In that number are six mourning sons and daughters in Washington state.
Keep them, and those for whom grief is but days or weeks away, in your prayers.
Copyright 2020 Christine Flowers. Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected]