I recently talked with three people whose loved ones died from COVID-19. The fact that they would be able to share their stories with me at all is somewhat astounding. But then I remember the shock, which prompted me to do all sorts of things without really thinking it through, the first year following Emily’s death. These devastated souls are in deep shock. What strikes me as most wicked about this virus, is that in each case, their loved one died alone. They were not allowed to be by the side of their cherished person; because of the justifiable fear that they could also contract the coronavirus. That’s our new reality. The virus has snatched away the gift of goodbye. I think back to saying farewell to my beloved grandmother, Genevieve. She knew how much I loved her and I knew how much she loved me, before she left this world.
Three Families who’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19
On the other hand, Emily died alone, in her bedroom; most likely within moments of injecting heroin laced with deadly fentanyl. The fact that she was alone, face down on the carpeted floor, haunted me for the weeks and months following her death. Then, the coroner who performed her autopsy, eased my troubled thoughts, when he explained that much like when someone is given fentanyl before surgery, they don’t remember losing consciousness. My daughter suffered in her addiction, but she most likely did not suffer in her death.
No one is ever prepared for a sudden and unexpected death. It feels as if someone has ripped your heart out of your body and twisted it. Finding any kind of calm or peace is unfathomable in those first few hours and days. Then people start showing up. My brain was in a fog and couldn’t grasp how or why, but suddenly my door bell was ringing;—a circle formed around me in my living room—one set of faces replaced by another, as time seemed to stand still. Friends, relatives, acquaintances, co-workers—all of them stopping by—often with food. Even more standing in line to offer words of condolences at the wake and then funeral.
I knew it meant something at the time to have all these people gathering around me and my family after Emily’s sudden death—holding us up with that invisible thread of love and compassion. The lesson in it for me was the importance of just showing up. Before this dreadful experience, I used to think if I wasn’t that close to someone suffering a loss, I should just send a card; that my presence was not required at the funeral or the wake. But I have learned that every single person who offers a kind word, a hug, or just listens with compassion, plays an important role in the grieving process for healing.
Fortunately, I had all of that after Emily died. But the people losing loved ones now to COVID-19 do not—cannot—because of quarantines and social distancing. This is the second wickedest thing about this virus. It is robbing us of coming together after tragedy, to help those most deeply affected, mourn and move forward. Sure, their relatives can console them via video chat, but that doesn’t replace the presence of another human being. A touch, a hug or a knowing look of compassion must be experienced in person. Now, to top it off—not being able to hold a service—can make it seem like the deceased never existed or did not deeply touch the lives of others.
Eventually, people mourning their loved ones in the pandemic will no doubt have some sort of celebration of life. But there is a reason why we come together so quickly to rally around the grieving. For those of us who’ve been there, it is a lifeline to survival when nothing seems to matter any more. When the rug has been pulled out from under you, the only thing to grab onto is another caring hand who can help you find your footing again. These times of tragedy bring out what it means to be truly human and our interconnectedness.
Many of those who have recently suffered a death tell me they have their faith and that’s wonderful. However, I believe that following a loss, God’s mercy comes to us through other people. COVID-19 has robbed the grieving of so much. It has also made me so very grateful that I was able to experience an outpouring of love and compassion following my daughter’s death, now being denied to so many. I didn’t realize until now, just how important it was in lifting me out of the pit of despair and giving me the courage to go on.
If you know someone who recently lost a loved one, do whatever you can to let them know that you care. Even the smallest gesture can make a huge difference.
Faith, Hope & Courage,