What is COVID-19? It is a virus we know very little about except it’s deadly and very contagious.
For some, it might mean the loss of a job and income. For others, it might mean no parties, no school, no prom, no graduation, postponing, or rethinking wedding plans.
For others, it means isolation, loneliness, depression, grief, separation from family and friends, and death. For me personally it means just that.
My mother passed away on June 10 from COVID. She had been living in an assisted living home when she came down with COVID on her 85th birthday – June 2nd. I had not seen my mother since early March when her facility went into quarantine except through her window at a distance. My mother was in a private room so her only human contact was the staff member who brought her, her three meals, and medication each day. During these last 3 months, she was alone on the first anniversary of my father’s passing, Easter, Mother’s Day, several family members birthdays, and the birth of two great-grandchildren. The most devastating being she was alone when she passed.
During our daily phone calls, I could hear the loneliness in her voice. She was no longer that feisty, spunky person who raised me. She openly talked about depression and how the isolation was affecting her. She also talked about no longer having a desire to live.
While in the ICU, the hospital staff, who I have the utmost respect and admiration for, went out of their way to keep my family updated and arranged frequent zoom calls with my mother. The calls were positively for the family’s benefit. My mother was only coherent on one of the calls. The hospital did make an offer for two family members to come sit with my mother while she passed away. Those two would have to quarantine for fourteen days. They would not be able to grieve with the other family members upon her passing. We all chose not to go. It was a staff member who she never met before, who held her hand while she passed away.
My family decided to go forth with my mother’s burial arrangements despite all the restrictions. There would be a mandatory closed coffin. We chose not to have a viewing at the funeral home since only ten people would be allowed in the building at any given time. That ten included the funeral home staff. We agreed on a Christian Mass. The church allowed only immediate family members to attend. At the conclusion of the Mass, my mother’s body was taken to her final resting place with my father. No one was allowed to go.
Now my family and I must grieve alone. We know we are in everyone’s thoughts and prayers but for us, there were no hugs of comfort, no gathering of extended family, and friends sharing stories about my mother.
No celebration of life to give us closure or to properly honor a life well-lived. Just like my mother who spent her last months of life isolated, we too are isolated in our grief.
In closing, I would like to say my mother was not just a number or a statistic of COVID 19. She was a wife, a mother of seven, a Grandmother to eighteen, and a Great-Grandmother to thirteen. She was a friend and neighbor to so many. She loved her family more than life itself. She was caring, kind, and loving. She was Catherine Justice O’Brien and she was my mother.