Someone somewhere once said that the death of an old man is not a tragedy. I think what they meant was that even though there is sorrow in the loss, there is no sense of a life unlived or potential unrealized. We mourn but we don’t wonder what could have been. That being said, our lives will never be the same without them.
Across both our nation and our world, we are losing those we love. 100,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 as of this writing. Are the lost overwhelmingly elderly? Yes. Does that mean hearts are any less broken? No.
I think of the families trying to make sense of the loss of a loved one amid the fog of confusion brought on by living through this pandemic. My 80 year old dad died on a normal Thursday last January and I was so spun around by the loss I kept accidentally throwing away my keys and forgetting where I parked my car.
I worry that with all the attention on people railing against wearing face masks to Costco and having to admit they dye their hair, that the broken hearted among us are being overlooked. 100,000 Americans have died in the past few months. The deaths came so fast, our fellow Americans have been stacked into refrigerated trucks parked out back of hospitals until morgues or funeral homes can be found for them.
And there are people who want to protest their right to go to the beach? I can only assume it wasn’t their Nanas stacked up like cord wood in a truck outside of a funeral home in Brooklyn.
I cannot conceive of a person who loves America and yet doesn’t give a shit about Americans. And yet that appears to be what is happening. I understand that staying home is difficult and that the economic fallout will be with us for a decade, at the least.
But so will the mental anguish of people who sit in their cars in the parking lot of a hospital, looking up at a window and knowing their loved one is dying and they can’t be with them. I held my mom’s hand as she died and it was both wrenching and one of the most important moments of my life. She was with me when I came into this world and I was with her when she left.
Thousands of people have been denied that experience. But let’s talk about how you think a public health order violates your Constitutional rights. It doesn’t and you are behaving in a heartless manner I hope you will one day have the good sense to be thoroughly ashamed of.
I lay in bed at night next to an open window and listen to the silence of a city that once kept me up at night with all its chaotic noise. I worry that my older son will lose his job and won’t be able to pay his rent. He’ll have to give up his hard won independence to come live with me. Then I worry that I won’t be able to pay my rent and then where will he go? And what about my increasingly fragile younger son, who asks at least once a day if we have enough money to pay for food because he overheard our neighbors worrying about their situation. Where will we all go if I can no longer support us? And even if I can keep paying rent, I worry about inflation and food shortages and gun owners deciding their 2nd amendment rights extend to taking from anyone who isn’t as heavily armed as they are.
And then the first bird chirps into the slowly graying dawn and I realize I’ve stayed awake another night. And I get up and shower and take the dog outside and make my younger son breakfast. This is hard but nothing I go through comes close to what my fellow Americans endure. I live every day knowing that for literally thousands of families, today is the day they will lose someone they love. Someone who, as Mister Rogers used to say, loved them into being and now that person is gone.
And there will be no funeral that looks or feels familiar, no somber potluck back at the house where spontaneous, inappropriate snickering erupts in the back corner of the sun porch, well out of earshot of the steely eyed Aunties taking up all the comfortable seats in the front room. And no one knows when these kinds of gatherings will be safe because the Aunties are getting old (don’t say that in front of them) and a funeral in these times can set off a domino of funerals within the same family.
The phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’ keeps surfacing in my admittedly hazy brain. Republicans have been ordered to stop saying and tweeting it after mass shootings but they might want to think about reviving it. Of course, what exactly are they thinking and praying? I think their thoughts are with the voters who will run them out of office if they don’t keep silent regarding the chilling sight of armed civilians filing into the Michigan statehouse. I wonder at the mental gymnastics needed to ignore the real pain and suffering of their neighbors while passively supporting the misplaced rage of a small number of predominantly white men, many of them armed to the teeth. And what were these heavily armed men thinking?
They weren’t thinking that people in their state needed help picking up or dropping off relatives at the airport. Or that someone needs to go get Grandpa’s stuff from the VA hospital but everyone is too sad or old or immunocompromised to perform the task. If only there was someone who was young enough and healthy enough and not as afraid of the virus to help…but instead of lending a helping hand, they gathered up their guns and stormed the statehouse.
Sometimes, when you need saving the most, it’s not the big hand of power, privilege or position that plucks you from oblivion. It is, instead, the humble hand of a neighbor who’s felt the urge to do a little good in the world.
To all my fellow Americans who think this whole thing is a hoax that is ruining our economy? Do something constructive. Put down your sign, stop wasting the time and energy of your local police department, put on a mask and lend a hand to help rebuild this great nation. Volunteer to drive the bloodmobile or deliver meals to seniors. Get in on your church’s efforts to make contact with every parishioner past and present to make sure no one is suffering in embarrassed silence. Older generations are less likely to ask for help even when their need is great. Act like they are doing you a favor by letting you help them. Be sneaky.
Take your cue from the Cajun Navy. Gas up the truck and get out there, your fellow Americans need you.