What I Lost to Covid-19:
Dealing with the loss of a loved one at any time is distressing. Losing someone during the coronavirus pandemic, whether to COVID-19 or to other causes, will bring additional challenges. This year I became acquainted with grief on a whole new level. In the last eight months, I’ve been hanging out with the emotional responses of grief. Anger, sadness, depression, and numbness have been my constant companions. As a geriatric social worker, I counsel people all of the time on their journey with the stages of grief. But when grief hits home the conversation to self sounds different than what you say to others.
April the 3rd my mom Katherine, celebrated her 76th birthday and two days later she died of the Coronavirus. If you can imagine my heart shattered into pieces. This was the most unexpected phone call I have ever received. Even though I knew the statistics of deaths in the nursing homes were much higher than other places, for some reason, I thought my mom would be immune (wishful thinking). Mom was feisty, and getting stronger every day, she was determined to live. None-the-less she became a statistic, and the CDC numbers are growing every day.
Mom had been living in Long-Term-Care (LTC) since June 2018 after complications with Chronic COPD and Dementia. The whole guilt thing started with the decision to place her in LTC, a promise we made her not to do. But life happens and her medical needs were more than I could handle at the time. I had been caring for her for five years, while holding down a full-time job and completing two degrees, supporting my daughters and an occasional date with my husband. Oh, I forgot to add my dad in this situation. I inherited the care of my dad who is a two-time cancer survivor and most recently suffered a heart-attack. I know, a lot on going right? Hence, why I don’t have time to grieve or at least go through the process of grief. Being the oldest child is a blessing and a curse.
Anyway, I had a birthday cake delivered to the nursing home and the staff and her friends arranged a doorway birthday party for her. All four of her children, twenty-two grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren got to facetime with her. We could not have asked for a better day with mom. She was alert, oriented, breathing well, and her memory was sharp! The nurse stated that she had been walking around her room praying and praising the Lord the morning of her death.
Traumatic loss is real. Losing my mom during this pandemic has been a traumatic experience. I live with the guilt of knowing that my mom’s greatest fear was dying alone, and yet she was found slump over in her bed alone. I am tormented with the thoughts of “was she calling out for me, did she call out for help, or how long was she alone before anyone noticed she had died.” I will never know the answers to these questions.
There are no words to erase the pain I feel at not being by her side as she was transitioning from life to death. All I have now is the millions of memories, memories of laughter, joy, and happiness. It is those memories that help remind me that I was my mother’s favorite child (she told my siblings they were her favorite too…😊.)
Covid-19 robbed me of so much this year including the opportunity of giving my mom a proper goodbye. In the African American culture, funeral’s and memorial services are important to our grieving experiences. The social distancing guidelines and other safety protocols brought on feelings of frustration and more anger. I believe it is important to be able to express your family’s rituals. Because my mom died during the strict stay order we were not allowed to have the homegoing service our family is accustomed to. But I will always treasure the intimate service that we did have. In some small way it did give me a since of peace.
Losing my mom was tough because I loved her dearly. But losing her to Covid-19 and during this pandemic has been extraordinarily difficult for me and many others. So, I say to myself as I would say to my clients as they begin their grief journey…
· I will reflect on the beautiful memories I made with (mom) your loved one
· I Know that you will not get over grief, but (I) you can get through it.
· I will honor (mom) your loved one and share that grief into the future.
· This pandemic will end, but your love for those you have lost will not.
· I will move forward into a world that has changed personally and permanently, but we do not leave our loved ones behind. We carry them with us, with the knowledge that our bonds cannot be broken, even by death.