What a Difference A Week Makes: Loss in the Age of Covid-19

Just two weeks ago, we had a luncheon in a restaurant to celebrate my spouse’s birthday. When people arrived, we joked about not kissing and hugging. When we parted, most of us forgot about the new protocol and joyfully hugged one another.

A few days later, my mother had trouble breathing. The aides at my parents’ assisted living facility called for an ambulance and sometime that night, in the hospital, she had a complete cardiac arrest. The doctors and nurses spent thirteen minutes bringing her heart back, and succeeded. Unfortunately, not much came with it. Not her kidneys, not her liver, not her lungs. Certainly not her lungs, after smoking for nearly 70 of her 87 years.

That was Wednesday night. First she was in an isolation ward before they could determine that she fortunately did not have Covid-19. Then we were able to see her. In this time of Covid-19 it was one at a time for a short period during the day. My brother left after spending some time with her in the morning. When he returned in the afternoon, he was told, no more visitors to the ICU. And that was it. For the rest of her life, she was alone. Alone in the time of Covid-19. Her husband of nearly 65 years, my father, was unable to visit her. My two brothers were unable to visit her. I was unable to visit her. They said that she was not cognizant of what was going on. I hope not. If she was, she must have been thinking, where the F- are my children. (Last night, the hospital relented and my brother was able to be with her.)

Yesterday, masks on faces, my brothers and I saw my father in the lobby of his assisted living facility to tell him it was time. Time to end her existence. Her life ended with the heart attack. In the last week, she simply existed. In this time of Covid-19, we were unable to spent time with him in his apartment. (It used to be their apartment, but I guess it is now his.) We were unable to go to a diner or Starbucks to sit together. Instead, he was in his wheelchair and we sat or stood around him while we talked to him. And now, I am preparing to officiate at my mother’s funeral.

Our family was never really large, but neither was it small. My mother was the youngest of seven and despite their all coming to America (she and her two years older sister were born here) and living to adulthood, seven daughters begat only ten grandchildren. Of those nieces and nephews, two are already gone. My brothers were more productive, or shall I say, reproductive, than I was and brought my parents five wonderful granddaughters, all of whom are grown, making their way through the world. None of the grandchildren, nieces, cousins, extended relatives and friends will be there to bury her. Just her husband and children. Not even spouses. No one is flying in. No one is traveling. Not in the time of Covid-19.

I’ve always thought that the Jewish rituals of mourning provide a beautiful structure to process loss. But I have been robbed of the communal aspects of that process. The parts of that process that are most important to me. There will be no shiva. There will be no minyanim (services). I am sure that friends will reach out, but there will be no hugs, except from my spouse. No deli, no schnapps. Not in the time of Covid-19.

There are times that change our individual lives: a birth, a death. There are times that change our communal lives: a war, a pandemic. Unfortunately, both have collided in my world and I’m sure in the worlds of many others.

Ironically, in my mother’s generation, the Hebrew word Kavod, respect, would have been pronounced Kuvid. By curtailing our practice, we are giving Covid-19 much Kavod. Unfortunately, there is no Kuvid back from Covid-19.

About Gail F. Nalven

Jewish Educator, Rabbi, Tefillah Leader, Songleader, Teacher, and Freelance Jew
This entry was posted in Judaism, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What a Difference A Week Makes: Loss in the Age of Covid-19

  1. Beth F levine says:

    My heart aches for you, your father, and siblings. To lose someone this way and not be allowed the comfort of rituals that are so old and so ingrained in our culture … well there are no words.

    I know it is customary for us to say, may her memory be for a blessing. When I was younger, I did not understand why we said it that way, and not just, may her memory be a blessing. And frankly I still do not know if there is a rabbinical or biblical explanation. But, after my mother passed, I came up with (what I think is) my own reason. I say for a blessing, to remind me to live my life in a way that those memories of my mother (or any other dear departed) spur me on to live my best life, to aspire to be my best self, to make more blessings.

    And so Gail, may her memory be for a blessing. And because I know you (at least a little bit), I know it already is.

    I am sending you a hug!

  2. Gail – I am so sorry for your loss – not just the physical loss of your mom, but the emotional loss of not being able to be with her physically in her last days. May her memory be for a blessing and know that your WCN sisters are always here for you and Pat – with love, Robbi

  3. Gary Greene says:

    I’m sorry for your loss and your inability to avail youeself with all the support family, friends, and tradition can giv you. May God send you comfort as He has comforted Jerusalem in our day. Gary

  4. Gail, I am so so sorry…for your dad, for you, for your brothers, for your mom. I don’t have words to make it better or fix any o fit, except to tell you that just as we mourn with you, we want to be alongside you as much as you need us there. May the memories you all share together be a source of peace and comfort, and may her memory be a blessing on you always. All my love, Alix

  5. bluegear says:

    Sending you so much love. May your mother’s memory bless you always.

  6. Lloyd Gelwan says:

    Moving tribute to one of the most beautiful people in my life whose spirit and wry wisdom have stayed with me from my receding youth. COVID-19 context of her leaving us is wrenching to hear but I have no illusion that the pain of reading it is anything close to the family’s up close and personal experience. Unkind twist. Hoping your mom was unaware of the separation and that the family takes comfort that her exit was not drawn out further. I will choose to remember your mom through life lessons she imprinted into my DNA. Doesn’t hardly say it – but gosh Sonia was an original! If OK, my wife Ceri and I will remember your mom in Shabbat tele-services tomorrow evening, yet another incident of the contagion. All love.

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