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.