In an effort to find peace in the loss of my great-grandmother and the inability of seeing her one last time due to social distancing measures, I reflect on the experience in the hope of connecting with others who may be suffering from a loss during this stressful time.
Over the extent of this global pandemic and implementation of social distancing restrictions, I lost not only a dear family member but a role model — my great-grandmother, Susie, passed away without the opportunity to warmly embrace or tightly clasp the hands of her family members one last time. She died in a nursing home situated in central Wake Forest, in the company of nurses and assorted staff members. Just before she passed, she did not seem to recognize her regular nurse or care aides, and she may not have understood where her family had gone or why she was not able to be with her family.
How do you explain to an elderly woman of declining health and memory loss that her family loves her but can't see her due to a virus?
It is difficult to understand and even more difficult to untangle.
In the midst of this loss, I began to reflect on the impact that Susie had on my entire family's lives and how I was so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to aid in her daily care. Even at the age of 100, Susie was the embodiment of sunshine. Her smile could illuminate an entire room and she found pleasure in the simplest things such as being able to pet an eager dog or spying a bright red cardinal perching on a tree branch. She taught us all that you can possess gratitude in every aspect of life, no matter how elementary.
Susie also demonstrated the power of kindness. Throughout her life, she raised a large family that eventually included a great, great-granddaughter, served as a nurse for years, was active in her church community, and continued to be a trusted friend to others. Her tenderness and positivity were received enthusiastically, as well as reciprocated, by the caregivers that guided her through the final stages of life. Susie had created a heartening reputation that was well-known throughout the nursing home, and throughout her earlier years.
When I consider Susie's impact and the feelings evoked in my relationship with her, I focus on how she has influenced me for the better. Susie was the type of person I have always hoped to mirror in my adult life, and it would be a disservice to remember her primarily for the final struggles. When I picture Susie, I picture life, love, compassion, and hope. My mind wanders through the memories that bring a mouth-widening grin to my face and crinkle the edges of my eyes like paper. I want to hold the hands of my family and share the pain we all feel over losing her. I wish I could rewind time and be able to say "goodbye" just for an instant.
Although death is a natural and expected element of existence, no one really ever knows what it will be like to miss someone when they are completely gone, or the unfillable void that will forever be an internal resident. A voice, a smile, and sitting in a loved one's presence is something often taken for granted.
On the day of her passing my grandmother and great aunt had the opportunity to video chat with Susie — to tell her they loved her, missed her, and couldn't wait to embrace her again. She passed away within hours of this interaction.
Instances like this make me believe that there is inherent good in the world and that there may be a higher power out there that is looking out for our best interest even in times of despair.
While coming to terms with my great-grandmother's death has been challenging and cruel, stirring up a flurry of emotions that have been overwhelming to navigate, it has illuminated that we are all unified by loss during this pandemic.
My heart reaches out to those who have lost loved ones in the wake of this virus, who have had to sacrifice too much to make ends meet, who are struggling to maintain their mental health, and who have stayed hopeful despite grim news. You are not alone, and we are not separate or divided. This is the direst time to demonstrate compassion and encourage feelings of hope in order to support others who need it most.
There are slivers of light in moments of darkness that remind us that nothing is fully determined by loss alone. We can garner strength and appreciate the natural vulnerability we collectively feel. I urge you to take advantage of this time to express gratitude for loved ones, aid those in need, be patient and kind with yourself, as well as thank workers who put their own health at risk so that they can better serve you.