Coronalone: Week 7- On Death and Dying


"Coronalone". It's like "Home Alone", but without Macaulay Culkin. And without the burglars (we hope). It's our ridiculous name for the surreal and strange circumstances in which we currently find ourselves. And we currently find ourselves approaching two months of self-isolation, punctuated by only a few absolutely necessary forays out into the “real world”.

And I keep finding myself returning to these important thoughts: Physical distance need not be emotional distance. Express your love. Be vocal. We only have today, because tomorrow is never promised.

I’ve been putting off writing this week’s (or technically, what should have been last week’s) blog entry, primarily because I just didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I’m not sure whether the isolation and anxiety were beginning to wear on me; or whether I was sick of hearing about people who aren’t acting compassionately and don’t seem to care about the welfare of others, so I just didn’t feel like I had anything nice to say; or perhaps I was just having a bit of writer’s block that had nothing to do with the current crisis. Any and all of these things could have been contributing to my lack of inspiration.


Two days ago, though, my focus changed. More to the point, my focus was forced to change. My Uncle Ray, who has been in a long-term care facility in Rhode Island, passed away due to complications from Covid-19. He had Parkinson’s disease and required more care than could be provided at home, so he had been there since this past summer. His wife, my Aunt Brenda, had not been able to visit him since early March because of the public health concerns, and then he was diagnosed with the virus in late April. I said to Mike in the early days of this crisis that it seemed statistically impossible that we would get through this without knowing someone who died from the virus, and relatively unlikely that we would be spared losing someone we love to it. I hate it when I’m right.


Brenda is my cousin Dale’s godmother— or “fairy godmother”, as she likes to say. Dale is as close as I ever had to a sister. Her father’s mother and my mother’s mother were sisters, and despite being a three-hour drive apart, our two families visited each other as much as time and money would allow. Technically, Brenda and I are not biologically related, but she and Ray were ever-present during our visits to my cousins in East Providence throughout my childhood, and for most of my growing up I honestly didn’t realize we weren’t related. They were always just Aunt Brenda and Uncle Ray. They were the people with the big yard and the pool that we got to enjoy on hot days when we were staying with my cousins. Brenda has always been the irreverent, mischievous “cool aunt” who, if you were asked if you were being good and you replied “yes”, was just as likely to respond with “well, that’s no fun” as with anything else. She has the best facial expressions I’ve ever seen, and a wicked sense of humor. And now, she is adjusting to a life without the man to whom she was married for just shy of 60 years. And I cannot even imagine what that must be like.

Death is, to a certain extent, on most of our minds right now. I’ve said for years that it’s not dying per se that scares me; it’s suffering. And now the suffering extends even further than before, because our own safety as well as the safety of others may rely on us staying away from our loved ones, even if they become ill or are facing death. We, as a society, have a hard enough time accepting and processing death, but now even the few customs we have to help us navigate it are being forced to change—by necessity—in order to protect those among us who are most at risk from this virus. That leaves so many people grieving and hurting without the physical presence and support of their loved ones that would normally exist during the time following a death, and I think we need to spend some time determining how we can best support those we love within the new guidelines. Because I still believe that most of us will not get through this without losing someone we love. And we need to be there for our friends and family in whatever form that takes, now that holding their hands or hugging them or physically holding sacred space in memory of their lost loved one may no longer be viable options.

I don’t have any answers. I am tired and weepy and apparently not in the frame of mind to come up with anything more profound than “we need to find ways to support each other”. But maybe that’s enough, and maybe I can leave it to each of you to think about what that will look like moving forward, and to act on the ideas that spring to your minds.

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