I recently “attended” my first Covid-19 virtual funeral. After 50 years of marriage, my cousin’s husband passed away. They were a unit; in our family, their separate first names had become one. No more.
Losing a cherished spouse is unbearable under any circumstance, but this disease compounds the brutality. My cousin was unable to see her husband for months. Although his mind was intact, he had lost mobility function and was no longer able to plug in his devices so he couldn’t facetime with his wife even before Covid-19. Additionally, he was adapting to a loss of independence for dressing, showering, transferring and other activities of daily living. These struck me hard; as a quadriplegic with limited function for all activities of daily living myself, I was haunted. Dying alone in a nursing facility from Covid-19 is something I just can’t seem to wrap my head around.
We were invited to the Zoom funeral by email. Throughout the service, the Zoom camera focused on a large view of the grave where the coffin had already been placed. My cousin and her two children stood at the site, masks on and a bright blue sky with the sound of a loud whipping wind. They had a package of dirt from Israel, and they each threw a handful on the casket. The ritual prayers were said, but the graveside service, with the Jewish tradition of everyone having the opportunity to shovel dirt on the coffin in honor of the deceased, did not occur. Mourners were in their respective homes; we could see one another by scrolling through the Zoom gallery around the border of the screen. In this way, we seemed to encircle the family at the grave.
I was glad that my cousin was able to be present at the gravesite. Many in this time of Covid-19 do not have this opportunity. Yet, even though many folks were virtually present, and the rabbi spoke touching words, I felt a cloud of loneliness envelop me. My eyes fixated on the half-view of my cousin clutching her daughter. I began to ponder what it was like for her to leave the gravesite with her two children. Where did they go? With social distancing there was no one to hug, no one to eat with, and nobody physically present to share a memory or supportive words. Like so much else, dying and burial have become unrecognizable.
While mourning the death of my funny and gregarious cousin, I recognize that I’m dealing with my own version of loss. As a quadriplegic, my life is limited each day. I can’t accomplish the normal activities of daily living without help, and there is a long list of other things that require assistance. To overcome these obstacles, I reside in a community that maximizes my independence. I roll by myself to the grocery store, coffee shop, local eateries, and to meet ups with friends. Wheelchair-accessible metro and taxis enable me to attend meetings and other functions.
Because of Covid-19, I am stuck. For decades, until Covid-19, I did not consistently feel the weight of my limitations. But now, as one of “the vulnerable” I am severely limited. I’m keeping myself busy with work and a variety of “stay-at-home” activities. This is the perfect time to tackle my primary goal, writing my book. I tell myself that I should utilize this pandemic as an opportunity to blast forward in achieving this goal; instead, I find myself staring out the window, anger burning in my chest as I witness throngs of people not masking or distancing. I wonder how long it will be until I will regain my full independence. I worry that the “new normal” will add limitations to my already constrained life.
At heart I’m an optimist. I usually bounce back relatively quickly after a letdown. Like my cousin who passed away, I have my own unique sense of humor. I’ve been told repeatedly that my smile and energy are contagious. But these days, my optimism has become more measured. I focus on remaining resilient. I strive to adopt my father’s famous “this too shall pass” attitude. I push forward or try to. But some days it is a burden.
This was the first time I experienced death of a lifelong loved one in a Covid-19 world. Despite that difference, on the day of the funeral I felt that we shared a loss. We mourned the passing of her beloved husband, but also the passing of life as we knew it. I’m confident that over time and with her positive attitude, my cousin will resume life with vigor. As I share in her mourning, I decided to give myself permission to mourn my loss of independence.
Tomorrow is another day and we will all start again. Let’s hope that the support — virtual or not — of loved ones and friends brings solace to all of us who are mourning. And may our respective loads become lighter along the way.