Kentucky Stories of Loss

A Proper Goodbye is Not the Only Goodbye

Who did you lose to Covid 19? My Aunt

My beloved aunt passed away during Covid, but did not pass from Covid. This was all as it was just beginning and there were no vaccines and little was known about the new virus. For three years, I’ve been grappling with the fact that the pandemic took away the chance for me to say a proper goodbye.

She was already ill when we first starting hearing about Covid and its rapid spread. She was well cared for in her home, so that was very comforting. I wanted to go see her, but I was afraid. What if I unwittingly brought the virus into her home? What if one of the caregivers was contagious and passed it on to me? I not only had to think of myself, but also my family at home, all of them at risk if I caught it. All of this was agony to sort through. By the time I decided that I would ask if we could meet at her glass door, it was too late. She was unable to leave her bedroom. Things progressed more quickly than expected and soon she was gone.

The funeral was postponed for a period of time, and I was very glad for that. However, when a Fall date was scheduled, the world still hadn’t made much progress in handling Covid. Schools were remote, people were working from home, and many businesses were still closed. I felt comfortable attending the burial outside, but knew family members would approach each other for hugs and conversations. A luncheon had also been planned for afterwards. An indoor event? During the pandemic? How is this a wise decision? I knew if I attended the burial that I would be pressured by family members to attend this indoor get together, therefore I had to stay away entirely. It was not what I wanted, but I knew this had to be my decision for the sake of my family’s safety. This decision has had ramifications. Several in my family have treated me differently ever since and this has hurt me deeply.

We hear a lot about “excess deaths,” the pandemic’s side hustle, as it gets noted on charts and graphs, but what doesn’t get acknowledged is all the excess grief associated with these deaths — the unexpressed sadness about aborted goodbyes, the lost final visits, the moments (like mine) at glass storm doors that never occurred. So, I have chosen not to move on from this loss but instead to honor my aunt by focusing my memories of her whenever I can. To this day, I talk to her often. I visualize her driving her giant car in the 1970s. She was so short and you could barely see her head above the steering wheel, even though she relied on a phone book to lift her up.

My aunt had fiery red hair until she let it go gray in her later years, but I always still saw her as a soaring, enthusiastic woman whose signature red locks seemed to embody her personality. She lived an amazing and long life, making it past 90 years old. And, I’m so glad that she lived that long so that my own children could get to know her. They now have Great Aunt stories that will travel with them throughout their lives. All of us treasure a memory at a popular seafood restaurant where we sat outside at the concrete tables eating fried fish and onion rings. While we were waiting for our food my aunt stood up, hummed a tune and danced with each of the kids right out in front of everyone. She was spontaneous and joyful at all times.

One afternoon a few weeks after she died, I was watching one of our Governor’s 5pm Covid update press conferences and I found myself speaking to her. I realized suddenly she is still here, in spirit, just a quick thought away. I’ve apologized for not being there at the end. I like to think that she would understand my decision. We were close and my aunt knew it would take something very big to keep me away from her. Nothing short of a global pandemic could have done so. She knows that I loved her dearly and she is still here to provide me with support and comfort (and a good chuckle as well) whenever needed. So, this is my goodbye. It may not have been done the traditional way, but I’ve resolved that it was the only way for the times we were living in. I’m okay with that now and it has provided me some necessary peace. To this day, I talk to her often.

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