My Personal Experience with Loss & Grief During a Pandemic
“Grief is like the ocean, it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”– Vicki Harris
Losing someone you love is never easy. It doesn’t matter if you saw it coming or if it happened unexpectedly. Loss is just so damn hard.
And like so many other things, this pandemic that we are all experiencing has made loss and grief even more challenging to endure. It was something that I personally wasn’t prepared for.
You would think that would be the first thing on your mind when you think of a pandemic. It usually brings uncertainty, trauma, fear, and loss. But it’s one of those things that you think would never happen to you – until it does.
In September of 2021, I lost my sweet mamaw to COVID. And while you can say it was her stage 5 kidney disease that she would’ve inevitably succumbed to, it was COVID that took her away from us sooner than we imagined.
Just like many others, the summer of 2021 brought hope for me that we were nearing the end of this relentless pandemic.
The world was slowly opening back up again and people were making plans for those summer vacations. We all were beginning to see the light at the end of this long and dark, COVID tunnel. And as quickly as this hope appeared, it left within the blink of an eye when the new Delta variant emerged.
While I’m sure you’ve heard countless stories of how coronavirus has affected someone or their loved ones up to this point, I’m here today to share my story if you’re willing to lend an ear.
Luckily, since the pandemic began, there were no close friends or family members of mine that became afflicted with COVID. I really thought we had dodged a bullet.
However, that only remained true until the Fall of 2021. The one person that this virus definitely didn’t need to infect in our family – it did. My loving grandmother – Martha.
My grandma was already vulnerable to the virus between her age (eighties) and afflictions (stage 5 kidney disease and COPD). She also had been in and out of the hospital and rehab prior to her catching COVID.
In late August, Isaac and I reluctantly took a trip to the hospital to see her. This was just a few weeks before things took a turn for the worse.
You see, since the start of the pandemic, we personally made the choice to avoid certain public places due to our own uneasiness of exposing ourselves to the virus.
So for two people who already struggle with anxiety, you can bet ours was through the roof with the prospect of visiting a hospital. Let alone, a hospital that was quickly becoming a COVID hotspot in our state. But something urged me to go. And now, I am so happy that I did.
Little did I know that it would be the last time I saw her.
I honestly didn’t get the feeling that it would be. At the time of our visit, my mamaw hadn’t been diagnosed with COVID yet. And she actually seemed to be on the mend.
She was talking about visiting our house that we bought last year that she hadn’t seen yet – possibly for the holidays. There was a sense of hope that things were turning around for her.
When it came time to say goodbye, there were tears. But it didn’t feel like goodbye tears. Rather, it felt as if she was just ready to come home. She even joked about us wheeling her outside in her wheelchair to have a smoke. (Although, I am absolutely certain she was serious!)
A few days after our visit, I received a phone call from my mamaw. As soon as I answered the phone, she excitedly spilled out that the doctor told her she could come home.
She thought she was calling her stepdaughter to let her know she could come pick her up, but called me by accident. I told her I was so excited for her and I could hear it in her voice that she was too.
In reality, it wasn’t that simple. But unsuspecting me believed it was.
She could go home, but she needed help around the house and taking care of herself. My papaw in his nineties certainly couldn’t help much. And my mom wasn’t able to either due to her own disability.
As for me, I lived an hour and a half away with my own obligations. But she was adamant to come home, and so she was discharged. Unfortunately, my mamaw quickly realized she needed help. She didn’t last one day at home and had to go on to rehab from there.
And that’s where things progressed rather quickly.
A few weeks after our visit, I found out from my mom that my grandma had stage 5 kidney disease. It wasn’t a surprise to us as she knew for a few years now that she needed to be on dialysis through her stomach and ultimately refused. We all respected her decision to do what she wanted.
After her diagnosis, my mom and step-aunt were working with her doctor to figure out a plan for her kidney disease when she caught pneumonia. Then, a day or two after that, she was diagnosed with COVID.
I knew then that it wasn’t good.
Within just a few short days, she took a turn for the worse. She wasn’t eating and wasn’t talking anymore. I attempted to call her cell a couple of times to help cheer her up, but there was never an answer.
My heart sank each time it went to her voicemail. I was hoping for a callback as she always does, but it never came. And within a week, we lost her.
Thankfully, she wasn’t alone. My mother, brother, and aunt were with her when she passed. I would’ve been there too, had it not been for this horrific pandemic. Knowing that my grandmother had COVID, I made the decision to not be at her side to protect me and my family.
It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made.
I know some members of my family felt differently and didn’t hesitate to be there. But me – I had different views about this virus. And that’s okay. We all have the right to feel how we feel about it.
There are days where I feel so guilty about my decision to not be there. Sometimes, I feel like I’m a terrible and selfish human being. And to some people, I may be.
But you see – that’s the issue with this pandemic. It has taken away our right to grieve and experience loss properly. It has also left us questioning our own morals and values.
It isn’t fair that I had to make the decision between seeing my dying grandmother one last time and possibly catching the virus myself.
I know I’m not alone in this, but it doesn’t make this any easier to process.
Collectively, we are going through so much trauma because of this pandemic, that I’m sure it’s going to take some time for us all to recover.
Having experienced the tragic loss of my father at a young age, I’m no stranger to death. But there is just something different about experiencing loss during a pandemic.
It not only makes you question life in general, but it makes you question yourself. Especially when many around you approach this pandemic differently than you do.
So for now – I am sitting with my grief and accepting my decision. Some may not agree with it, but it is what I had to do for me and my family.
Grief is a tricky thing. At times, you feel like you’ve finally got a handle on it.
But then – it sneaks up on you when you least suspect it. As time goes on, you quickly learn that grief never goes away and will always be a part of you once you experience it.
We are all living through unprecedented times due to this pandemic. And it’s something that will continue to impact us even after it’s long gone. It’s changed how we operate entirely. But most of all, it has taken away our right to grieve normally.
How about you? Have you lost anyone close to you during this pandemic? Did you find the grieving process especially difficult?