This blog post is one I never thought I would write but feel compelled to share. I have recently dealt with two deaths. One a friend and one a relative. One I was close to and one I barely knew. One lived near me while the other lived in another state. One was disabled while the other was not. But the feeling of sorrow and not being able to grieve in the traditional way is felt all the same. Grieving during a pandemic is something I would have never thought I would experience but yet here I am.
My friend was an active member in the blind community and died in March. She lost her vision to diabetes and was a fierce advocate when it came to health, fitness and diabetes education. We would talk about that quite often. For years she ran a support group that helped other blind folks who had diabetes and was very supportive of eating healthy and exercise. We use to take exercise classes together years ago at the Center for the Visually Impaired. We would also have occasional Saturday lunches with other blind friends in the community. I remember one of our last lunches we talked about life and family as we munched on salads at California Pizza Kitchen. We both were huge salad lovers! We also enjoyed reading and were members of a blind book club at GLASS Atlanta. When I got the call that she had passed in her sleep I was deeply sadden and in shock. The coronavirus was just hitting us here in Atlanta. Sheltering in place and practicing social distancing was launching., So, no large or traditional funeral gatherings. As I talked to mutual friends all we could do is just talk and share stories over the phone. We could not gather and commiserate in person. No humming to old favorite funeral songs and hymns. No eulogy. No crisp or glossy paper program to keep in your Bible or photo album. No passing out extra tissue to wipe tears. No hugs or embraces given to her family or other friends who also were grieving. No repass. This type of grieving was weird and strange and new. It was like she died but didn’t because we weren’t really allowed to get closure in the traditional way. You had to kind of figure it out on your own. And so, I did.
Then a few weeks ago I got a call from my aunt that my Paternal grandmother died of natural causes. Again, I am sad and in shock. But my grieving is different as I was estranged from my grandmother and this side of the family. Due to no fault of my own she decided to not have a relationship with me. I grew up not really knowing her. When trying to reach out she rebuffed me and now any chances for a relationship are permanently gone. That is a big part of my grief and what I feel the saddest about. When I got the call the grave side funeral was the next day in Alabama. So, there was no opportunity for me to attend. I had to absorb the news and grieve at home in my house. Not sure how to think or what to feel for a blood relative that I had no relationship with for most if not all of my life. I was told by a relative that attended the funeral that social distancing was practiced and that people had on facemasks and gloves. Obituaries and programs were mailed to me. Again, I had phone conversations with friends and family but all of this is from a distance. I must figure out how to deal with this death as well.
During this time of a health epidemic we are not able to participate in the traditional funeral ceremonies and rituals of our culture. It is hard and we must find new ways to find closure and celebrate the lives of the people we love and cherish. whether we were close friends or complete strangers as we move through these days of the pandemic and figuring out our new normal, we will all have to find our way through the grieving process.