What It’s Like Losing a Loved One Amid a Pandemic

It’s hard to describe how it feels to lose someone without seeing them.

The distraction of a public health crisis doesn’t make the loss any easier.

On Monday morning, I was watering my vegetable garden and listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I was on the chapter where she wrote about losing her father and one of her close childhood friends. Listening to her recount these experiences was uncomfortable for me — in part because I’ve experienced the loss of quite a few loved ones in my life.

But it also hurt because, at the time, I had two relatives in two different hospitals for a myriad of different health concerns. Hearing how the pain of loss struck her so badly brought me back to the last few times I’d been shaken by it. Hearing it on that particular day gave me an ominous fear of what could be ahead.

My grandfather has been struggling with a heart condition for over 20 years. He’s had quite a few bad spells and scares that he was able to recover from. This year has been worse than others — he’s had a few hospital visits and he was in a rehabilitation facility for a while. As a COVID-19 precaution, the facility wasn’t allowing any in-person visitors, only video calls.

We couldn’t see him for weeks.

On the morning of Monday, August 10th, the news reached me too late to reach the hospital in time. He was doing better and even looked like he was recovering for nearly a week. But then he took a sudden turn for the worse.

It almost doesn’t feel real. It’s easy to get lost in denial when you can’t actually see someone for weeks and months on end. The rehabilitation facility was taking reasonable precautions; I don’t fault them for that whatsoever. It’s just a brutally hard situation.

Like with most difficult emotions, I struggle with expressing myself plainly. It’s just always easier for me to get something out in choppy, little pieces of verse.

Whenever I put a date on a poem, it’s usually not a good sign. This is a poem about one of those things in life that I really don’t have any wise words to share. Even if you’ve dealt with loss many times over, it’s a little different every time. Losing my grandfather is one of those things that I don’t know how to deal with well.

I actually had three grandfathers, but that’s a long story for another day. He was my last living grandfather. I know I was incredibly fortunate to have him in my life as long as I have; there are so many people out there who don’t make it into their mid-20s with two generations back still intact.

The logistics of losing someone are as depressing as they are desensitized.

When I arrived afterward at my grandmother’s house, she was on the phone with their health insurance company trying to cancel my grandfather’s prescriptions before the next billed refill date.

It’s still surreal and depressing. It feels like a twisted perversion of reality to do things like pick out casket flowers or decide what someone should be buried in.

My family held a small service for him and we all wore masks. It was the best we could do, but it was also sobering; if it wasn’t for the pandemic, there would have been so many more people there celebrating his life. He had so many friends and connections in his community.

I’ve always struggled with being optimistic and recovering from grief in a reasonable amount of time. I want to get back to that positive mindset eventually, once I’ve been able to process all of this a little more deeply.

But I’ll be frank — it’s been a rough week.

Losing someone is always painful, but dealing with a pandemic too makes it worse.

I lost my other grandparents when I was so much younger and didn’t fully understand the gravity of everything. Now that I’m old enough to have lost a lot of people and old enough to fully feel the absence, it’s jarring and painful.

I’ll try to give myself something of a break. In theory, I know it’s necessary and it’s okay to wallow a bit, but I feel like I let it spiral and get worse very easily.

I really haven’t found the balance between actually processing my emotions versus avoiding them by making myself busy versus wallowing in them and letting them destroy me. It’s tricky too because I tend to launch into a spiral of poor self-care and bad decision making when I wallow too much. I spent over two years in one of those periods of wallowing in grief and it negatively impacted my life in every way imaginable.

I’m trying to learn from others to strike the right balance between properly processing and keeping myself busy. I’m also trying to learn from my past mistakes. I’ve spent too much time completely rebuilding myself to let myself fall to ruin again. That is one road I hope to never walk from the beginning again.

Writer and poet from Neptune. Instructional designer in NYC. Grad student at @NYUTandon studying Integrated Digital Media.

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