Writing in a Time of Peril: 5.1.2020

April 1, 2020:The US CDC reported 186,101 cases (22,562 new) and 3,603 deaths (743 new) on April 1. The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard is reporting 217,263 US cases and 5,151 deaths as of 11:00am on April 2, 2020 – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

May 1, 2020: The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard is reporting 1.07 million US cases and 63,019 deaths as of 8:30am on May 1. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

May 11, 2020: The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard is reporting 1.33 million US cases and 79,825 deaths as of 1:30pm on May 11.

Covid Mourning

There are no national Native American honorings of Covid dead. There are no national Jewish mourning observances for the dead each Friday. No national services for Seventh Day Adventist or Church of God or Jehovah Witness dead on Saturday. No national Protestant or Catholic or Mormon observances for the dead-on Sunday. There are no national observances for Buddhist or Hindu or Sikh dead. Nor ecumenical or atheist or agnostic dead. No national observances of American dead.

Church leaders, ecumenical councils, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the president have not called for national daily, weekly, monthly mourning observances for all our dead. 

There are no comprehensive lists of the names of the departed in local and national newspapers each Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are no moving tributes to 75,000 deaths on television or the radio. There are no PSAs about grief’s rage, despair, loneliness and injustice. 

As the number of the dead increase exponentially, so do my shock, disbelief, desperate prayers for a cure, anguished calls for special dispensation from worry, desolation, keening grief, and compound suffering as beloved ones may become sick, become sick, are sick, are dying, die. 

A month before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, my mother, Dora Ester Ransom Bridges, had a small stroke. The only significant complication was she could not swallow. Doctors placed a feeding tube in her stomach to deliver nutrition. My mother entered a skilled nursing facility in Uptown New Orleans in order to restore her ability to swallow and return home. Three days before hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, my mother was informed that safe locations were being prepared for skilled nursing home residents in the path of the hurricane. They could not give her the exact location before she was evacuated. After the hurricane hit, communications were so compromised, it was a full week before we located her at the East Louisianan State Hospital, formerly the State Insane Asylum, simply Jackson to most black people in the region. 

Over the phone, my mother gave me a long list of food and supplies to send to her and for other patients and the staff. She let me know that patients and staff would be returning to The Home that November, because miraculously it had not been damaged during the storm or its aftermath. In addition, my mother explained that she would not be coming to live with me in San Francisco. Instead, she would be returning to New Orleans, because she was not going to leave her friend. Her friend was a woman in her thirties who was rendered paraplegic after an automobile accident. I was sure I would convince my mother otherwise when I arrived in Jackson to see about her. 

I traveled to New Orleans during the first week of October. I drove north on I- 12 along wide grassy medians. The southbound lanes were filled with trucks bumper to bumper traveling sixty-five miles an hour hauling temporary housing units, FEMA trailers. I picked up food and supplies from Winn Dixie and Walgreens. I had also taken orders from my mother for herself, other patients and staff for Popeyes, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and Burger King. I was greeted like a hero with clapping, smiles, and thanksgiving. The trunk of my rental car and every seat were packed with supplies, food and takeout.  The staff carried all of the supplies to a room to organize them for distribution and the food into the dining room for a feast. I returned home without my mother. 

I made a second trip back to New Orleans to bring my mother to live with me in July of 2006 after my mother’s friend’s home was repaired and she was able to move back in it. The Ransom family celebrated my mother’s eightieth birthday with family who survived Katrina and her aftermath in Natchez, Mississippi. When I arrived at the Home to drive her the nearly three hours to Natchez, I found that my mother was oxygen dependent and not recommended for air travel. My mother complained her doctors had refused to remove her stomach tube even though her ability to swallow had returned. My mother insisted that the stinking opening that needed constant cleaning and care be closed. 

I spoke with the doctors who believed that the surgery, while minor, was not minor for my mother. My mother insisted and surgery was scheduled for January 2007. I scheduled a flight based on the date of the surgery. I decided to visit my paternal aunts that Christmas, instead of going to New Orleans as usual, since I would be with her for her surgery. Just before Christmas my mother’s surgery was changed to Thursday, December 21, 2006. I didn’t change my plans. I didn’t go home to be with my mother. I didn’t. 

On Wednesday, December 27, 2006. I received a call from my mother’s longest and best friend. She said my mother was failing and for me to come home. I scrambled to get an earlier flight home. My mother died on Thursday December 28, 2006 alone because I didn’t change my plans. I didn’t go home to be with her.

I wasn’t there when my mother died, but my mother didn’t die alone. I spoke with her nurses and her doctor. The choked up as they described her last hours. They had held her hand, sang to her, prayed with her. They had stayed with her until her last breath. When I went to the hospital to retrieve my mother’s belongings, I brought flowers and food to the hospital staff. While I wept with unrelenting guilt and shame, they held me without judgement with tears spilling down their faces as well.  

I wait for the John Hopkins Covid–19. Update each morning. I feel my mother’s death every day. Only now, I count along with my own regret and loss, the Covid reported deaths. 79,825 deaths as of 1:30pm on May 11, Monday , May 11, 2020.

I shatter when I think that their family members would have given most anything for the choice to hold, sing, to pray with, to say goodbye in person with their loved ones, what I could have given to my mother and myself. I weep knowing how much hospital, nursing home, and congregate living staffs wish for more time, fewer patients, to have all the material, equipment and gear they need, to save more, not have the additional responsibility to do hospice and familial substitute care as their patients died alone, as well as, being in constant fear for their own lives and the lives of their families.

There is no national mourning. I will mourn anyway. In my intense sorrow I will ruminate over the loss of beloved ones. I may focus on little else but our loved one’s deaths. I long to have them back with us. I struggle accepting their deaths. Yet, I become deadened sometimes and shutdown. Sometimes I lose the ability to feel anything but sadness and loss. Sometimes I’m angry, bitter even. Sometimes I feel hopeless and helpless as Covid deaths increase exponentially. 

I receive the Covid–19 case and death count from Johns Hopkins each morning and play the Spotify Playlist I made of the music that allows me to sink down to my knees in grief and lifts me up again. I wonder about what music others would select. What cultural and generational rituals and music that allows grief’s well of tears, tell the victory stories of our departed, and celebrates precious lives left behind. 

Covid Mourning Spotify Play List

I go down my to-do list of self-care: meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear, grief, and rage into expression, action and art. 

I continue to chronicle these times.

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA




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