On Grief and Isolation

On Friday, February 26, my mom passed away. She was 71. She was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in September, and she battled the disease hard. We thought we were losing her in November, but she bounced back and continued fighting. Following her last chemotherapy treatment in December, she even had a short spell where her strength seemed to return and she seemed somewhat robust, all things considered. She continued to receive immunotherapy treatments, and those hit her hard, physically and emotionally, but she fought back as much as she was able. My siblings and I even had to tell her to slow down, to not do so much, to rest.

Eventually, however, the cancer came roaring back, and when it did her decline was swift. She passed away with all of her children and her brother and sister-in-law at her bedside. I believe it was as peaceful for her as it was for us. We got to say good-bye together, as a family, which was a very special moment, especially considering that many families are not able to gather in this way thanks to the pandemic.

In the days since her passing, I’ve experienced myriad emotions. I’ve grieved my mom; worried about my dad, even though they’ve been divorced decades; laughed and cried with my wife, daughter, siblings and their families, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins. The time I’ve shared with my family has been incredibly special. We’ve gotten closer than ever, and I’m super grateful for them all.

I’ve also been lonely. Dreadfully lonely. Mostly when I’m not surrounded by a group of people, which is more often than not. And I feel the need to write about it, not only to help me process what I’m experiencing, but also to share my experience with others so that if you have friends or family who have lost someone close to them during Covid, you might have an idea of what they’re going through.

Following my mom’s death, I was grateful for any and all communication with the outside world. Text messages came in, as did messages via Instagram and Facebook Messenger. I had multiple friends check in on me multiple times, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated those check-ins. Because, fuck, this shit is hard.

A week after her passing, we had her viewing and a small, family-only memorial service. We wondered about attendance. Who would show? How many people? Would it be lightly attended? Crowded? Somewhere in the middle?

If I’m being honest, I think we expected light attendance, perhaps very light attendance, to be standing by her casket for 90 minutes without very many people stopping in to pay their respects.

Thankfully, we were very pleasantly surprised. My mom touched many lives during her decades spent as a childcare provider, and so many of the children (many now adults) she cared for over the years turned out for her, as did many of their parents. It was heartwarming and touching and I ended up hugging a ton of people who I hadn’t ever met—and will likely never meet again.

My brother’s friend circle came out in force. If you don’t know my brother and his friends, it’s hard to explain just how tight-knit this crew is. They’ve been incredibly close for as long as I remember, and they’ve remained close despite life pulling them in different directions—professionally, personally, and even geographically. Yet they were all there, and it was beautiful to see. It was special.

Overall, it just felt good to see people, to connect. Even though we couldn’t see each other’s smiles, we knew they were there because we heard the laughter and we saw eyes wrinkle up as they only do when smiles are big and bright.

Weird to say, but my mom’s viewing was a much-needed break from the isolation of the past year and the crushing weight my siblings and I had been experiencing since September and especially the week prior.

Then…the weekend hit, and outside a few hours spent with my family at my Mom’s, things got quiet. I became lethargic. Gray. Just completely out of sorts. Then Monday arrived, and as I walked into the spare bedroom that my wife and I now share as an office because we’ve worked from home for the past year, I felt myself shudder. The last thing I wanted to do was walk into that office. I would’ve much rather gone into my office at work, the one that’s downtown, the one that would normally be filled with energy and faces I haven’t seen in 12 months. The one where I would see friends’ smiles, where people might attempt to cheer me up or console me or just say, “Hey, I’m really sorry. Let me know if you want to grab a coffee or something.”

Instead, I’m sitting at my home computer, writing this, where people can’t see me, and it just has me feeling lonely and isolated and in need of people in a big, bad way. And there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. It is what it is. We’re all in this isolation bubble and when you need people, even when you really fucking need people, people just aren’t around.

And please don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying people should be doing more or more people should have shown up at the viewing or anything like that, because hell…Covid. I understand our options for connecting with one another are limited right now. I do. It just sucks that this is the case.

If I have a piece of advice, it’s this: If you have a friend or a family member who loses someone important to them at this moment, it’s very possible that they’re feeling very similar to how I am right now—especially if they’ve taken the social distancing precautions seriously. Reach out. Say hello. A simple text message or a short five-minute phone call could very well be the highlight of their day. I’m no expert on grief, but my experience tells me that it’s cosmically harder to pull ourselves out of a grieving funk without the help of others.

Thanks for listening.