The phone call came a week ago, Friday. My mom had entered the hospital the previous Monday for pancreatitis but was tested for the corona/covid virus. My sister told me on the phone the result was positive. I quickly called my wife, Meg, who was literally on the way back from placing her aunt with advanced dementia in a memory care facility one day under the wire before no more patients were being accepted. Meg instantly said she wanted to drive with me to be with my mom and, thus, my siblings and in-laws all started our journey to suburban Detroit while expecting the worst possible outcome for our 90-year old mother.
Hospital visitation under the current umbrella of caution is allowed only in the event of likely passing and, at 3:00 am, the call came. We rushed to the hospital where pneumonia, a potentially fatal result of the virus, had rendered my mom unconscious. My sister, niece, and I sat with her as she took her last breaths 11 hours later while others waited patiently in the permitted area. Then we started the process of grieving as best we could.
The problem with my mother's death was not the cause. She was old and frail and we expected these were her final years. The tragedy was our inability to grieve properly. We wore plastic gloves, a mask, and goggles along with a protective covering in the hospital, thus preventing us from kissing my mom goodbye or touching her with the skin of our hands.
Her loss was more than the statistic of being the fifth person in southeast Michigan to succumb or one of the thousands who got the disease. I remind you of this so we can all recognize that each family has a story...and it's the same story of love, family, growth, joy, sharing, and loss. The story is more than a statistic. In this case, the real tragedy was not that her passing occurred because of the virus, but during it. We were deprived, like other families around the world, of normal grieving.
Normal grieving includes family, friends, and food during discussions about a life well-lived. We normally share stories, cry, laugh, hug, touch, console, and prepare for burial. In our case, there was no gathering. Few stories and zero hugs. My family realized we hadn't even hugged each other until the next day!
The service was a graveside-only service with immediate family and a few cousins who braved the risk of infection. We didn't hug those dear relatives either and had no post-funeral meal with them. Instead, we went back to our hotel (which graciously remained open and allowed us to stay because the owner was sensitive to our circumstances) and ate take-out food.
The next day we started the arduous task of cleaning out my mom's apartment. We pressed on through and, by the end of the week, it was done. Meg and I drove home this past Friday and collapsed in exhaustion. My truth is that none of the sadness hit me until yesterday...and today.
I have received phone calls along with emails from friends and business associates, not knowing about the recent loss my family has suffered, wondering what words of inspiration might be coming from me. In my business, I’ve created a following of people who read my regular tips of inspiration. They would have noticed a couple I sent last week...even invoking a little humor about the 6-foot hole dug by my wife in our back yard reminding me to keep in line as we remain cooped up together. Mostly I have been silent for a couple of weeks. The truth is I haven't been able to find the inspiration.
I cannot move forward with business-as-usual until I unburden myself with the truth of my life over the past two weeks. If you have read this far, I thank you. I need to accept and process what has happened before I can fulfill my calling. I will continue to hurt and cry a bit over the coming days and weeks as I reflect on the amazing life of Gaby Davis.
She was a woman who put herself through school (twice) at a time when women didn't get Masters degrees...was an astounding baker and cook...a world-class needlepoint artist...a grade school teacher in a poor and under-served community of Pontiac, Michigan...a volunteer for adult literacy...and the mother of three great children...one of whom writes regular tips to people like you. Thus a part of Gaby comes to you every time my words hit your screen.
Having shared the sadness of my recent weeks, I want to help you find a positive outlook in this grey cloud. Here are my take-aways:
- There are opportunities to connect. It actually pleases me that people feel such a deep loss of the human touch; it speaks to our need for connectivity. It proves that texting, video chat, and the phone are not enough for humans. That being said, one of the amazing benefits of our times is the ability to connect using alternative media. The outpouring of love my family received in lieu of a personal touch enabled us to feel connected during a difficult time.
- There is light at the end of the tunnel. Notice earlier I didn't capitalize "covid." I don't think we need to ALL-CAP SHOUT IT. It's a virus and we can beat it. There are positive signs that we are doing well and this crisis will pass. I warn you that it might return again...as viruses are prone to do. Either way, good and light times are ahead.
- Humans have endured far worse. Ultimately this disease will claim the lives of many and affect tens of thousands. By comparison to past diseases and plagues, this is benign...for now. But we must act responsibly and cooperatively.
- It's not a test...and it is! Had this been a test, you would have watched the video of people walking calmly to the exit. They'd put their own mask on before assisting the child next to them (calmly...even while the plane is hurtling towards the earth!). They'd use the stairs and not the elevator. In the real scenario, people panic and ignore protocols. They mock the advice of experts. They act selfishly when it is in our collective interest to act together. This is a real test of mettle and each individual's ability to cope and cooperate.
It's not nearly as fun being in the corona-pocalypse movie as it is watching it. THERE! I said it. Someone had to. Everyone has thought about it; we are living in the apocalyptic movie. The question for you is what character you will play as the scenes unfold. Will you be one of the sagacious, unselfish heroes or will you be a panic-monger? That is the challenge.
I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone is losing something. But are they losses...or setbacks? Can individuals courageously accept temporary difficulty and forge ahead in the future? These are the questions for our time. None of us are alone. Zero. None. This can be a time when humanity bonds...or falters.
It seems trite to think a high school senior is saddened by missing graduation, prom and "skip day," but it's a real setback to them. Laborers, waiters, massage therapists, baristas, retail salespeople, and countless millions who live paycheck to paycheck are scared. Older people on the cusp of retirement fear the bottom to the market might be too low to recoup in time. Congressmen, business owners, and leading political leaders are stressed with the responsibility to care for hundreds of millions, if not billions of people. Let your compassion flow to all of these people and then feel it echo into your soul.
Even if you feel fear about the things happening today, my advice is to fake it until you make it. Fake leadership. Take a moment to release your own fears and instead ease the anxiety of others. Stress cooperation and calm. We are hardy and strong. We can survive this by following proper protocols.
Consider how you will view your courage in the future when you look back on today. There is light at the end of the tunnel and when you reach it, make yourself proud to look back at how you responded in the darkness.
The Universe is unfolding as it should...