Death knocked on our door for the third time during this period of quarantine. And for the third time, confined to our home, we were unable to visit our loved one and give a proper good-bye.
My father-in-law passed away yesterday. We had been preparing for several months, but the death itself was sudden. I guess death is always sudden for those left to experience the aftermath of the loss. Logistical preparations can be managed – finalising wills, burial arrangements, selling property, distributing personal times to loved ones. But mental and emotional preparations are a feeble attempt at best. One is never fully prepared for the range of emotions that ensue.
I feel like this quarantine has been for us, the Quarantine of Death. Its shadow reached beyond the hospitals and empty streets of the towns, and stretched silently into our home, not once, not twice, but three times.
The last weeks, like everyone else, we have spent our days confined to our home. We have been bound by our monotonous routine, with each day indistinguishable from the day before, and then blurring again into the next.
During this period, we have often felt separated from the rest of life and the outside world; and yet, I discovered that no matter how much of a standstill I felt in our personal lives, life was not at a standstill at all. Work had stopped, school had stopped, life as we knew it had stopped, but the cycles of life and death continued on…business as usual- as it should be.
There is a line I love that Paulo Cohleo writes in the Alchemist: “Whatever happens once will never happen again. Whatever happens twice will surely happen a third time.” How true these words would turn out to be.
My own father passed away four months ago, shortly before the virus hit Italy. Again, there was the knowledge of the illness, the attempt to grapple with its impending outcome, the preparations, the denial, the anger, the grief, and finally, acceptance. His ashes were scattered three weeks ago in Texas. I was not there. I was inside my house in Italy. My brother sent me pictures.
A week later, we were met with the sudden passing of my husband’s best childhood friend. He had gone in for a routine procedure and went into a coma. It hit my husband hard. The borders had already been closed to Germany, where his friend lay in a coma. There was no way to get there to hold his hand, talk to him, or tell him goodbye.
Following his death, I immediately braced myself for the third. ‘Whatever happens twice will surely happen a third time,’ I just had no idea it would come so soon. My father-in-law was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure. He was given two weeks to live – not enough time for my husband to fly back, and spend two weeks in quarantine, before being able to see him. Then we got a call, two weeks had turned into twenty-four hours. And just like that, death had visited us thrice.
Coupled with the passings, this quarantine time has been speckled with other calamities – my dog’s retina became detached and he went blind (in one eye), and my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy on Monday. She is thankfully recovering nicely and Oden has adapted to using only one eye, and is still as feisty as ever.
So, if you are reading this, you are probably thinking that I am on the verge of a mental breakdown or have crumbled under the crushing pressure of grief. There have certainly been days when I have felt less than motivated, and have let myself collapse into a really good cry. But what has completely taken me by surprise is that, despite the tremendous loss that we have encountered during this time, I am actually feeling more happy than I have in a long time. Not that I was ever un-happy before; but for some odd reason, each day during this quarantine, I have felt enormously grateful, joyful, and energised with optimism.
Astonishingly, confronted with the loss of everyday the freedoms we took for granted, and the loss of friends and family, As only death can do, I found a deeper appreciation for life and the abundance of simple pleasures it holds. Sure, I have never felt more grateful for the house over my head, the food on my table, the health of my family. I take my dog outside and I literally smile at the rose bush that is bursting the pink blossoms. I am happy for my house that has a balcony and a yard. But it still goes deeper than that…
There is a lot of talk during this time about getting back to basics, enjoying time with your family, and eating dinner together. Those thing are not necessarily new to me. I am fortunate to stay home with my children and I cook dinner pretty much every night. Mine has been more of an internal shift – an awakening that has lain dormant under the ease of life as I had always known it.
This has been a monumental moment of loss for us in a very short period of time, and we are still in the beginning stages of processing it. Coupled with the fact that we have experienced all of this during this totally surreal moment in history where people are infected, dying, lives are being forever changed, fortunes lost, and livelihoods destroyed, it is almost more than the mind can process. (Luckily, there are excellent coping mechanisms out there. Thank you loving husband, funny friends, online chats, silly children, hysterical quarantine videos, and copious amounts of red wine.)
Through it all, I keep in mind that this is only a moment. A very ominous one; but still, it is just a moment. It will pass. And in the knowledge that it will pass, I don’t necessarily wish it away either. For without the darkness, one cannot possibly know the light. So I exist in this darkness for now, but I do not fear it. For there is a light that illuminates the night, and it does not come from the flame of a candle or the stars in the sky. It comes from the light that lives in each of us.
This catastrophe that has brought the world to its knees. We have fallen, but we are also holding each other’s hands – although not literally. Alternatively, we have held each other through balcony songs and dance, videos, and social media. In its fear and uncertainty, we have connected through laughter, love, and empathy. I only wonder if it will last…
So now, the question is not whether or not we will get up, it is a question of how we will get up. When this is over, will we help each other to stand, or will we stand again on our own, forgetting the unity and solidarity that saw us through the most challenging time of our generation.
This virus has changed the world and changed us.
Through its devastation, it has shown us our humanity.
I hope when this is over, we keep the change.