COVID and bereavement: one in 43,000 dead men in Canada

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This New Westminster Record journalist lost her father in July. Here, she shares her grief journey.

“COVID is over.” “Keep on living.” “Imagine being afraid of a cold again.”

If you’ve made any of these flippant comments, whether on social media or in real life, then this is for you. I need you to listen. I need you to understand what it means to me, and countless thousands of others, when we hear you dismiss this virus so casually.

Tell me it’s over, and I’ll tell you how it feels to know that, for my family, it will never be over.

COVID irrevocably changed our lives when it found my father, despite all the caution he exercised, and left his legacy in the form of congestive heart failure.

Dad passed away on July 14. He was 82 years old.

I’m sure the “COVID is over” crowd would be happy to step in and tell everyone that COVID deaths don’t count if the person who died was old. As if the time they had left in their life – a year or five or 10 or 20 – was worth less than the time they had left in mine or yours. As if my father’s eight decades of life filled with love, faith and compassion counted for nothing.

My father mattered. His life mattered.

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His name was Ronald Pius MacLellan. He was born in Buchans, Newfoundland, the son of a Codroy Valley coal miner. He was the eldest of seven children in a family that moved first to Cape Breton and then to northeastern Ontario after the mines.

He became a teacher, a career path that took him to the small farming community of Phelpston, Ontario, where he joined the church choir and met a fellow teacher who happened to be the daughter of the choir director. Later they married and had three daughters.

He was a staunch Roman Catholic, becoming an ordained deacon in 1983. His faith was joy and hope; it was never about sin and shame, but about compassion, service and social justice, long before such a concept became mainstream.

He was an absent-minded singer, reader, writer, teacher who could lose himself in philosophy and theology for hours on end but whose understanding of the practice was questionable. He would never have been on time for anything if it hadn’t been for Mom.

He loved his garden, his God and his family – not necessarily in that order – and his only granddaughter was the apple of his eye. She, in turn, loved “dumb grandpa”; one of the worst parts of the pandemic, for her, was not having her grandparents travel from Ontario to British Columbia for regular visits.

Tell me COVID is over, and I’ll tell you what it’s like to see your child’s heart break.

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Tell me it’s over, and I’ll talk to you about grabbing the smooth, cool surface of the bars on the sides of Dad’s casket. I’ll tell you what it felt like to walk alongside my sisters, my husband, my cousin and my daughter to carry this casket through a Knights of Columbus honor guard to its funeral mass. .

I’m going to tell you about my fierce and overwhelming pride for the 10-year-old who just turned 10 who walked ahead of me, determined to make Grandpa proud. I’ll tell you how she seemed to grow up in an instant, wearing her first pair of heeled sandals and a brand new blue floral dress, chosen to reflect Grandpa’s love for his garden. I’m going to tell you how a shy child faced her anxiety with a deep breath and a straight back and gracefully walked down the aisle of the church as hundreds of strangers watched.

I’m going to tell you what it’s like to accompany my father one last time to the church where I was baptized, where I attended mass with my family every Sunday when I was a child, where I sang in a folk choir at Saturday night mass when I was a teenager.

I’ll tell you what it’s like to try so hard to sing for him when the musicians kicked off with one of his favorite anthems. I’ll tell you how my throat constricted when I couldn’t forget the memory of sitting at the piano at home, singing Here I am, Lord with my dad. I’ll tell you how my husband’s voice cracked as he stood beside me and sang, and how the wool of his suit jacket felt soft against my skin as I clung to him.

I’m going to tell you about the warm weight of my daughter’s head on my shoulder and the warmth of her tears streaming down my bare arm.

I will tell you about the vagueness of the solemn faces, the weight of the common sadness of his brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, parents-in-law, neighbors, colleagues, parishioners, friends.

I’ll tell you how the images of a formal, ritual goodbye can burn into your memory with the white pain of a branding iron. How it feels both healing and heartbreaking when you wake up in the dark replaying those images, unable to stop the film reel from unrolling even if you wanted to.

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I can smile, or even laugh, and you might wonder why. But I will tell you how sadness can coexist with joy. How a trip to a funeral can coexist with an impromptu family vacation.

I’ll tell you how I watched my daughter gasp in awe at the vast expanse of Wasaga Beach, marveling at its soft, fine sand and the way Lake Huron feels like an ocean.

I’ll tell you what it’s like to watch her trust in her dad’s toughness as she dives into the blue waters of Georgian Bay with him by her side, leaping into the waves with abandon. I’ll tell you how I dive too, because if I get my face wet my tears will melt away and it doesn’t matter if my memory replays our childhood trips to Wasaga Beach and how I used to play in the waves with my own dad and no one will see if i can’t help thinking i’m never coming back here with him again and it all seems impossible and overwhelming and surreal yet here i’m laughing and jumping and screaming with my daughter.

Tears are funny. Sometimes you can’t even tell they’re falling off except for the salt on your skin.

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I will tell you how grief follows you like fine, soft sand that seeps into your skin and threatens to spill out of unexpected places at inopportune times.

When you order a drink at Starbucks and remember your dad’s kindness and good humor, he was always humorously grumpy about pretentious coffee orders.

When you open Facebook to be approached by today’s memories, which mostly include a comment from him about something on your feed that caught his eye – a post about a choir concert, a photo of his granddaughter or, in today’s case, a piece of your own writing that he loved so much he wanted to borrow it for a homily in church.

I’m going to tell you how this soft, thin, almost tangible thing that is grief drains away in the form of tears when your colleague comes into your cabin and asks, “How are you?” and you know she really wants to know.

Or when your daughter rummages through the basket of barely-touched plush toys to pull out Squeaky Lion, the little toy she always wielded to wake Grandpa when he stayed in our basement bedroom. When the thought that he’ll never come back to stay in this room hits you like a fist and takes your breath away.

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Tell me COVID is over, and I’ll tell you about the people who have been deprived by its absence.

I will tell you about my mother. My indomitable and unstoppable mother, left without a life partner after almost 55 years. What happens to the practical and pragmatic half of a couple when they no longer have a distracted dreamer to care for?

I will tell you about my sisters, strong and kind and smart and fierce and compassionate; in many ways like dad and in so many ways like mom. Like me, they suddenly find themselves halfway orphans, feeling the immense weight of losing half of the duo who have led our family for our entire lives.

And I’ll tell you about me. I’m going to tell you about sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon, crying in the newsroom because that’s something I do now. I’m going to talk to you about questioning the idea of ​​sharing this. I’ll tell you about the decision to share it anyway.

I’m going to tell you how I started writing my own grief story. I’ll tell you why I beat the part of me that says it’s selfish to talk about me: because I know we need to share our stories of grief with each other, the same way we share all our stories. And a storyteller is who I am. That’s what dad helped me become.

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Tell me COVID is over, and I’ll tell you this story, because the world needs all the stories it can get right now.

Grieving is an integral part of being human. But what about the grief that accompanies a mass event on the scale of a global pandemic? The past few years have left the world reeling under the weight of losses so enormous that no part of the planet has been spared.

COVID-19 has claimed over 43,000 lives in Canada alone, and over 6.4 million worldwide. (And that’s just the official tally, which lets slip many people with stories similar to my own father, who may not have died directly from COVID but would still be alive if they hadn’t contracted the virus.)

That’s 6.4 million lives, multiplied by all the people whose lives have crossed paths with theirs and who are now writing their own stories of grief.

How can a world bear the weight of such sadness without collapsing in on itself?

How can I?

These are the questions that haunt my sleep. These are the questions that make me want to run through the streets screaming that everything is different now and screaming that it is impossible for life to go on as it always has and asking why is everyone going on and acting like if things were normal when they are so obviously clearly obviously completely and absolutely not.

Such is sorrow.

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This story of mourning is mine. If you too are going through yours, then I hope you have found some comfort in the shared stories of others and in the memories of your loved one; that you too can hold on to love, compassion and hope even while crying at your desk or in the dark.

If you were lucky enough to escape heartbreak, I wish your story continues to be a happy one.

If you still insist on rejecting my reality, then I will remember this truth: Dad would have found a way to meet your skepticism with compassion and meet your contempt with grace. I’ll try to be as compassionate, as gracious, as hopeful as he was.

I will fail. But I will get up. I will brush the sand. And I’ll keep crying and laughing and remembering and living and loving ’cause what else is there to do?

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All that.

That’s what I’ll tell you if you tell me COVID is over.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, [email protected]

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