Today was my mom’s fifth yahrzeit. The Senior Son, the Junior Son, and my Big Brother put in appearances at zoom minyan this morning. Everyone got to say something about Mom/Bubbe. She was a towering presence in all our lives. The Senior Son stated what we all knew to be true….never get on her bad side. As some who spent waaaay too much time on her bad-child list, I can say with absolute certainty it was never much fun. But I learned lots of lessons in the proverbial dog house…. many of them actually useful. Of course, I’ve never mastered the art of getting FIVE knuckles in my mouth at once during periods of duress. She was a world champion knuckle biter. As much she drove me crazy, which she did on a regular basis, (admittedly a short trip,) I miss my mom a lot. I miss the secret signals, the eye rolls, and “the look.” All moms have one, y’know, the look that can stop a clock mid-tick. I miss the sympathetic sighs, the conspiratorial chuckles, and her favorite question: what is this really about?
I was thinking about how she would’ve handled this pandemic thing while I was queueing up for my Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine. See, I got the email that my number came up in the county Sunday morning at 10:15. With a single click and a few answers to confirm, I had an appointment at 5:00. The hardest part was waiting to be let into the parking lot. After that, it was pleasantly and remarkably easy. Everyone was lovely and cheerful. I didn’t wait 2 minutes before I was shown to a chair and a lovely nurse with what I suspected was a lilting Jamaican accent was swabbing my arm. I was led to another chair, where I could read my book for the 15 minutes until I could go home. Piece o’ cake. Door-to-door, it was about 45 minutes worth of pleasantness.
Driving home, I got to thinking about how Mom would’ve been driving her doctors crazy about getting Dad vaccinated. She would’ve been driving me crazy about me getting vaccinated. She would’ve taken on Bucks County on behalf of my Big Brother and Sister-in-Law to straighten out the mess there, and get them vaccinated. She had a low tolerance for ineptitude, and a lower tolerance for stupidity. I think she would’ve been okay with my vaccination experience….but only if there had been a Ben’s hot dog and half-sour pickles after the event. If nothing else she was practical.
Over 500,000 people have died in the US alone from COVID and its complications. That’s a lot of grieving families. That’s a whole lotta kids, grandkids, and probably great grandkids who have lost adults who are significant in their lives. I know the grief I experienced with the loss of my husband, Steve. I had but a few more years before I lost my father-in-law who had continued to live with me after Steve died. My own folks followed not long after that, separated by 6 months. There are times I think my heart is total Swiss cheese from the number of holes punched through its walls. Every time I light a yahrzeit candle, I grieve for the life it represents, and just like real life, the candle flickers. Light and less light. Light and darkness. No one is all one or the other. I try to remember the whole person, not just the good parts. Some are easier than others.
Unlike September 11th, there is no date-of-disaster for a pandemic yahrzeit candle. This plague stretches out, it lingers, unable to abate. We are all tired of a battle that has no end in sight. Governors lifting mask requirements only play into the foolish-is-as-foolish-does division of government. Have they yet to understand how this disease spreads? In appeasing the anti-mask mob, are they willing to risk more deaths? Apparently so. I totally understand that their state economies are suffering and they want “normal.” I get it. But they should, at the same time, post a warning label in that: “Removing your mask increases your risk of infection and death,” like the warning on cigarette packs.
Steve (z”l) would’ve said this is evolution in action, survival of the most reasonably intelligent, and I would have to agree with him. It’s like the flood and the rowboat joke:
Sam: G-d, I trusted you! How could you let me drown?
G-d: Let you drown???? Sam! I sent you a rowboat, then a speed boat, then a helicopter....
You get the idea.
In the years to come, there will be more and more memorials, yahrzeit candles, and moments of silence to remember the vast number of people who died from COIV-19 and its mutations. Those monuments will not quite stretch to embrace those collateral damage deaths…the ones who could not carry on with a broken heart, the ones left destitute by the pandemic economy and died of poverty, the ones who go unrecorded as pandemic deaths due to this monumental tragedy. There are so many other ways to die when your world is collapsing around you. We will grieve as a nation for a long time when this tide is finally turned.
And we will blame. Americans are really good at that. We, the People of the United States, will find one scapegoat or another at which to point a finger saying, they are to blame for this misfortune. Accepting our own role in how this happened will be rare indeed.
We will grieve as individuals and as communities. There is just no way around that. And I’m sure there will be some Monday in March called Pandemic Memorial Day because, after all, we have National Donut Day and National Cheddar Cheese Day and National Spam Day…….
What we don’t have (but seriously need) is National Responsibility Day.
Until then, just keep wearing your mask even if you are vaccinated.