Near midnight on Sunday, my phone buzzed with a text. It was my mom. “Grandpa is in heaven,” she said. Fred Meyer, my beloved grandfather, was 99 years old and living in Florida, where he could be close to my uncle Jimmy, his devoted son, who cared for him with the help of other loving family members. But Jimmy wasn’t allowed to be with grandpa as he died in the hospital. Precautions against the spread of coronavirus wouldn’t allow it. My grandfather—husband to my beautiful grandmother Lillian, who had gone before him in death; father of five, grandfather of 13, great-grandfather of 12 thus far, friend to many more—died alone.
It wasn’t Covid-19 that took him. But the pandemic set the stage and shaped his final hours. A year earlier, grandpa had opted for assisted living so he wouldn’t “be a burden on anybody.” When it became clear that the virus was deadly for the elderly, the facility’s management followed social-distancing best practices. Most employees were sent home. Grandpa was kept in his room. Food was left at his door. No visitors were allowed. Uncle Jimmy couldn’t see him. Grandpa was found lying on the floor of his room. They rushed him to the hospital, where he died. No loving eyes looked on him in his final minutes, grateful for his life, commending him to God. We hope a caring nurse was at his bedside, but we may never know.
At this time, in love for and solidarity with one another, we have been asked to keep apart. Without a vaccine or therapies, physical separation is our best weapon against the virus. The virus is particularly dangerous for the elderly and those with serious underlying health conditions. All this we know and strive to uphold. But there is a dark side to social distancing. Hours before my grandfather died, my mother relayed to me that her two friends in New York’s Long Island were kept from seeing their 35-year-old daughter as she was dying of cancer in the hospital, alone.
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