Covid 19 — Significance of Goodbyes

Why last words are so important?

Those who know me would know I’d rather talk about my thoughts than write them, but these are rare times when vocalizing these thoughts was not an option because every time I go to speak about this, it resulted in me tearing up. So this was the only way I could say everything I needed to.

Every year has its ups and downs, so 2020 was no different, although many of us feel this year was significantly challenging, and there were plenty more down moments than up. A month ago, I would have agreed and would have given the pettiest complaints about this year. I would have said how it’s the worst year because I’m locked safely in the comfort of my home, my social life is compromised, I couldn’t travel anywhere, but last week I lost my grandma to Covid-19. Suddenly, just like that, all those complaints about this year felt extremely, extremely little.

Covid has taught us so much, like spending quality time with loved ones, appreciating little things, making most of the time together, but most of all, it’s taught me the importance of goodbyes and last words.

Two weeks ago, on a Tuesday at 1 am, I heard my parents crying on the phone, speaking rather loudly. I rushed downstairs and was told my grandma tested positive for covid-19 and has been taken to the hospital, admitted in the ICU. In that moment, I had the most selfish thought because all I remember thinking was “no-no, no, no God no, not my family, please, please make my grandma better”

Having not knowing anyone personally who’s ended up in the hospital due to covid, I had a sickening feeling in my stomach, so I started researching anything and everything about hospital admissions. I found that recovery statistics looked very hopeful, and survival rates were increasing, so I kept convincing myself and my family that she’ll be fine. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person anyway, so I kept telling them it’s just a virus, loads of people recover every day, and doctors have all sorts of new medications so they’ll save her with no trouble. After every video call and any communication with the doctors, we got more hopeful because her oxygen levels were slowly rising. She responded to us when we video called her. She always looked excited to see us on the phone but had trouble speaking with the mask on and kept insisting on having it taken off so she could talk to us. She even requested home food because she was sick of hospital food, and we said just a few more days then you’ll be back home and can have any food you want. Everyday stretched for her and us, and one day felt a week-long, but it looked like she was making progress, and in no time, she will be out and back to spoiling her grandkids — an activity she truly enjoyed. Then suddenly there was a call very early Monday morning — she didn’t make it.

Of all the wrongdoings of this pandemic, the one that haunts me most is how people are left to die alone. My granny has a family of 28, but despite having such a big family, she was alone, with not a single one of us next to her during her last days, during her final moments. I know she must have been scared on her own there; I know she felt lonely and what makes this hard to get over is that despite knowing this, there was nothing the rest of the family or I could have done.

My grandma was always a homely person and hated being out too much. She found immense comfort in just being inside her own house and around her own family. Therefore when we were told she’s being rushed to the hospital, we were naturally worried about her health, but more so couldn’t help wonder how she’d cope alone without having her family around, without my granddad next to her.

For 68 years, my Grandparents were inseparable. My grandma always insisted on having my grandad around for everything; he was her life companion, after all. She always insisted on having him around, and he, too, made sure he was there to look after her every step of the way. So when she was taken to the hospital, my grandad naturally insisted on going with her, only to be told to isolate separately as he too tested positive. When the hospital informed us that she didn’t make it, none of us had the courage to tell him the news, and in all honesty, neither of us knew how to. Giving him the message felt almost surreal. It was like he already knew deep down but didn’t want to hear the words, and that’s when for the first time, I listened to my grandad cry. He was isolating, so there was no one there to comfort him, something I know he needed the most then. When we called him, he shared with us the story of their last moments together and how they had a petty argument just hours before she was taken to the hospital. He told us how he regrets not being able to hug her one last time and give her the loving comfort she needed at the time. During her time in the hospital, he could hardly speak to her because of his own conditions, so the last memory he had of hers was when she was leaving the house, and he thought she would be back in a day or two, and said to her “God bless you, see you soon.” Sadly that never happened.

I know many people compare covid 19 to generic flu and say how more people die from general flu or heart attacks every day, and that’s true. I understand every death is just as hard, but the only difference between those deaths and death by corona is the inability to leave this world with your loved ones near you. Healthcare workers have been heroic, and technology has been the last string of hope in keeping some contact, but none of these can replace the loved ones whom the dying need to be with and speak with the most, even if only one last time.

After my grandma passed away, the doctor told us the cause of death was heart failure. I’m no doctor, but one thing my heart tells me is that she was fighting corona in the best way she could, but before covid could kill her, I know it was the fear of being alone and not around anyone she knew that took her away first. So yes, I blame covid but not so much the disease itself but the isolation it creates.

During our Whatsapp video call two days before she left us forever, my last words to my grandma were very brief, and all I could say was, “please get well soon, can’t wait till you’re back so we can meet again,” but there was so much more I still wanted to say to her. I wanted to hug her and tell her how much I love her. I wanted to say how I’m sorry for not being there with her and how much she means to me. I wanted to thank her for loving me so dearly and always spoiling me. I thought I had time to do all of that, but that’s the thing with life and last words; you just never know how much time you have and what those last words will be.

Some say goodbyes, and final words are overrated, and you should say nice things to loved ones all the time, and yes, I agree. Still, I can’t shake the thought that when my grandma was lying there in the ICU during her last hours, she needed to hear nice calming words from the ones she loved and those who loved her so so much, but she couldn’t hear any of that. She needed to hold my grandad’s hand to give her the courage to keep fighting for longer because I truly believe if she had the comfort of having her loved ones there, she could have got through this.

I’ve spent a lot of time, maybe too much, replaying the hours and days that led to my grandma’s sudden passings. No matter how many times the story has played through my head, I always get stuck at that goodbye and how much I wished it could’ve happened. I still get hung up on the fact that I didn’t say goodbye to her. It might seem insignificant, but I think a proper goodbye could have provided that sense of finality. To me, goodbyes are a special kind of closure from both sides acknowledging and even accepting, that they won’t see one another again. Like at the end of a call or an evening with a friend it puts a pin in the last several hours of joy and wraps up hours well spent. Similarly at someone’s bedside in their final hours, it represents the farewell of a lifetime of moments together.

Perhaps, it wasn’t my goodbye that was missing. Maybe I needed to hear a final farewell from her, hear that she was OK, and that she lived a full life, that she was satisfied with the end of the story.

So yes, we should always say nice things to those we love and tell them how much we love them every day but the feeling of not being able to say the final goodbye always lingers. This pandemic has snatched so much from us, but the worst of it all is it took away is the privilege of saying farewell.

The whole of last week has been an emotional rollercoaster and I’m not usually the one to show my emotions openly, but this time around I had no control, every time someone mentioned my grandma, it would bring me to tears. So I've turned to this and I had two main reasons behind writing this blog, one to help me pour my thoughts out to help me get some closure, and two to assure anyone else grieving, that they’re not alone.

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