Dear 700 Departed Souls
We passed a grim milestone today in Melbourne, Victoria – more than 700 deaths due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I can’t stop thinking about the enormity of that number and those poor, 700 souls who have died in my home State. I cannot even bring myself to think about some of the tolls in other countries – 41.5 thousand in the UK; 190,000+ in the US – my brain cannot even process those numbers…
These are people who had partners, children, families, nieces, nephews, friends: people who loved and cared about them. Family and friends unable to sit with them and hold their hands as they died, gasping for life. How would we feel about our loved ones dying alone? I may have lost a few readers here because many of us are desperately uncomfortable discussing death and contemplating the death of those close to us is simply horrifying
I know this firsthand because I’ve had a bit of experience with death over these past four years. In that time, we have lost six family members, three of those being both of my husband’s dear parents, and my own beloved mother in February this year. We were the lucky ones, we got to sit by our loved ones’ beds, hold their hands in their last months and days of life and tell them over and over that we loved them. We sat in hospices for hours and days on end and laughed and cried with family and friends. We mourned them at big funerals – there were over 250 people at my mothers’ funeral, and I cannot tell you how healing it is to be surrounded by people telling you how much they loved your ‘person’ too. To hear stories from people who have known your loved ones at ages and stages that maybe you didn’t is an incredible comfort: who’d have thought my seemingly straight-laced mum inspired my grandmother and her sisters to scandalously shorten their skirts in the 1960s if my aunt hadn’t shared that at Mum’s funeral?!
And yet those beautiful 700+ souls who have died of COVID since March would only have had ten people allowed at their funerals. Everyone else had to watch online – unable to reach out and hug a distressed relative or friend. Which ten would we have chosen had my mum passed away just six weeks later….. it doesn’t bear contemplating! Grieving is a communal process and it helps us to grieve together. Even if we are silently sitting with our own grief, knowing others are grieving too gives us a sense of shared humanity, which in turn can be a great comfort. Grieving is a part of healing.
So I keep wondering: if we saw photos of those 700 beautiful people – of their smiling faces in happier times with their families at weddings, birthdays, holidays – would we process these daily numbers somewhat differently? Do we desensitise and dehumanise these dear souls when they just become part of a reported daily death count? Would we behave differently, more compassionately, if we knew more about the 700? Or have we just hardened ourselves by categorising them as ‘just numbers’ or, as I have infuriatingly heard just a few too many times, as “…elderly people or sick people who would have died anyway?”
Just as many of us can happily watch an escapist movie or TV show, or read a book about murders or high death counts for entertainment, maybe we are just really good at desensitising ourselves to death. We have become quite practised at disconnecting from ourselves and from our common humanity, and history tells us that when we allow ourselves to do that collectively, very dark days transpire.
I have been called a ‘bleeding heart’ more times than I can possibly count throughout my life and for many years, I thought my sensitivity was my greatest weakness. As a woman of a ‘certain age’, I’m now here to tell you, after years of experience, it’s my fucking superpower! (A topic for another blog).
So today, I want to openly acknowledge the dear departed 700 Victorian souls, and send my love to their grieving families and friends. May we continue to do everything we need to do to suppress and eliminate this virus on our soil so that others do not have to suffer the same fate.