TW: COVID Death
Almost a month ago my best friend texted me and asked me to pray for her uncle, he was in the ICU fighting for his life.
I’m a Christian and she’s a Brahmin, she’s also rather devoted to Sai Baba but we’re both law school graduates and understand the value of a well-placed contact. So I prayed, but he died anyway. And because she is a beautiful and generous person, she doesn’t hold the impotence of my prayers against me, so I’ve been doing it for her.
She informed me of his passing via text at four in the morning, I missed her text. When I woke up, I texted her asking if I could call her, I should have just called but I was just stalling because of my sudden and complete loss of words. Thankfully, she declined. Later that day, she video-called me and I watched my best friend cry till she ran out of tears.
It feels a little horrifying to admit the reality of receiving bad news during this pandemic- if you hear that a friend’s family member has passed away, a small noise is ever-present in the back of your mind, “at least it’s not my family”; if you hear that a relative has passed away, that voice obnoxiously whispers, “at least you weren’t very close to them”. At some point in this last year, my mind started negotiating away my empathy and love for those around me to protect me from the overwhelming grief of simply existing in the now and today.
I’ve heard of entirely too many of my friends suffering this particular harrowing loss this year. I can’t even begin to imagine the agony that they must have been in yesterday. These themed holidays that celebrate the parental binary are often dismissed by cynics as cash grabs for greeting card companies. The reasons for this cynicism can be varied, some worthy reasons that should be considered by all and some empty reasons that should be dismissed with prejudice.
My own father did me the favor of removing himself from my life almost 8 years ago, so I’ve written my fair share of deeply embittered personal essays that were embarrassingly titled “This Father’s Day I’m Celebrating My Mother” and then it was just a laundry list of ways that I thought my father had failed me with a scant paragraph about how my mother is 100 times the man my father ever was.
As I said, it was embarrassing. I like to think that those wounds are at least settled if not healed or maybe I’ve just learned to dress them better.
But I digress, watching my friends and my peers deal with the loss of their parents made me realize how unprepared, how ineligible, how cripplingly young I am to even properly dread the inevitability of this loss. My mother is the straw that I’ve clung to so that I don’t drown. And in my lesser moments when I hear that someone else has lost their life, I simply thank God that at least it isn’t her.
Yes, friends, I have once again written a Father’s Day essay about my mother, the only difference is that this is perhaps the sincerest one.
My mother is a nurse in a government hospital. She’s in the gynecology department so throughout her career I’ve never had to worry about her dying from a communicable respiratory disease but then again, I’d never witnessed my mother be a healthcare professional during a global pandemic before these last few hellish years.
My mom didn’t actually want to be a nurse when she was a child. She got this career the same way she got the early onset arthritis that hurts her bones on a semi-regular basis, from her mother. There was a time when Christian women, in India usually ended up being the same thing that their mothers were, i.e., either a Teacher or a Nurse. I have personally dedicated my life to breaking this cycle by being an absolute waste of space.
Her name is Preeta and she wanted to be a beautician when she grew up and the best thing about this woman is that I can say without any hesitance is that she doesn’t ever really let goals go unaccomplished. She clocked the opportunity to be trained as a beautician by Shahnaz Hussain while in the final year of her nursing training and then proceeded to grab it with both hands.
The government didn’t provide her with the job that they promised after her nursing course so she became an entrepreneur and opened her own beauty parlor, when she thought that her parents were not taking enough initiative to get her married, she fell in love with a charming man she met on the Shatabdi Express. The man was Muslim and marrying him was going to be challenging but she handled that pretty well too, she changed her name for him but didn’t change her faith.
She selflessly gave up her business to raise her children. She was thrown in the deep end at work because of Covid-19, like all healthcare professionals, and shouldered her responsibility with astounding grace. She had a panic attack in the middle of the night, thought she was dying, proceeded to drive herself to the emergency room, and jokingly informed me and my brother about it the next day. She’s a little bit crazy actually. I adore her.
Nobody handles the responsibility of relationships better than my mother. It’s probably why the people in her life always stand by her. She goes through life being the best daughter, the best sister, the best wife, the best friend, and the best mother and is, therefore, the most devastating potential loss.
I have spent this pandemic with stifling anxiety. Deeply unconcerned for myself but cripplingly fearful for my mother’s life. Like you have for your own. The only break we took from being scared was for the grief of burning and burying those who left before their time.
People were incompetent at their jobs and our loved ones died because of it. We were widowed and orphaned and robbed because of their incompetence and their lies and their empty gestures and their whataboutery.
Every day I read a new statistic and realize that there is nothing more desensitizing and dehumanizing than a statistic. When they ask for our votes this time around, they will try to bury this incompetence in convoluted statistics.
We owe it to the ones we lost that we do not let them get away with it.
I hope you learn to dress your wounds better too. Thank you for reading.