Not Alone

by Catherine Cocchio, Special Guest Post

Grieving the loss of a loved one is never easy. Covid-19 strikes stealthily leaving little or no time to prepare. Worse yet, those left behind are forced to let go without saying goodbye. Rather than sharing last moments together at the bedside, families deal with their grief under an added burden of guilt wondering if their loved one died feeling abandoned and alone. The answer to that question may not come as quickly as needed, but it will come.

My elderly father died suddenly, at home and alone. I wondered for a long time if he had felt abandoned or afraid. Although I trusted he was in “a better place”, I was uneasy that I had not been there. Two deeply personal experiences since his death have convinced me that he did not “cross over” alone.

A few years after losing my father, I found myself standing vigil beside my cousin’s bed in a hospital emergency room. Shortly after she drew her final breath, a firefighter brought the limp body of a toddler into the next cubicle. An apparent victim of SIDS, the child had “crossed over” at about the same time as my cousin, a retired teacher. Had she waited for her time to come so she could comfort the child and “cross over” together?

Closer to the answer I had wished for years earlier, I still couldn’t let go of nagging questions about the day I lost my dad. The night his brother “slipped away” I finally got my answer. On my uncle’s final day, he experienced a massive coronary, silently slumping forward in a chair and slipping to the floor. Medical staff whisked him away to ICU, but later that night called us in for final farewells. While preparing to leave for the hospital, I experienced the presence of my dad and uncle who had come to “take their brother home”. Maybe I spoke out loud, or maybe I just thought the words, but I told them they would have to go to the hospital to collect him.

My uncle had already passed away by the time we reached the hospital. It seemed totally natural for the two brothers to help their youngest brother “cross over”. They taught me many things growing up, but the lesson I most appreciate is the one I witnessed that night. No one leaves this world alone.

Unable to gather for traditional wakes and funerals, those left behind cannot find strength from gathering with friends and family. Spreading the burden of grief on many shoulders lightens the load. Virtual hugs will never replace physical contact, but sharing experiences remains one of the best ways to heal. If you are grieving a loss, reach out virtually and share openly through technology. Many ears are listening. Hugs will happen later.

About the author

As official reporter of weekly high school news to the local paper, Catherine developed an early interest in writing. Her joy of writing carried her through university studies in English, Education, and forward to a career combing occasional teaching and freelance writing. A member of Professional Writers of Canada, now part of the larger Canadian Freelance Guild, Catherine specialized in writing profiles, business, and home renovation articles until recent retirement. Her current interest centers around writing for family, expanding on a legacy of family history anecdotes left to her by her late aunt.

She wrote “Not Alone” to share a deeply personal experience of life and loss that she felt would possibly help COVID survivors deal with loss. From early childhood, Catherine’s family included her in the natural cycle of life. Before the age of five, she experienced the passing of her paternal grandfather, the loss of a first cousin to an accidental shooting, and the springtime drowning of a playmate. She vividly remembers the smell of coffee brewing late into the night, the sound of grown men weeping, and the overpowering smell of funeral bouquets.

Growing up in a small village meant family extended to the community. Friends shared the burden of grief and gathered strength from each other. Social isolation and physical distancing did not have a place in her world. She understood the pain of loss as well as the comfort of sharing.

Writing “Not Alone” reminded her of the peace she experienced following her encounter. Writing an account of the experience to share with others felt like a natural way to reach out to those who might need to feel connected during a time when traditional ways to connect with others are discouraged.

While feelings of resentment toward social distancing and loss of freedom to move about, Catherine enjoys being freed

from working to deadline. She enjoys producing work with new meaning to a very different audience.

Catherine enjoys the gift of “COVID” time to sit and play with words until they feel just right.

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