The mental toll of COVID is hitting everyone slightly differently. Some are scared to even go to the grocery for fear of catching the dreaded disease. Some don’t believe it exists at all and think it’s all a government conspiracy to control the masses. Some think that because they now have the first dose of one of the four vaccines being administered, they can go back to living life as “normal”. Some are just craving travel again. Some are craving going back to the office. Some just want to see a face other than one that lives in their household, for a change. Some just want a single, good meal, that they did not have to cook for themselves. Personally, the worst part of the mental toll of COVID has been not being able to travel; specifically not being able to travel to where my family is.
You may be able to tell, from the frequency of posts on this blog, that I’ve not written in a long time. Yet today, something happened that has me truly feeling the mental toll of COVID again. My older sister, who I am very close to, was rushed to the hospital today with fluid build up in her lungs and abdomen. She’s currently living in Trinidad, and I’m currently living in Ottawa, Ontario, with no way of getting down to her or anyone else in my family. I read my Mother’s text about this situation as I was going into a doctor’s appointment of my own, and I have to tell you it took all my strength to go on with my day. If something happened, I CANNOT get to them and that’s all I could think about. Trinidad’s borders have been closed since May 2020. Non-essential travel is frowned upon (banned?) in Canada. The COVID infection rates and daily numbers are dramatically increasing and the variants have started running rampant, in both countries. I’m stuck here, absolutely useless to anyone down there, should something serious happen. I have been stuck here absolutely useless to anyone down there, when something serious HAS happened over the last year.
At the end of July 2020, my Uncle Sonnyboy passed away. Uncle Sonnyboy is my Dad’s oldest brother and was the only other living sibling from the eight of them. I was not that close to him in my adulthood, and to be honest, he’s been sickly for decades, but the way he passed is what originally unsettled me. That and the fact that everyone swore he would live forever because he had already survived so many health emergencies, including multiple serious heart attacks. Uncle Sonnyboy was taken out by a stumble and a broken hip and complications that occurred because of it. My Mom called to tell me he was in the hospital with a broken hip, and that they could not go in to operate because if they were to do that, they would have to take him off of the blood thinners that allowed his heart to continue pumping. Yet if they did not operate, he could die because he was bleeding internally from the broken hip. Yes this is the layman’s description of what happened. He lasted, at most, a day in the hospital. They knew before I even got the call that there would be an upcoming funeral. I knew, from that call, that I would somehow have to justify to myself, not being at that funeral in person.
This particular death was probably harder on my Dad than it was on me. All of a sudden, the youngest of a family becomes the patriarch. And he said that in almost as many words during his eulogy at the funeral. The mental toll of that, is probably more than I can even imagine, but I take comfort in the fact that my Dad was able to help arrange, attend and take part in the funeral. I say that, but, it still was not easy for me, and I did not realize exactly how hard it was for me, until my Father broke down in the middle of his eulogy. I was in the car, driving to Burlington with the Boy (hubby) to visit his family for the weekend….in the middle of the 401, the Boy had to pull over because I was hyperventilating. People have told me I’m an empath, but this was too much. I still wonder why this death did not hit me till that moment….possibly because of my normal reaction to death – seeming nonchalance….
I think another reason it hit me so hard was that I saw my Dad grieving. Something I had never seen before, even though death was a common guest at our dinner table when I was younger. This mental toll from the funeral and the death was piled on top of something that happened, just the night before. My Mother, in a rush to get to the wake, climbed onto a swivelling bar stool to get some candles stored in a high cupboard. The stool swivelled and she went down, landing hard on her face on the terrazzo floor and hitting the kitchen counter on the way down. She was unable to go to the funeral the day after, but watched it from home with two black eyes and a fractured ulna. I facetimed her right before the funeral (maybe my mistake), and all I saw was the woman I love so much with a swollen bruised face, and a sling across her chest. Again, she was far away and there was nothing I could or could not do, to prevent this or to help. And this all sat on my mind until the dam broke when I saw my Father, so far away, breaking down because his older brother was lying in a coffin next to him.
To make things worse, a few weeks later, we found ourselves rushing to Mississauga, because the Boy’s Father, Rodney, was rushed to the hospital in a seizure. Before we even reached, they had to do two emergency surgeries. Luckily we were able to be there before he passed, and the Boy was able to go see him in hospital while he was still alive, although in a vegetative state. He died a few days later, but the mental toll from rushing to his bedside, to almost missing him, to staying in his empty apartment while he died in the hospital, to not being able to visit because of COVID restrictions, to the arguments that happen when grief hits an entire family….just added to my already bruised heart and piled up on top of the already large, increasingly traumatic mental toll that I was trying to contend with.
Before COVID, with so many technological advances in travel and in communication, the world had become a really tiny place….yet when the travel was taken away, it seemed to expand in epic proportions. No matter how advanced our communication methods have become, they could not provide the comfort and intimacy of what an in-person interaction with your loved one would give you. I sometimes feel like I’m stuck on the moon, while everyone I know and love are able to sit and have Christmas dinner together….or even order Chinese Takeout and eat it in front of the TV together. I feel like I’ve become an outsider – no longer part of the family, but rather, an intrusion….staring at their private moments from afar. I feel like I do not belong there anymore.
One person I know told me that I’m being ridiculous, when I told her about my worry about not ever seeing my parents again. She lives near to them and said that she “….sees them all the time and they’re perfectly healthy…”. I found that a truly insensitive comment, especially since she does not know about all the health issues they have, nor has she experienced or lived my reality. At the same time, she had lost her Mom a few weeks prior, so maybe I should grant her some leeway. That being said, she had the opportunity to attend that funeral in person.
The hardest part of the mental toll of all this, for me, is that I am utterly alone, even though I love them from afar. Anything could happen to any one of them and I would not know better or worse, if someone did not call me to tell me. And that’s a hard thing to accept and to process. Anything could happen and I cannot be there, whether I want to be or not. The choice is just not there anymore, for me, or for anyone who lives in a different country from their loved ones.
Oh, by the way, I spoke with my sister just before starting this blog….she says she is fine. She is still in the hospital and has not been keeping food or drink down, since last weekend. She hasn’t eaten in about a week and is currently on IV and antibiotics, because they believe it’s some sort of infection that is causing fluid to build up. She’s obviously in good spirits because her complaints are mainly that she’s uncomfortable – she’s bloated, the room is too cold, she has three blankets on and is still freezing, the mattresses are not great….and she’s hoping to be home tonight. This is a good possibility, because her husband is a doctor and can keep an eye on her. She’s very nonchalant about her illness though – so the real situation is somewhere between her medical nonchalance (she’s also a doctor) and my Mom’s slightly panicked text (Mom is calmer now btw).
I just wonder, sometimes, how much of this I can take, and if I can no longer take it, what happens then? After the first few deaths in my circle of friends and their families around the world, I made a deal with God. I know at some point, I will lose my family members…..and I understand that’s the circle of life….but He’s not allowed to take them in a time when I can’t even get there to see them one more time. He and I are good that way, usually, and I think He’s keeping his side so far (I haven’t actually offered Him anything in return…perhaps I should). I just keep reminding myself that He has not let me down….and that He keeps his word…and that He is a compassionate God…..but I’m only human and my doubts sneak in, no matter how much I try to keep them at bay.
The mental toll of these tragedies or incidents happening one after the other and the mental toll of knowing I probably won’t be travelling to see any of them, or vice versa within the next year, is truly dragging me down. How does one release this rather than having each incident pile up one on top the other? When does this mental toll become too much? Am I about to break? Sometimes, I truly feel like that breaking point is not too far away and there is nothing I could do to prevent it.