How Covid Stole My Grandmother’s Celebration Of Life Party

Parenting & Families

We strolled down the palm tree-lined street in the balmy Florida night, my sister and I, my grandmother, and her friend. The laughs were loud and the wine flowed from the brimming glasses they carried in their hands. No doubt, they were enjoying their vacation. But then again, it was hard to tell when my grandmother was in vacation mode, and when she was her normal, boisterous, fun-loving self. On this particular evening, she spotted a Rolls Royce… her dream car. Wine glass in hand, she jumped on the hood and begged us to take her picture. That is a moment in time that I will never forget.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious respiratory and vascular disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019, though evidence suggests that the virus may have already been actively spreading months earlier in places such as Italy.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. While most people have mild symptoms, some people develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS can be precipitated by cytokine storms, multi-organ failure, septic shock, and blood clots. Longer-term damage to organs (in particular, the lungs and heart) has been observed. There is concern about a significant number of patients who have recovered from the acute phase of the disease but continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months afterwards. These effects include severe fatigue, memory loss and other cognitive issues, low grade fever, muscle weakness, and breathlessness.

Whether my grandmother was partying with her sisters, hosting large family holiday gatherings, running her boutique of over 30 years, tending to her orchids, or making sure she was doing her duty as a devout Catholic by having us all attend mass every Sunday, she was always the life of the party.

There was never a day she wasn’t surrounded by my loving grandfather and her husband of 71 years. By all accounts, she lived a good, long, life. At 92, her failing health proved to be too much, and she passed away peacefully at home. The fact that she was at home instead of an elder care facility or hospital was a blessing to our family. We could call and visit with safety protocols up until her last hours.

For a woman who would have wanted the party of a “lifetime” (pun intended), her funeral was attended by fewer than 30 of the closest family members. Cousins and family who lived out of the state were asked to stay home for fear of spreading Covid to one another and to my 96 year-old grandfather.

Our small group of family attended the funeral, laid her to rest in the cemetery, and gathered at their home for a casual outdoor meal. It felt awkward, not knowing how to act if we weren’t able to be our hugging, loud story-telling, close talking, selves. My heart ached for the normalcy of our pre-pandemic family gatherings.

I know others have felt the side effects of Covid and its impact on their experiences around death and emotions of grief. Indeed, others have suffered much worse than our family. Grief is a common thread that runs through society during a pandemic. Whether the emotion of grief is caused from the loss of a job, of a loved one, a relationship, a pet, home, etc. isolation amplifies our dark emotions.

After the experience my family had with my grandmother’s passing, I began browsing the web to see what resources existed for families in situations like ours.

In my searches, I discovered a company called Spirit Vessel offers personalized celebration of life ceremonies that can be customized to the wishes and desires of the person planning for their passing, or the family of someone who has already passed. These ceremonies can take place in addition to a traditional funeral or replace one altogether. Spirit Vessel also offers ideas for virtual ceremonies to include loved ones who can’t be physically present. Learn more about Spirit Vessel by visiting their website.

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