Losing Four Friends and Loved Ones During the Pandemic
Reeling from the losses, the writer takes steps to manage his grief
Editor’s note: This essay is part of Telling Our Stories: Reflections on the Pandemic. We invited readers to share their experiences of the past year, and selected 12 essays for publication on Next Avenue. Read the full collection.
In the past three months, I lost a childhood friend, a longtime Seattle friend, and a first cousin in my father's family. Two of them died on the same day at almost the same time: December 18, 2020 at 11:00 am, although they lived in different states and had never met.
Learning about each one was a terrible shock: the 5:00 am text message from George's sister, "I'm sorry, I have bad news," and the email from my cousin's partner in Miami Beach: "I tried to reach you by phone. Maya passed away yesterday." The pain engulfed me.
Then came an email from the sister of a longtime friend (who had died in March 2018 at age 60) informing me that another friend had died on January 8. Of these four important people in my life, three died of complications related to COVID-19, the other from a long-term illness.
I felt like the world was caving in – and was terrified. Who would be next? Maybe me. Would I survive this day? I was reeling.
In this terrible year of COVID-19, many thousands of people lost loved ones, friends and colleagues. The fortunate ones who avoided illness – like my partner and I – were often reminded to be thankful for being alive. Yet the emotional scars aren't visible.
I owed it to myself to accept the reality that I could not change what happened; the world still held wonderful people to love and cherish.
My cousin Maya, who died on December 18, talked with me for 2 1/2 hours last October in a wonderful conversation covering her decades as a Mormon; her father, a famous Colombian photographer; her childhood in Chile and her life with her partner, Joe, in Miami Beach.
We caught up after decades out of touch, and she told me stories about our aunts and uncles, which included my deceased father, of course.
I realized that my mourning needed an end date, and that indulging in pain every day would negatively affect my life but not help me recover, and those I had lost wouldn't want that.
I needed to "pull myself together" and live my life as well as possible, treasuring loved ones still with me. I owed it to myself to accept the reality that I could not change what happened; the world still held wonderful people to love and cherish. I decided to stop suffering and to keep Maya, George, Joe and Joy in my heart forever.
One of the tools I turned to was my employer's free Employee Assistance Program, which provides up to three sessions with a professional counselor. They had helped me years ago, when I visited a therapist in my neighborhood, and I knew they would again. I will meet my new therapist in the coming weeks.
I recommend a simple technique: call a friend or relative. I talked almost four hours with a high school friend from the 1960s. It was the longest phone call of my life! My mood improved dramatically, and I realized that "going back to basics" — human connections —is the best medicine of all.
Art Segal has been a published writer since 1994, with his About Men essay in The NY Times Magazine. He’s written personal essays and features for Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Globalist in recent years, and is a contributor to School Transportation News. He was born in 1952 and grew up in N.J., lived in New York City for 25 years and moved to Seattle in 1999. He has worked for Seattle Public Schools since 2010. Read More