The Jewish Report Editorial

The loneliest disease

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One of the cruellest aspects of COVID-19 is that, because it’s so contagious, its victims mostly land up dying alone and alienated from family and friends.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Jul 16, 2020

Even those who contract it and don’t land up in hospital have to be isolated, and are unable to be physically supported and held by those they love.

This is a lonely disease that’s spreading throughout the world, and we all have to draw on our inner strength to get through this time. We have to find that steel core that will get us out of this tumultuous period in our lives.

Doctors and paramedics tell stories of how they treat people who are terrified because they are battling to draw breath and yet cannot see who is helping them. They can’t look into the eyes of the person trying to keep them alive, and see if they are caring, or if their eyes show concern or confidence. Being able to trust someone is hard when you can’t see their eyes, the so-called “portals to the soul”. This is something that, until now, we took for granted.

Then there is the lack of touch. To give someone a sense of comfort, touch is vital. Imagine a baby not being able to be touched or held by its mother. Imagine not being able to hold your child when they are afraid or have hurt themselves. Touch is the ultimate physical expression of care and, right now, this dreaded virus is precluding it from our healing, support, and comfort.

Not only those who have fallen ill from COVID-19 are impacted by this separation and alienation from loved ones. In fact, all our elderly aren’t able to spend time with their children and grandchildren. In some cases, they are isolated in their rooms endlessly to protect them from the dreaded virus.

No WhatsApp messages or calls, or even Zoom sessions, can make up for having your grandchildren climb all over you with love, or your loved ones hold your hand.

And for their children and grandchildren, it’s heartbreaking not to be able to spend time with them. Worse still, should the elderly folk get the virus, they face this illness alone. No children, spouses, or grandchildren can accompany them through the process of either healing or not.

I can’t imagine how lonely that must be.

And as the death toll rises, not only are people dying alone, but their loved ones who sit at home worrying about them, aren’t even able to connect with them for the last time before they go. Often, they don’t know what is happening in hospital because the doctors don’t have time to contact them as they are under so much strain with the numbers of COVID-19 patients.

This is heartbreaking stuff for everyone, not least the doctors (See page 3).

And should they die, families aren’t even able to gather to sit shiva for the lost love. They, too, are isolated in their homes with their grief.

I lost my mother in March, just as COVID-19 was finding its way here. At her huge funeral, we were all hugging and were physically shown support by our friends and family. I can’t count how many people I hugged that day, but I felt so very supported.

We then sat shiva, and people streamed in and out of the house, gathering specifically around prayers which we held all week. Again, there was lots of hugging, hand holding, and physical shows of affection.

There was some talk of the coronavirus because it had touched down in South Africa and there were a handful of Jewish people who already had it.

As shiva ended, it seemed like the reality of the virus hit home. Schools closed and then, a short while later, the lockdown was implemented. Nothing has been the same since.

Now, funerals are tiny, masked, and hands-free. There is definitely no hugging at a time when families need those hugs more than anything. And then the lonely days of shiva, and not being able to say kaddish.

This time isn’t only tough for the people affected by the virus, it has brought with it massive life-changing events, like divorce, loss of livelihood, the pressure of not being able to make ends meet, fear for the future, the list goes on…

In each of these instances, we would ordinarily reach out for support from friends and extended family. And we do so now, but on Zoom or WhatsApp call or video. And it helps, but it’s not the same as actually interacting with people.

Who would have thought we would be hankering after a hug? Seriously!

And what of the many who live on their own? Normally, they may have gone home to an empty flat, but their days would be filled with people and interaction, and nights of entertainment with friends and family. Not so much now… It’s tough, and it doesn’t seem like it is going to ease up for a while.

On the flip side, many of us have managed to dig deep to find a strength we never thought we had. We have had to find the silver lining in the pain and loneliness. Many of us have learnt a great deal about ourselves in the process.

We have learnt what it takes for us to survive situations we never thought would come our way, partly because we have no choice but to do so.

Sometimes, we don’t know how we’ll survive, but as long as we’re healthy, it’s incumbent on us to find it in ourselves to make it work.

I have a strong sense that those of us who get to the other side of this virus will be far more ready to cope with what life throws our way. We will be stronger, more capable, and pretty invincible.

As tough as this time is for every one of us, let’s do our best to find the silver lining, and take the lemons we have been given and make lemonade.

Shabbat Shalom!

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