Four months ago, I got a call on a Sunday morning from my mother. My grandfather, who had contracted COVID-19, had died during the night. Because of the circumstances of his death, everything moved very quickly, and when it came down to it, it was difficult for our family to even be there for each other while we grieved for fear of others being infected with the same virus.
This past weekend, I had to say goodbye to my grandmother, who had also contracted COVID-19, through a FaceTime call. She was attached to a ventilator in the ICU unit, alone, for nearly two weeks before it became clear that she was not going to come out of it. I had not seen her since February 2020 because she lived in a nursing home where visitors were not allowed due to the rampant spread of this virus.
I’ll be honest, I heavily debated writing this article—I’m not one to share personal details like this. But it’s been a year now since COVID barged its way into our lives, and I’ve lost the ability to keep my mouth shut. Because it isn’t getting better. It isn’t going away. And despite the fact that 520,000 people have died from it (just in the United States), it doesn’t seem that we’re learning our lesson either. For months now, all I’ve heard from people is how COVID isn’t that big of a deal, how it only has a 1-2% mortality rate, how it’s “just like the flu.”
2,369 people died from COVID-19 in the United States on March 3rd, 2021.
Not in 2021, not since the pandemic started, on March 3rd, 2021. That’s not “just like the flu.” A 1-2% mortality rate is still incredibly dangerous (for reference: 1% of the United States’ population is 3.3 million people). And to the families of people who have died, it is very much a big deal.
I’m so sick of hearing people tell me that I can’t “live in fear.” Yes, I can. I do. I am terrified of losing someone else. My mother works in a public school with special needs pre-K students. My father is a postman that delivers mail to doctors’ offices and hospitals. My younger brother goes to a high school where masks are not mandated. And I am terrified that I’m going to lose one of them. I lay awake at night wondering what I would ever do if something happened to them, if I wasn’t given the opportunity to say goodbye to them either.
Throughout this pandemic, I’ve watched in dismay as people have minimized what has happened. It’s been called a hoax, a scheme, a conspiracy that would disappear on Election Day. But I think the most disgusting of the comments that I’ve heard has been the rhetoric of those who proclaim they have no health issues or they’re young and healthy, that it doesn’t matter that they don’t wear a mask or stay home because “it only affects the elderly.”
When you say “it doesn’t affect me,” what I hear is that it doesn’t matter that my grandfather died years before he should have. That it doesn’t matter that my grandmother has been left alone during a pandemic. That it doesn’t matter that I never got to see him one last time.
When you say “it just affects the elderly,” what I hear is that it doesn’t matter that my grandmother spent two weeks attached to a ventilator because she couldn’t breathe for herself. That it doesn’t matter that MY mother lost HER mother. That it doesn’t matter that the hope of getting to sit down with her one more time was shattered.
When you tell me that COVID isn’t that big of a deal, I’m forced to look at their two graves and question why you can’t see that it is.
The hurt in my heart and the tears that I’ve shed, that my family has shed, are not a hoax. This isn’t a game or a joke—people’s lives are worth more than your right to go party with your friends, they’re worth more than your right to hang out downtown, they’re worth more than your right to yell about the so-called “injustice” of being asked to wear a mask.
They are just worth more.
I’m here asking—pleading—for you to wear a mask, to stay home, to socially distance. I’m not trying to silence you or “muzzle” you. I’m not forcing you to denounce your entire belief system. I am simply imploring you to care about other people. If we are ever going to get out of this, we have to recognize that it’s not all about us. This world doesn’t revolve around the individual, it provides a home for a community. I don’t know how else to explain that, so I’ll just repeat it:
I am asking you to care about other people because not everyone is lucky enough to walk away from this unscathed.
We’ve been in this for a year now, and like many others, I can feel it. I am heartbroken; in the last four months, my worst fears have come true, and I still find myself being overcome with grief at random times throughout the day. There are moments when all I can do is sit and cry because it feels like a tidal wave drowning me.
I am angry; I cannot comprehend why so many of my fellow citizens are more concerned with coming up with ways to get out of wearing a mask than they are with protecting their friends and family and the friends and families of others. I’m furious with the leaders of my country, state, and school that not only permit this behavior but encourage it. And I certainly am ashamed of my fellow students who routinely choose their own enjoyment over the well-being of others.
But most of all, I am exhausted—physically, mentally, emotionally. I’m so tired of worrying, of crying, of feeling like all this has been for nothing. I don’t know how to describe this worn-down feeling that sits in my bones, but I do know that it makes every day a battle.
You can think this article is nothing more than a melodramatic over-sharing of an issue that’s already been beaten to death if you want, but I’m here, telling you that this has come from the deepest parts of my heart. I want to be able to sit down for Sunday dinner with my only remaining grandmother. I want to be able to hug my friends again. I want to believe that there is light at the end of this incredibly dark tunnel.
Please, please, search your hearts. Find compassion within yourselves. Wear a mask; stay at home. Don’t let this tragedy happen again. No one deserves to feel this pain.
Together, we can bring this nightmare to an end.
Together, we’ll be okay.
But only together.