When I was 10, my Great Uncle Bill, who I remember only as an elderly man with a hearing aid that I saw at big family gatherings, suicided himself. This was a long time ago. He wasn’t that elderly, maybe mid-50s but he had an old man’s demeanor. At the time, my mother said that he had been depressed for a long, long time and that he either shot himself or took pills and a lot of liquor, I honestly don’t remember.
Some years later I was talking to my cousin R., who is four years younger than I am. We keep in touch sporadically now but when we were little we were very good friends. R. is interested in family geneology and stories and we often compare memories. We were speaking casually of my Grandpa Dave’s family and I mentioned that Uncle BIll had killed himself and my cousin R. immediately corrected me. She said, “No, he didn’t kill himself, he died of a heart attack, I think, or something like that.”
But he didn’t, he killed himself. I understood why no one told her at the time, she was 6, but I found it odd that no one told her later. I wondered if it was from shame or if it was just too sad to talk about. Then I wondered why my mother had told me and my sister the truth. I’m glad she did, she was very upset by the news, he had been her Uncle and she loved him and his wife Edith. It was not in her nature anyway to withhold things because they were unpleasant. When I got older I wished she had more of an affective filter when answering questions such as how did she like my hair cut, but I never wished that she had glossed over sad or shocking or terrible things that involved me or the family directly and I have little appreciation of that in others.
Yet, even when we are ‘told’, it is human nature, I guess, to spin a different, nicer, other story.
By 10:41 a.m., 270 human beings in America had lost their lives to COVID-19 just today. Every single one of those people left at least one other person devastated by their loss. Circles of sorrow and grief are expanding all around us, spiraling, joining and yet there is no monument, no public grief, no weeping and wailing in the streets. In the high school I attended there were pictures in the hallway of alumni who had lost their lives in World War I and II and Korea. I remember when the guys from Vietnam went up. I remember when I knew one, Jay somebody, an upperclassman who was just like me and my friends, just another kid.
But where are the pictures of the 270,000 we have lost so far to COVID just this year? Where is there a big enough hallway? Where is even a moment of silence for them and their survivors? Where is the balm in Gilead?
If nothing else makes us kinder and more tolerant, if at least we could remember that we walk among the walking wounded, that that guy not turning on his signal on the freeway, that numb woman not moving up the line at TJs, those frantic people trying to fly to some sort of ‘home’ or familiar ritual for the holidays, is in mourning for someone they lost too soon, because it is always too soon, maybe we could find some way to help one another. No one and no thing really makes up for losing a loved one. We are all so precious and important to some one, often to many someones, our place will not be filled by hugs, even if we were safe to get them, by words, by flowers sent or ceremonies held. But we owe something to the ones we lost, and to all the ones we will lose and especially to those who will suffer by it. We owe them truth, we owe them understanding, we owe them memories, we owe them our tears and a safe, public place to shed them in.