On the second day of the new year, my father died. And on the sixth day of January 2021, we had doubts about America’s survival.
The new year has really kicked off in style, hasn’t it? And it is NOT wearing it well. 2021 has made a very poor first impression and will have to work hard to turn it around.
I wrote most of what follows earlier this past week and have posted shorter versions of it to Facebook and Instagram.
Over the last few days, I’ve been discovering one way in which I may NOT be built for the pandemic life. There are times when even an introvert needs to be with people. The aftermath of loss is one of those times.
I am grateful to all of the family and friends who have responded to my sister’s and my Facebook and Instagram posts about our dad’s death on January 2 with kindness and sympathy. I’m so glad to live in a time when we have the connective powers of the internet. But we have rituals around death that involve the living coming together – to comfort, to remember, to celebrate a well-lived life that touched theirs. Those rituals are important and they are necessary…and thanks to the pandemic, we can’t have them right now.
And maybe it’s selfish, but I want them.
When my mother died, the family came together right away from all across the country. After my father-in-law passed, my mother-in-law had a full house for days. Now, I want to sit with people who know me – whether or not they knew Dad – and talk, or listen, or not. I need hugs and hand-holding and shared feelings.
While I am glad to be able to reach out online, I have to confess: it doesn’t give the comfort of presence.
I know my family isn’t unique during this Year of Out Coronavirus. Even when COVID-19 isn’t the cause of a death, it’s shaping what we do in its wake. We have taken care of the basic final arrangements for Dad. (I bought that “pre-need” cremation plan three days before it became a “need.”) But there’s no ceremony we can arrange just yet, and no clear sense of when that will be able to happen.
My introverted temperament did not come from my dad.
While age had quieted him a bit, Eddie Lantos was one of those people who never met a stranger and was always up for chitchat. He was well-known and well-liked in the senior apartment complex where he lived for his last 15 years. Dad was a regular at the local Senior Center until COVID closed it; he and his friend Tom met there for lunch nearly every day, and often attended the Friday-night dances there. (Once Dad started walking with a cane I worried a bit about the dancing.) He was involved with social groups at church—he really enjoyed those casino outings—and was the oldest member of his Knights of Columbus council.
In short, I’m sure he would have wanted a traditional wake and Catholic funeral Mass with a crowd to see him off. What Dad would have wanted is a version of what I want. We can’t give him that…and we can’t have it for ourselves, either.