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COVID and the Final Goodbye

 

My best friend died several weeks ago. A friendship of over thirty-five years, gone. The week started with a group email from her husband:

            “Sarah asked me to let you know about her current status and condition. She’s in the hospital…having had a seizure late Sunday afternoon…her doctor said they’re working on sending her home ‘soon.’”

            I’m startled to revisit that email. Even then I was sure he’d said, “she’ll be home by the end of the week.” I read what I wanted to believe.

            Opening my emails the next morning, I saw another message from Vince. This can’t be good news. It’s too soon. I went to open it, but there was no message. Perhaps my misplaced vision was a precursor of things to come.

            A day later, the words I was not prepared to hear:

            “Sarah is still in the hospital and will not be leaving…the decision has been made to put her on ‘comfort care.’ This means she won’t be receiving any additional treatment to attack her cancer…she’ll receive only what’s necessary to keep her as pain free and comfortable as possible…Sarah is either sleeping or very drowsy…She’s lucid—she hears and responds when spoken to but can only manage short conversation before she just poops out…I feel compelled to tell you what the charge nurse told me when I arrived. She asked me to remain in Sarah’s room and not wander around, saying, ‘The hard truth is this place is full of virus—this is not a good place to be.’”

            Any other time I’d have jumped in my car for the three-hour drive to be with her. But now? I’ve been in lockdown for three weeks, although the hospital allows two visitors at a time if “death is inevitable.” Her husband will stay by her side, leaving room for one more. It’s not only about me, though.

            My significant other and I are both seniors, and we share a household. He had open heart surgery last December and also has breathing issues.

            My daughter’s response, who also knew Sarah and loved her:

            “You’re not going to see her, are you?”

            I knew I couldn’t go. My heart broke. I called, and found her awake. As she whispered hello, in the voice that had been painful to listen to for so long, barely able to breathe without constant coughing, we said our last words. I told her I loved her. That I couldn’t come. That she’d made my life better.

            “I don’t know how to say goodbye,” she said.

            “Me neither,” I replied. “But maybe we’ll see each other again someday.”

            “I don’t know where…” her voice drifted off.

            “Nor do I. But if you can visit me, please do.”

            She laughed quietly.

            Then it was time to let go.

            She died a week later, but that was the last time I heard her voice. I spoke to her husband, we texted, and he let me know when she was gone.

            Although she touched the lives of many, no one else came to visit her. We were all afraid.

            My feelings stick in my throat as I write this. Sarah is gone. I couldn’t be with her, but I will miss her for the rest of my life.

            COVID-19 sucks. And so does cancer.

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