There is no escaping the numbers every day. It doesn’t matter what news channel you watch or what you read in your favorite newspaper. We are being bombarded with COVID-19 statistics.
Numbers identifying new cases are added daily to an ever-increasing total that include infected residents for every town in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.Then, there are the numbers of people dying from the virus. The numbers vary from day-to-day with staggering results as New York State is being hit particularly hard. Sometimes, more than 700 people might die in a single day. Other times, we are grateful when the reported numbers are “just” 400 or 500. Most days, I give the figures a quick glance and move on to the comics, the crossword puzzle or the almost-empty sports pages.
That is, until the coronavirus took my uncle. Suddenly they weren’t just numbers anymore.
My Uncle Anthony was my mother’s youngest brother and would have turned 75 this year. Although he didn’t die alone, thanks to the true heroes that were working tirelessly to save his life 24 hours a day, he died without the benefit of his family to comfort him.
What can be worse, you ask, than losing a beloved family member to this devastating virus? Not being able to properly grieve with your family.
Our family has experienced its share of sorrow over my lifetime, just like any other family. My mother and father each had six brothers and sisters. That’s a lot of aunts, uncles and cousins. Growing up Italian, there is nothing more important than family. Backyard get-togethers are arranged, it seems, every time a new baby moves up a shoe size.
We even joked, at first, when discussing why Italy was so hard hit by the virus. Way too much hugging and kissing going on over there, we laughed. Now, in our time of need, we can’t grieve together.
There was plenty of crying and shock when we found out he passed, but we couldn’t reach out and hug anyone to try and console them. Instead of visiting with him at the hospital, while providing love and support to my Aunt Joanne and cousins, we were forced to wait by the phone for daily updates. Unfortunately, so were they.
For our family, it’s essential to gather and grieve when word spreads about a death in the family. We needed to be together. We needed to see each other. We needed to cry together, to hug, and comfort each other as only family can.
Unfortunately, just like any other family trying to grieve during this crisis, you must grieve alone. The reports we were getting from the hospital varied each day. We were all optimistic that he might be able to pull out of it. You hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
A word to the wise; you are never prepared for the worst.
Now that he’s gone, what are families supposed to do? There will be no viewing for family and friends at the funeral parlor. There will be no church ceremony that allows you to pray together. You can’t even be together at the gravesite to say your final goodbyes. The coronavirus just doesn’t allow for it.
My wonderful Uncle Anthony, full of life, lost his fight sometime during the late afternoon of April 16. That same day, 721 other New York families also lost loved ones. That’s thousands of family members, just like ours, walking around like zombies, unsure of what to do next. Although they are forced to grieve alone, they are not alone.
Rest in peace, my dear uncle. Although your Earthly family couldn’t be there when the Angel came to guide you, we are comforted in knowing that when you got there, your Heavenly family would be awaiting your arrival.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.