I replayed the scenario in my mind too many times.
The possibility of death. Not mine.
But that of a parent—my mom or my father-in-law.
Endless deaths in long-term congregate care centers
fueled my angst as the virus raged unchecked.
Would my loved ones be next?
Selfishly, I worried about a funeral during COVID-19.
and unmasked and half-masking mourners
and hugs and handshakes
and convening over coffee and bars
in a cramped church fellowship hall.
When the governor placed restrictions on funerals,
I felt relieved. There would be no close contact,
no luncheon, no anguishing over possibilities.
Except rules don’t always match reality,
as I learned in early 2021, when my father-in-law died
(not of COVID) only a month after his 90th birthday.
On a frigid Thursday in February, family and community
gathered in a small town Catholic church to grieve.
I wore long johns beneath dress pants. Boots in the cemetery.
Mask clamped on my face. Hand sanitizer in my bag.
And I notified family to keep their distance,
as much as I didn’t want to stay six feet apart.
I wanted to wrap my in-laws in hugs, to shake hands,
to embrace grief and accept comfort and mourn in the usual way.
But I couldn’t. Not during a pandemic.
I tightened my arms to my sides and tried to distance myself
from the maskless and the half-maskers,
those who seemed unwilling to respect me or the virus.
Inside, I felt conflicted. Wanting to flee the funeral,
yet understanding that I needed to stay,
that my father-in-law deserved my honor, love and respect.
So I mentally chose to set aside my COVID concerns.
I allowed hymns and liturgy to comfort me,
the angelic art of St. Michael’s to calm me.
When the service ended, I crossed the highway with family,
mourners bundled in black slipping across ice to the cemetery.
In the bitter cold afternoon, we prayed, then placed roses atop the casket,
I noticed the supporting priest slip away,
his red buffalo plaid coat and matching ear flapper cap a flash of color
in the darkness of the day, of this unforgiving pandemic.