by Rowena Choy Henry
On the night before his inauguration I watched President-elect Biden and his wife and Vice President-elect Harris and her husband attend a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor the then 400,000 Americans* who died of Covid during the pandemic.
It’s such a huge number and the fact that thousands of people still die every day is more than most of us can comprehend. It’s hard, even for me, a retired nurse, to visualize their tragic passing and the pain and sorrow left in their wake.
I worked with cancer patients for years and I cared for many terminal patients and their grief-stricken families. Yet my mind, too, shies away from the reality of the death and destruction the pandemic has caused even though the news reminds me of it every day.
At the Reflecting Pool they had a simple ceremony and lamps were lit to commemorate the lives lost. And then one of the singers sang the Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah.
And I thought about my friend’s dog, Jess, who died the week before and I started to cry. I wept for her grief, my grief, those who died of Covid, and all the people who have lost loved ones.
And I thought how so much has happened during the pandemic and the only way I could handle it was to not to let any of it get me down. Focus. Focus. Focus. Just keep it together. Together. The shutdown, the social isolation, the terrible news stories every day, the sacrifices, not seeing family and friends for months. Yeah, I can do that. I can do that. Sure, I can do that. But suddenly that night I hit a wall when I thought about Jess.
He was a senior rescue Labrador, a big, gentle boy with the eyes of an old soul. He’d been found abandoned and starving in a field out in the country and covered with bites. A lab rescue organization fostered and took care of Jess until they found him a good home with my friend Dina. Riley loved swimming. Every time Dina took him and her other senior rescue lab to the beach he’d be out so far in the water you could barely see his yellow head in the surf.
Last fall when I visited Dina at her third floor flat I didn’t see him so I asked, “Where’s Jess?”
She answered, “He likes to lie in the sun in the back yard. You know, I think he still misses his previous owner, whoever that was. Sometimes he looks around, like he’s looking for someone. We’ve bonded but I think his heart was permanently broken. I think his owner died or something and that’s why he was found in that field.”
I went down the back stairs to the yard and found Jess lying behind some bushes. He came out when I called, with a big smile and his tail wagging. I petted him and he leaned his
body against my leg. Like many large dog breeds he was a “leaner.” And I thought about Jess losing his beloved owner. Grief is a desolate country. I know. There are some deaths that leave abiding wounds and everlasting sorrow. I gave him a big hug because he was a kindred spirit. He looked sad when I left, his big eyes following me as I climbed the stairs. That was the last time I saw Jess.
I know many people won’t understand how I can equate the death of a dog with the tragic loss of so many people from Covid. But they forget we humans are animals too. And emotions like love, grief, and heartbreak are not a human monopoly. We don’t forget those we love. I like to think Jess didn’t either and he’s finally been reunited with his beloved owner. And someday, like Jess, I too will see my lost loved ones.
sent to us: Feb 10, 2021
*The day before publishing this marks 1 million American covid deaths.