Twenty years ago tomorrow, my life changed forever with one phone call. My dad was on the line and the news was that my mother, my best friend, who was three months shy of her 62nd birthday, had died of a heart attack. I was thirty-six years old at the time, but in that moment I felt like a six-year-old, alone in the world.
This week has been a rough one. I’m remembering, in flashes, the shock of that day. At that time and for months afterwards, I was unsure I would survive the loss … and I really didn’t care to survive it. Had it not been for my father and my husband, I would have found a way to join my mother. I was that heartbroken. In many ways I still am.
This morning, already feeling down, I woke to a Messenger message from a friend. The news this time was that we had lost one of our high school classmates to COVID-19. Immediately, I thought of her young daughter, her only child, who had already lost her father to a tragic accident when she was just a baby. My heart hurt when I imagined her going through the loss of her mother, even younger than I was when my mama died. And then I thought about the thousands of daughters and sons who have lost their mamas and daddies over the last year and a half to COVID.
Imagining all of that grief is crushing. All of those people are members of a club they never asked to join. COVID has taken from all of us. For some it was their businesses, their jobs. For some it was simple pleasures like going to the movies or out to a bar. For others it was the ability to visit ailing or dying family members or elderly parents. For me, it was my sense of security, safety. All of those pale in comparison to losing the mother or father who was responsible for us being on Earth.
As I thought about that motherless daughter, I couldn’t help feeling a mix of sadness, fear, anger, frustration. My classmate had been very vocal on social media over the last year. She reposted dozens of articles debunking the press about COVID. She refused to get vaccinated. She had a strong faith and believed that prayer, that God, would protect her. She believed that the numbers were inflated and that the government was trying to control us citizens with misinformation. In short, she thought like a number of my friends and family do who believe if COVID is real, it isn’t as serious as we are being told it is and, on the off chance I get it, I would survive it. I’ve heard that statement so many times over the last year, even as I watched my friends who did contract COVID struggle through it and suffer long-lasting heath problems as a result. Even as friends of friends were hospitalized and died. I thought about that daily when my classmate, her mother, and her daughter were simultaneously hospitalized for weeks with COVID. It rang in my ears as I read her recovered daughter’s posts about her mother and grandmother’s conditions. Now her mother is gone and her grandmother, after weeks in the hospital, is in rehab for at least a month.
As soon as I was eligible for the COVID vaccine, I made an appointment for myself and my husband. That wasn’t because I am a blind follower of whatever Uncle Sam tells me to do. It was because I was aware that scientists have been working on vaccines for coronaviruses like COVID for roughly 50 years. During the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2002 I had read about coronaviruses. I had learned then that scientists were studying the structure, genome, and life cycle of coronaviruses. Since scientists could now use genome sequencing to pinpoint the exact makeup of COVID-19, they could use that information, along with decades of experience, to create an effective and safe vaccine. Though the vaccine was fast-tracked, the research behind it was not. Though it only had “Emergency Approval”, that is still approval. I trusted the science.
But that was only one reason I took the vaccine as soon as it was available. Contracting COVID would be financially devastating for Darryl or me. We run a small business that is already hanging on by a thread because of the shut down in North Carolina and it most likely would not survive if one of us had to be out for weeks. The cost of hospitalization, should that happen, would bankrupt us as well. We are together 24/7, so odds are that if one of us contracted it, the other would get sick as well. I have to admit that there were more mundane reasons I got the vaccine. I wanted to be able to throw away the mask that had been hurting my ears and making me anxious for a year, to see a movie at the theater, to go back to having breakfast with my 83-year-old father five days a week like I used to pre-pandemic, to try on clothes at a store with open dressing rooms.
Over the months since I got the vaccine I had heard every opinion, every excuse imaginable from friends and family who have not gotten vaccinated. I have friends who are concerned about the speed with which the vaccine was introduced. When I hear that I wonder if they have asked their doctors what they think about it? I wonder if they have done any research on legitimate scientific forums? I tell them what my research into coronavirus studies revealed to me, but feel like that falls on deaf ears, which makes me question if their claims are just hollow excuses. If you don’t trust the science, what is “approval” ever going to mean to you? (Hopefully, some of you will prove me wrong on this as approval of at least one of the vaccines seems imminent.)
Though I am frustrated with the “too quick” vaccine excuse, I am even more upset by the friends who have made the vaccine a political issue. If Donald Trump was still in office, they would already be vaccinated. Because he isn’t, they “aren’t going to be told what to do by the government.” Please hear this if you don’t hear anything else I am saying to you: COVID does not care if you are a Democrat or a Republican. It doesn’t care if you are Black or White or Hispanic. It doesn’t care if you are a man or a woman. It doesn’t care if you are twenty, fifty, or eighty. It is happy to jump from your respiratory system to your daughter’s, to your mother’s. I can’t help but wonder how I could survive the knowledge that the virus went from my respiratory system to that of someone I loved who then had long-lasting health issues or, God forbid, did not survive it? Even though I am ready to go as soon as God wants me, I don’t want to go gasping for breath and I certainly don’t want to take anyone else out or make them suffer the hell that is COVID.
Think about this … how many people have died from COVID? Now ask yourself … how many people have died from the vaccine? Ask yourself if you would ever put your grandmother, your grandfather, your mother, your father, your child, or your grandchild at risk knowingly, willfully? Listen, the vaccine may not be 100% effective, but if it cut the chances of me infecting a love one, hell, even a stranger, by even half, it is worth the sore arm I endured for a day after my first shot or the chills Darryl had after his second one.
There you have it, my opinion. Yes, I know what they say about opinions. But if even one of you hears me, if you let my fear, my sadness, my frustration change your mind, it was worth saying. I don’t want to have to make any more Facebook posts about the loss of a friend, of a mother.