We share this story anonymously to protect the family in their grief, and to send it forth to all families who cannot properly come together to mourn in this time. When we share stories anonymously, we provide a painting made specially for each story by Herstory artist Gwynne Duncan, out of the images that each author gives.
Five chairs scattered for seven people. Not enough. Like ghosts, my husband’s siblings seem to float and hang around this dark room, around their mother, who is not able to stand up. I do not see flowers, there are no candles, only the coffin that frames the rigid and pale body of my father-in-law. Eyes closed, gray hair, arms crossed over his chest, thinner than the last time I saw him. Could it have been at Christmas? New Years? Why I cannot remember? It suits his blue outfit that my husband got him two days ago. It looks like the one he wore when his son and I got married. They have not brought tissues to dry their tears. No one, who is not from the family, is allow or have wanted to approach them, not even the funeral employees. The atmosphere feels hollow, except for my mother in law’s sobs that fill the desolated spaces of an empty, cold, gloomy, and dejected funeral parlor. Areas in which, in any other situation, they would have been filled with dozens of people paying their respects to my husband’s family and would have been saying their last goodbye to Don Castiblanco.
And that is the worst part of this pandemic, the inability to comfort those who suffer, to embrace them, to clean their tears with physical and human contact. To touch them, to hug them. To let them know that their pain is shared, that they do not suffer alone … but they are alone. I can’t do anything either. I can’t. I shouldn’t. I don’t want to hug my mother-in-law or my siblings-in-law or their children to show them how sorry I am, because I am, but they also have the virus, and I’m a coward. This is not a wake, it is dishonor, not only against him but…his family deserves better; they are good people; they deserve better; my husband doesn’t deserve to say goodbye like this. His heart is broken.
Several days have passed … I cannot forget the guilt, neither the incapacity and disconnection to my other family that my fear of getting sick, and making my children sick as well, caused on me that sunny but cloudy day in the eyes of my husband. I remember his eyes; he was wearing a mask. I was only able to see his eyes on those moments. They said it all about that unjustly isolated moment. They spoke with me about the guilt and that collective trauma that each of us experienced as individuals. A suffering so widespread and so personal. That trauma is the one that, as the virus does, is spreading like a forest fire all over the world.
It is a natural disaster that has made us physically and emotionally ill behind the closed doors of our sanitated houses. Virus, a human equalizer that has not known how to discriminate guilty or innocent, strong or weak. It has become that broken mirror that it is showing us our human, individual, and collective fragility. “We are strong,” they say on TV, “We are strong.” But we fell apart entangled in fear and despair in just a couple of months. I don’t feel strong. I do want to be brave, but today, my own father has been taken to the hospital. He has trouble breathing, his life is slipping away. But “he is still alive, not like my father in law, there is hope” I say to myself. I feel guilty for my thoughts once more, for my hope, for being an awful person and for not going through the same pain as my husband is. I haven’t lost my father…not yet.