January 4, 2021 my mom passed away. She was 96. And though that might seem old, to hear her tell it, she still had unfinished business. Things she wanted to do. Places she wanted to go. People she wanted to see.
She lived in Houston and I live in Boston. Pre-pandemic, I spoke with her by phone most days and visited her every few months throughout the year. But since last February, the assisted living facility where she lived for the last year initially limited visiting, and ultimately eliminated it completely. So even if I flew down there, I would not be able to see her. I wouldn’t be able to hug her and have her hug me. Would not be able to go out to lunch or dinner, or sit and play a game of cards or Jenga.
During her last year, her first great grandchild was born, but she could only see him by facetime. The level of her excitement at those facetime calls was palpable. At least she knew he was born, heard him cooing, and experienced the joy of knowing she was a great grandmother. The accompanying photograph was taken of her with one of her paintings for the baby just a few months before she passed.
During the last months of her life, she fell and had a bad break in her left arm. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s not so bad.” But when you need a walker to walk and you can’t use your arms, it means you need someone to bathe you. Someone to take you to the bathroom. Someone to dress you. And you can’t go for a walk down the hall. It’s a far cry from independent living.
I think it was the isolation that was the real culprit in her death. She couldn’t visit with the other folks at the facility. Had to eat alone in her room. Couldn’t have family or friends visit. Couldn’t go out to eat or to a movie. Couldn’t have group activities. All these things turned a very social and independent woman into one who was both isolated and dependent on others for her basic needs.
In studies of people who live the longest, socialization plays a key role in retaining memory and longevity, and reduces stress. Many seniors socialize by spending time in group exercise classes and other activities, all of which can provide a number of physical benefits, including mental alertness and increased lifespan.
Probably most painful of all, I didn’t get to attend her funeral in person. Like so many, I viewed and spoke via Zoom. My mom always used to say to me, “Bell Telephone has a commercial that says reach out and touch someone. Calls are OK. But I prefer a hug.”
So I never got to say goodbye. I never even got to say hello. When the total count is taken of those who are lost due to this pandemic, I’m quite certain that number will not come close to revealing all those additional souls who were indirect casualties of a cruel pandemic.