As we tread carefully through the fourth month of the coronavirus pandemic, the emotional and physical devastation this plague has caused is felt acutely by so many. As our days of sheltering at home continue, it has become much more real, much more personal, much more frightening.
My husband Larry and I are feeling the impact, as I suspect many of you are. Our community already has had two confirmed deaths from the virus. Kathy, a friend from my writing group who had been sick with bronchitis, posted the following message on a on March 30 on her Facebook page: “I have pneumonia and am in the Poinciana Medical Center where I am getting fantastic care. Take care. Be well.” Two days later, her brother Brian Joyce posted that she had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was on a ventilator. His daily updates report the news that she is still fighting for her life.
Friends and family are all sharing stories of people they know who have been diagnosed with the corona virus and those who have lost the battle. A longtime congregant of our synagogue in Upstate New York succumbed to the virus this week. My son’s brother-in-law’s grandfather in California died after contracting the virus from his daughter. Each day the numbers continue to climb.
Although most of my friends are retired, many have children on the front line as medical staff or first responders. They post and text pictures of their son or daughter in full protective gear or—worse yet—reused masks and garbage bags for scrubs. Originally, it was believed that the virus mostly attacked the elderly and those with underlying conditions. That “reassurance” no longer works, and my friends are worried that their children or grandchildren will contract it.
Any medical procedure becomes a cause for serious concern and even panic. A friend scheduled for cancer surgery was terrified that he would develop the virus and would be told he must cancel. Meanwhile, his wife had to drop him off at the hospital and pick him up two days later. She couldn’t physically be there for him.
Another friend, also diagnosed with cancer, was told by her Florida doctor that the surgery would be postponed until the pandemic had subsided. Fortunately, she was able to find a doctor in her home town of Pittsburgh who could operate within the week. She and her husband made a hasty trip up for the procedure. I am happy to report that her surgery was a success.
Last week,Larry was involved in a bicycle accident when he slipped on some wet pavement. His primary physician insisted Larry go to the emergency room for a tetanus shot and for potential stitches for the gash on his elbow. I freaked out, fearing he would contract the virus in the waiting room. “Please don’t go,” I begged. “Stay home. I’ll stitch it up myself.” That freaked him out. Wearing a surgical mask, he left for the hospital, where he was immediately ushered into a sterile examining room. He came home two hours later, tetanus shot administered and wounds bandaged—none requiring stitches. He had only the highest praise for the medical staff.
Two days after Larry’s ER visit, friends were anxiously awaiting the birth of their first grandchild. The impending delivery had made more stressful as it was uncertain whether their son could be in attendance as some New York City hospitals were not allowing any partners in the delivery room. Everyone was relieved to learn that he could accompany his wife during delivery, but the planned birth was still fraught with worry. If either the expectant parents had symptoms, would she have to deliver alone? And would she or the baby contract the virus while in the hospital? Thankfully, the baby was born without complications. The proud grandmother sent me a picture taken in the hospital of the father dressed head to toe in scrubs and a surgical mask gingerly holding the swaddled baby in his gloved hands. All that was visible were the father’s proud eyes.
The coronavirus has taken much from us, but the inability to congregate, to be with those we love, to hug one another in times of joy or sadness, is the most painful. In normal times, we come together to celebrate the birth of a baby, to support ill friends, to say goodbye to a beloved friend or relative. During this time of a “new normal,” grandparents cannot hold their newborn grandchild. Friends and family cannot celebrate birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. High school and college students cannot celebrate graduations. Jews cannot gather around a huge table or meet in a large room to hold a seder. Most tragically, family and friends cannot even help those who lost a loved ones to grieve, to offer hugs and human touch.
One day, in the unforeseeable future, the corona virus will be behind us. We will gather together and hug each other tightly and even plant kisses on each other’s cheeks that are wet with tears of joy. We will hold our friends and family not only in our hearts but also in our arms.
On Friday, March 20, for the first time since serving as our spiritual leader, Rabbi Karen Allen did not conduct Shabbat services at Congregation Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee. The synagogue, like thankfully churches, mosques, and other religious meeting places, were closed due to the pandemic. In a letter sent to the entire congregation, Rabbi Allen suggested the following: At 8:00 p.m. that evening, “when we would all prefer to be together in the sanctuary, let’s do two things that are emblematic of the worship service:recite the Sh’ma and Mi Shebeirach prayers.”
Like Rabbi Allen, Larry and I could not be together with other members of our congregation.. Instead, we set the table with white linens and good china and crystal wine glasses. We lit the Shabbos candles, said Kiddish, and ate the delicious warm challah I had made from scratch. We recited the Sh’ma. Then we prayed for all of those—too many to even count— in need of healing.
Mi shebeirach imoteinu, m’kor ha-bra-cha l’avoteinu./Bless those in need of healing with r’fu-a sh’lei-ma./The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,/And let us say Amen.
Stay well. Stay safe. Stay home.
Published in (Capital District) Jewish World April 16, 2020 and in (Orlando) Heritage Florida Jewish News April 17, 2020.