Weekend appreciation: Celia Rivenbark on our COVID nurses and CNAs

My mother-in-law died last week of COVID-19, six months shy of her 90th birthday. I do not presume our family’s loss was one bit more significant than yours. Or yours. Or yours and yours.

But I just have to tell you how much we will miss her faithful comfort, often presented in the fragrant form of homemade strawberry cobbler or, for the younger set, an oversized bowl of macaroni and cheese topped with a quilt square of melting Cracker Barrel sharp cheddar.

I don’t presume our loss was one bit more significant than yours. Or yours. Or yours and yours.

By now, so many of us have either had COVID tear through our own obsessively Lysol-wiped homes and been left more or less OK, or we have found ourselves on a freezing gray afternoon sitting on funeral home folding chairs thoughtfully covered in fleecy fur as though the chairs, too, got all dressed up for the tiny, socially-distanced service.

A laptop—actually, the one I’m using now, was barely balanced on top of my father-in-law’s headstone so the granddaughter in California could attend via Zoom.

Another granddaughter sang “Amazing Grace,” so purely and cleanly I imagined the lunch crowd could hear her at the Wendy’s way across the highway.

If one more person says “new normal” we may just scream.

I don’t presume our loss was one bit more significant than yours. Or yours. Or yours and yours.

But I just have to tell you about the nurses and the CNAs. Because, without them, our grief wouldn’t be a normal reckoning with death—the routine ricocheting from near-hysterical laughter to tears so big you’re half surprised they don’t say “ker-splash!” like in a cartoon. That’s the grief we’re used to. The grief we can wrap our pounding heads around.

The most wretched thing about COVID is it normalizes the notion of dying alone. No, not in the classic sense, on a floor surrounded by cats and cases of Ensure, but alone because the very act of visiting could kill you or, at least, make you very, very sick. But here is the saving and most amazing grace: the nurses and aides make sure COVID patients are never alone/alone.

For weeks, our family, and so many of yours, have relied on nurses and CNAs so swaddled in PPE we will never be able to recognize them and wrap them in sloppy, embarrassing hugs in the grocery store some day. They hold the iPad. They make the FaceTime call. They keep us from going crazy.

We weren’t special. We were just one more family among thousands having to figure out a way to stay in touch even as breathing grew more raggedy and conversation was finally reduced –No! elevated—to us saying over and over, “We love you.”

We can’t bear to think what it would’ve been like to not have those last conversations. How do you say “thank you” to nurses and aides for that kind of gift?

I think you just keep saying it. I’ll begin. Thank you. And you. And you and you. Thank you.

Visit www.celiarivenbark.com for an archive of past columns.

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