COVID-19, My Grandmother, and Coping with Grief

OK, folks, this one sucks.

I come from a long line of strong, proud women. They were always there for me, no matter what, and they always taught me to be there for others.

One of those women was Carolyn Hake, my grandmother. And it’s going to take me a while to get over that, at this time, I can’t embody the things she helped teach me.

Nana passed away from COVID-19 earlier this week. Her nursing home was exposed to the virus, and it hit her like a tank. She was asymptomatic for more than a week. Then she wasn’t.

She served her upstate New York community as a nurse for many years. Everyone at Wiltwyck Country Club knew her and her husband, Victor Hake (a scratch golfer at his peak who my father insists was one of the best he ever saw with a wedge in his hands), and from what I gathered, most loved them both.

She was social, but very strong, and like most people in my family, you REALLY didn’t want to piss her off. Grandpa liked telling the story of the time he and Nana went to Pebble Beach and got paired with two guys who wanted no part of playing with a woman. Nana proceeded to kick both their tails for 18 holes, and she even parred the seventh, the flagship par-3 down the hill by the Pacific Ocean. My father also tells plenty of stories involving my grandfather looping his wife into golf plans by saying he “needed to clear it with the war department.”

Grandpa passed away in late-2012. True to form, Nana persevered. Then Alzheimer’s hit in 2015. Those of you who have seen what Alzheimer’s does first-hand don’t need me to tell you how devastating it is. She’d been in that nursing home for about a year, having good days and bad days, and I can’t help but think that she deserved better than to be gripped by a fatal virus she may not have understood.

I was always told to be there for my family in times of need, no matter what. Nana helped teach me that. The stinging truth, of course, is that COVID-19 has made that impossible. I’m 3,000 miles from my family, holed up in a Bay Area apartment with the cat Nana helped care for for a few days while I moved to California in 2013.

My loved ones, meanwhile, are all back in New York. Everyone’s grieving in their own ways. There aren’t any hugs. There are no supportive arms around shoulders. There won’t be a memorial service, either, at least not until it’s safe to have one. The question, “what can I do?,” is, more often than not, met with one of the most depressing one-word responses in the English language: “Nothing.”

“No matter what” doesn’t really apply in a pandemic, as we’ve all found out in some way, shape or form. Flying isn’t advisable, and the last thing my family needs is for the virus to affect someone else they love. My mind has come to terms with that. My heart hasn’t, and it may not for a long time.

I’m sure Nana wouldn’t want me to get down for too long, or think anything is my fault. She’d probably want me to do what I did when Grandpa passed, which was write something meaningful and honest before helping my loved ones to the best of my ability. That’s why I decided to put text to a Word doc.

(NOTE: In an odd twist, the piece I wrote after Grandpa died helped save my weekly column at The Saratogian. If this saves some part of my emotional well-being in a trying time nobody could have envisioned even four or five months ago, I think Nana would consider that about even.)

Nana wouldn’t want me to get political, so I’m not going to do that, but there is one point I want to make in closing. When it comes to COVID-19, I’m willing to consider a lot of societal viewpoints valid, given the presence of reason, logic, and fact. There’s one philosophy, though, that I refuse to accept, and it’s anything along the lines of the following phrase: “I don’t know anyone who has it, so it’s not a big deal.”

This virus does not discriminate. It hits every age group, every demographic, and every social class. You can rush to point out the numbers and how an absurdly-high percentage of people with the disease will not die. Your loved ones are not immune simply because you think it can’t happen to them. If you genuinely believe that your opinion gives them a shield, smarten up.

Rest in peace, Nana. I already miss you, and I love you very much.

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