Somber November

Thanksgiving week is finally upon us here in the US. In a normal year, this is the time where most families would be excitedly gathering and making plans on who will bring which dishes – turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and the works – to the family dinner.

However, 2020 is not a normal year by any standards (quite the contrary, in fact). Instead, this year many of us will be spending time confined within the safety of our homes while the pandemic rages on in the country. There is a feeling of somberness and uncertainty in the air – families who have lost loved ones are grieving in silence, while others who don’t yet know anyone (at least on a personal level) with COVID-19 want to gather with their families to celebrate, and yet feel guilty for doing so.

Last night, I attended a vigil service on Zoom for one of my husband’s relatives battling COVID-19 in the hospital ICU. It was a grim affair – the ICU nurses create and host a Zoom meeting from a bleakly-named account titled “Educator Critical Care Unit” where the patient’s relatives and friends are all invited to dial in, sometimes with a pastor helping to lead prayers and hymns for the patient. Everyone tries to sing in unison, but different bandwidth speeds mean that the sound is disjointed, crackly audio cuts in and out, and people get frustrated wrangling with technology while trying to battle grief. People were crying, talking, asking questions all at once – total chaos. I saw how elderly relatives struggled to figure out how to even download the Zoom app on their phones, let alone find out how to input the meeting ID and password. I witnessed how one of the elderly church members had his video camera on, but could not figure out how to get the computer’s mic working, and so he had to use his mobile phone to call his son, who then unmuted his audio from his own end so everyone could hear what the elderly man was saying through the phone via the son’s laptop instead. Sure, technology can be a boon, but at times like these, all I can think about is how many people – especially the elderly – have been left behind in the wake of tech’s progress, and how much more all of us CAN and MUST do to help bridge this gap.

I do not know this particular relative well, but I’m told she was once a lively, outgoing woman in her early sixties. Yet, all I saw on the webcam last night was a poor elderly woman, unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator, heaving shallow, shuddering breaths while ICU nurses checked on her drips and tried to make her comfortable. It was heartbreaking to see, and devastating to imagine how this is the bleak reality for many families now who may possibly have to say goodbye to loved ones and relatives via a web conference call. We are still praying for a miracle for her to pull through, and overcome this virus. If you are reading this, please take care of your loved ones – stay home whenever possible, and wear a mask to protect both yourself and others as well.

We can all do our part to curb the spread of the virus. The more we band together and practice responsible hygiene + sanitation, the more lives we can save while waiting for the vaccine to become publicly available. Let us not become complacent, but keep vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.

This Thanksgiving, I am truly grateful for all the frontline healthcare workers who put their own lives at risk daily to care for the sick and vulnerable. They are the true heroes of the pandemic. Let’s support them however we can. It’s the least we can do.



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