It’s what I didn’t say that hurts. It’s not being able to go back and tell him all those things that swirl wildly in my mama-heart.
When I didn’t get to say goodbye, my unspoken words were lost in air so thin they could not find my son who’d died.
In December 2014, Alex was brutally murdered by someone he knew. He died alone. By that, I mean that the only other person with him was his killer.
I am haunted by thoughts of his last moments. That I wasn’t there as he died causes me great pain to this day.
I can’t imagine that this aspect of his death is something I’ll ever come to terms with.
Six years on, and I still struggle with this harrowing fact.
The feelings of loss and of not having been able to save him, are overwhelming. The knowledge that he faced death alone, breaks me.
The universe may be vast yet my grief is so illimitable that it reaches out past distant stars.
One last goodbye, that’s all I ask. To hold him as he died. Some nights I look up at the sky and wonder if he knows how much it hurts that he’s not here.
It’s natural to want to protect those we love. When it comes to our children, our desire to ensure their safety and well-being never diminishes, no matter their age.
Whether it’s our unborn infant, our ten-year-old, our young person, or full-grown adult, we’ll fiercely defend their right to live a full life.
Anything that denies this basic instinct will cause great suffering. Their pain is our pain. Their last moments become our life sentence.
That’s why the heartbreak unleashed by Covid-19 affects me personally. I ache for the countless families who’ve been unable to comfort their child or loved one as they lay dying. Many have also been obliged to hold virtual-only or limited-attendance funerals unable to lean on those who would normally offer support.
Grief needs expression, it demands lamentation. We need to cry and hug one another, to be with our grief and mourn at this most devastating moment in our lives. To not do so leaves a crippling wound.
I know what it means to not have been present as my terrified child lost consciousness and asphyxiated to death.
I also know what it feels like to not have been able to run my hands through his tousled hair, to touch his skin, to see him one last time before the casket lid was shut tight.
If you prevent someone from saying goodbye, you lacerate them emotionally. The psychological damage will most probably last a lifetime.
I’ve come to accept that I’ll carry this burden until I die.
But do people realize just how unfathomably traumatic not saying goodbye really is?
How grief is made all the more psychologically challenging when you’re denied access to your child in their last moments alive?
Or when you’re not allowed to mourn at their funeral surrounded by those you love?
A glance at the news, and I do wonder.
These last months I’ve watched how the daily mortality figures dehumanize the truth that lies behind statistical graphs – that each number is a person, someone’s child, parent, partner, or friend.
Theirs is a death that’s occurred in isolation, hidden from families who were unable to impede it.
Their loved ones were kept away, some for weeks, because medical and crisis management demanded it.
Understandably, feelings of impotence, guilt, anger, and depression will probably form part of a family’s complex grief.
It’s unspeakably hard when you can’t touch the person who’s dying or speak words of comfort.
And when the crushing grief is compounded by not having been able to properly bury them in the traditions of your faith, it’s life-altering.
It’s an unbearable truth that has the power to sear the soul. The mental health consequences for individuals and our communities will be felt for generations to come.
Yet these bereaved families seem to be increasingly forgotten, victims lost in media hype and political point-scoring. It’s as if they don’t matter when we look at what lies ahead.
But they very much matter. How our communities treat the old, weak, infirm, and vulnerable is the mirror we must use to look at ourselves.
We must be critical in order to see what we hold dear and what we do not.
If we want to make our world a better place post-pandemic, to build a society we can be proud of, we must open our hearts and do what we can to reach out to the grieving families of Covid-19 victims.
We must try to understand, be compassionate, and above all, show respect. For they have walked where no one wants to.
They have paid the ultimate price – that of not being able to say goodbye because authorities demanded they help contain the virus and spare others’ lives.
And if you’re reading this, that ‘other’ includes me and you.