Friday, September 25, 2020

A Grim Milestone

Dear Parish Faithful,

We were informed earlier this week that over 200,000 lives have now been lost to COVID-19. No other country in the world has suffered as many deaths. For us as Americans, that is an unprecedented death toll from a virus since the great flu epidemic of 1918. And, by the end of the year, that total will climb even higher. We have also been informed that 70% of those who have died are over the age of sixty-five. Though that still leaves about 60,000 deaths for those under that age. 
There is a subtle and not-so-subtle attempt to make us feel better that it is mostly "old people" who have died. Obviously, if the death toll was primarily of children and young adults it would be an almost unendurable tragedy that would leave many of us profoundly shattered. So, there definitely is a difference between the deaths of older people compared to the deaths of children and young adults. (And yet we should recall that some children have died from COVID-19). Just think of attending a funeral for a young child or an elderly person. The impact is quite different, we would all agree. 

Nevertheless, to find comfort in the fact that a high percentage of the coronavirus deaths are of the elderly can leave us indifferent to that rather staggering death toll of 200,000, or to assuming the attitude that COVID-19 "is not so bad, after all." Or, it could even create a false sense of security, seen in the many images throughout the summer of large groups of younger people enjoying a beach party, or else partying in close indoor quarters without a mask on in sight. The mindset may be: "I am young and healthy, so if I get sick I will surely survive this." A bit of a gamble, actually. (I do recall the sad image in a news spot of a twenty year old who on his deathbed from the virus said: I made a mistake). 
Of course, this in turn may reflect a blissful indifference toward those "old people" who may contract the virus from proximity to the younger ones who bring it back into their homes or communities, and who may die in the process. Be that as it may, I think we have to maintain an awareness of how these "older people" have died - not only in great distress being hooked up to a ventilator; but in loneliness and isolation, not surrounded by a single loved one. All those years of togetherness and deeply loving relationships; and then, in the end, there is no one there by your side. How painful is that for everyone involved? How many stories have we heard by health-care workers of how shaken they were witnessing these types of death; and of their own efforts to bring comfort to these dying patients.  Did the age factor bring these health-care workers some consolation?  

So, I believe that we have to respect the fact that in a relatively short span of time, over 200,000 human beings - fellow citizens - lost their lost their lives to COVID-19. It is a grim milestone, indeed, and we hope that all of the departed are now in the hands of God.