Mourning During a Period of Self-Isolation

It may sound strange, but I feel as if my grandmother passed at the right time. She could have passed away during her cancer treatment for an extremely rare cancer that has a slim survival rate, yet she didn’t. I think of her survival as a sign of her strength and her courage.  She could have passed a month after she did. If that was the case, my mother would have been unable to be with her while she was in the hospital, there would have been no funeral, there would have been no goodbye. There are so many “what-ifs” had she died a month later. But she didn’t. 

Speaking of funerals, I wasn’t there. The combination of a double ear infection and a global pandemic left me unable to attend, and feeling guilty about it. “Don’t come to the funeral, it’s what she would have wanted, it’s what grandpa and I want.” I was in shock, I couldn’t believe that my mother––one of my closest friends––did not want me at her mother’s funeral. “It’s not safe” was a phrase I heard over and over again through the course of that week. This didn’t stop my guilt and my sadness. I wanted to be there for my mother. She was so concerned with the safety of my family that she was unable to show her grief, but I could sense it was there. I wanted to be there for my family and sing the Mi Shebeirach at the graveside funeral because I know how much it would have meant to my family, as it’s a tradition that I always sing it. But none of that happened; I wasn’t there. There was nothing I could do. 

That week my rabbi texted the board of Kesher (Reform Jews at NYU) to check in and see how we were doing with the changes in our lives. I told her about my grandmother and she offered to do a Zoom memorial service. To be honest, I was hesitant; a service over the phone seemed so impersonal, but it was the only option. Looking back, I am so thankful that she was able to take time out of her day to plan a memorial service. It was beautiful, and I was glad to have my friends from Hillel there to support me. While this service left me with remaining guilt about not being able to attend the funeral itself, it gave me a sense of closure. I was able to mourn my grandmother in a space with loved ones, and while it was a service like no other I had ever attended, I felt grateful that I was given a space to grieve. 

Before my mother returned home, I had a daily routine where I would look up “Gloria Baskin obituary” and hope that something would come up, yet nothing ever did. I think I wanted to read her obituary as a way to connect with her spirit, but, to be honest, I’m not sure what drove those searches. 

It has been a strange process mourning during this period of self-isolation, but I have to recognize how hard it must have been for my mother. She told me that it has been really difficult for her because she “is mourning without Jewish traditions within the isolation that we are all experiencing”. She is looking forward to increasing her sphere of people that she can see because what she needs most is the human contact that comes with a traditional funeral, shiva, and overall loss.

My mother has never been good at letting people help her; but now she needs help and is unable to get it. She told me that she misses human contact and hugs. How could she not?

My mourning, though not as intense, has been hard. I think my truest mourning has been for my mom’s emotional state. I know how hard losing her mother has been for her, and I want to be there to help her no matter the circumstances.