I am sitting on the sofa watching the news when my cousin G comes in, the first of the girls to wake up after their sleepover. She crawls under my blanket with me and puts her head on my shoulder. I love my kiddos, but I have known G since she first arrived here on planet Earth and we have an inexplicable bond. She watches the television as I sip my coffee. A breaking news alert comes on, and it is Erie Executive Mark Poloncarz telling us there are three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our county. G turns to me, tells me she is scared. I reassure her that kids are mostly unaffected and she shouldn’t worry, but she clutches my arm and tells me no, she’s scared for me. I tell her I am strong. I will be fine. In my head I am screaming, because I have diabetes, and that alone makes me high-risk. Still, I am not that worried.
I awake to a text from my sister. “Are you up?” It is barely 7am, and I already know in that moment what’s happened. “Did mom call you?” No, she did not. I call her, and her phone is off. I call dad, no answer. At this point I am certain. I text my father “What is going on???” and he calls me, finally. “I didn’t want to tell you over the phone.” Oh dad…I already knew.
When we got to my grandmother’s house, I did not think of Coronavirus for a single second. I ran right to my Gram and hugged her, and we sobbed together. I hugged each of my grieving aunts and uncles. I sat with my cousins and tried not to cry.
Usually my favorite day of the year, when Mark said “Happy St. Paddy’s” to me, I shrugged. I’d forgotten.
I sat on the sofa watching the press conference about the virus and thought to myself, how on earth are we supposed to have a funeral? Any idea of a lunch afterwards was ruined with the closing of all restaurants. The funeral parlor said they would monitor the number of people at the wake. However, there’s something like 38 people in my immediate family. The church told us they could only service immediate family, though theoretically anyone could come in while it was open to “pray.” I couldn’t help thinking that this was not what my grandfather deserved.
My family was there. Several older people who knew Poppa showed up for quick visits. There was hand sanitizer and wipes everywhere. There were warning signs posted on the doors. I, who hates wakes on principle, actually thought that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was just a long, sad, worrisome day.
At the funeral home, no one really spoke. Everyone was sad. It was very difficult for me, who does not deal well with such emotions and has a tendency to crack a lot of jokes to try to cheer people up. Obviously, this was not the place. We paraded across Seneca St. to St. Teresa’s church, and after we took our seats we were immediately told to move, to spread out amongst the church keeping 6 feet between us. I took this opportunity to move towards the back where I was more comfortable. I thought I would be sitting alone, but suddenly there was my sister, throwing herself into my arms and sobbing. Listen, if one of us is going to get it, both of us are going to get it. I will not begrudge my sister a hug after she was just a pallbearer for our grandfather.
I made a couple jokes to her in church to cheer her up, like pointing out the members of the fam who have clearly not been to Mass in a while. She seemed to do a lot better carrying him out.
Instead of a luncheon, we threw a party at Gram’s house, despite the fact that we weren’t really supposed to. The way my cousin Mick put it, we’ve all been around each other for the past two weeks while Poppa was sick, so if we’ve got it, we’ve got it. It was relatively small given the big family, and was just my Gram, her kids, and their kids. It was actually a lot of fun, as people had pretty much packed up their tears for the day and were reveling in the company of family. I was stressed for a few hours when Gov. Cuomo announced that all non-essentials had to stay home, but then Mark texted me with “I’m essential” and I had a celebratory drink.
That night I went over to my dad’s to hang out with him and his brother Tim, and we drank and laughed and ate pizza. I fell asleep thinking that maybe, in the end, it was the perfect sendoff for Poppa.
Mark and I took a drive, to clear our heads and think of something other than illness and death. Still, it lurked. It lurked in little moments when Poppa crossed my mind. It lurked in 30 second news updates on the radio. It lurked in my husband’s mind, who handles materials from China on a daily basis and has to take three buses to and from work.
Press conference tells me there are now 57 cases in my county. That’s 54 in a week. I think back to the previous Sunday, snuggling on the sofa with G, and I feel my heart grow heavy. Last Sunday, we had our Poppa, still. Last Sunday, we had our bravery, still.
Just one week.