Someone called my name. I opened my eyes, and it was Sunday, Palm Sunday to be exact. I checked my phone, and it was almost six in the morning. It was typical for me to wake up early (or earlier), but the day wasn’t like any other.
The birds my abuelita and I love to hear were nowhere to be found. Instead of lively chirps, I heard a commotion, so I stood up and left my room. As I opened my door, I felt something, but my mind could not process what it was.
Everything was a blur, but I do remember a feeling of someone slipping away from my arms. I still could not process anything even as I watched the people in robes and masks do their jobs behind the glass door of the makeshift emergency room.
Come Monday morning, as I was about to brew coffee and toast bread for two, reality hit me hard. I now only have to make one.
*Before I proceed with this piece, I’ll answer your question. No, my abuelita did not die due to COVID-19. They did a swab test, and the result is negative. She died of a different cause, so don’t make assumptions. She was 86 years old.
Now, I ask you. Is expressing condolences enough during the time of pandemic? The answer is no.
Social Media Condolences
When my abuelito died in 2006 due to cancer, hearing the expression “condolences” or “condolence po!” was okay because this is a normal intro. Plus, they would continue to say nice words and share stories they had with my abuelito. I’m positive the same goes for everyone. In a nutshell, this expression is harmless because of the personal note.
But expressing it over social media in the time of pandemic is meaningless and irritating. Don’t get me wrong, and allow me to explain further by using the following term.
Social distancing, also called physical distancing, means keeping a safe space between yourself and other people not from your household. – cdc.gov
Think of it this way. Expressing your condolences on social media is a form of social distancing. In a sense, it is acceptable because of the pandemic. BUT when you comment “condolences” or “condolence po!” under the person’s lighted candle profile photo, it doesn’t lift their spirits. A huge gap between the said expression and the bereaved family’s sorrow remain.
Yes, I am guilty of this, too! But I have to admit I feel uneasy whenever I type that word on the comments section on Facebook. So if I’m close to the family or have a story to share, I would instead send a direct message.
With our recent experience, I realised that our message of “social media condolences” to the bereaved family does not give comfort. What do they need? Prayers and someone to talk to are the most important.
Console the Human Way
There were just my Ninong and me during our time of sorrow. When we rushed abuelita to the hospital, and as the scene unfolds behind the glass door of the makeshift emergency room, there was nothing we could do. Shaken and alone, we found solace from the people we directly contacted. The same goes for when other close family and friends reached out on social media and through phone calls.
In a time of the pandemic, consoling the human way is nearly impossible. Families and friends would flock to the wake and funeral before. But now you have to be mindful of the schedule so there would only be ten people inside the chapel. You also have to be in a rush, so you don’t violate the curfew hours.
Bereavement & Lockdown
When abuelita left us, the government placed ‘NCR Plus’ under lockdown the next day, March 29 to April 4. We were already deep in sorrow, and we still had to suffer more because of the pandemic.
You see, if a person dies during this time, they need to undergo a swab test. If not, cremation is the only option you have. If you allow it and the result is negative, you are allowed to hold a wake. If positive, then you have no choice but a quick process and cremation.
In our case, it was negative so, we can hold a proper wake. But things are not so simple these days. Since it was a Palm Sunday, we can’t get the result even the paper works right away. Funeral homes need these documents, and that we understand.
But leaving your loved one in the freezer for hours is heavy in the heart. So the hospital informed us to find a funeral home that can accept and store without the said documents. It was frustrating (level 1000), but thanks to our neighbours and the person who offered the plan to my abuelita eons ago, we found one who listened to reason and asked for a different supporting document.
Everyone involved helped us through the process because they know how frustrating the situation is. Sadly, things still didn’t go swiftly. Funerals were not allowed even after we secured the documents because of the lockdown. And this made me furious.
That week we were not the only ones grieving. My blogger friend who lost a loved one held a wake and funeral in their city as long as they follow the rules. We would gladly follow, but why can’t the memorial park allow us?
The funeral home gave us the maximum number of viewing days. This way, we only need to rent the storage for a few days. We were thankful for this; however, it was painful to see the chapel empty most of the time.
There were a few family and friends who stopped by during the wake. Moreover, our other relatives and friends who could not fly to the country or cross the border sent what they can. I’m not only talking about monetary assistance.
Since there are several restrictions and a lack of an available priest, we could not hold a mass daily. So I arranged the prayers and sent them to those who requested. I know that they are praying daily in the safety of their homes. But as my ninong and I pray in the spacious chapel, I could hear my voice reverberate which only confirms that it’s just us two.
Thank goodness everything went well on April 4. The memorial park’s main office finally opened with two employees assisting several requests that day. We 100% understand the skeletal force, restrictions and all that. But in cases like this, isn’t it better to lessen the pain of people grieving?
If they did not close their main office, we could have settled and scheduled the burial at an earlier date. And this is why I said that expressing condolences is not enough during the time of pandemic.
If you only sent a typical social media message, you wouldn’t have known the issues the bereaved family are having. Who knows, you might have helped them! Maybe not in the paperwork but maybe by lending an ear.
Next time you see your Facebook friend change his or her profile photo to a lighted candle picture, think. What is it you can offer? If someone asked me that right now, I will say a Mass Card.
I always believed that tangible things are for the living. Though Mass Card is technically an item, the card signifies that the person who passed away will be remembered during the celebration of the holy mass.
Memorial Mass Cards: Sympathy cards to honor the memory of someone who has passed away, while offering prayers and support to those grieving the death of a loved one. Enrollment of a deceased loved one in Memorial Mass Cards assures that they share in daily prayer and Sunday Masses offered in their chosen Church for one year from the date of enrollment.
If you read my lengthy blog post, I thank you with all my heart.