Showing posts with label death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death. Show all posts

Sunday, April 26, 2020

COVID SIDE OF LIFE. Day 42: What Passing-bells for Those Who Die of Covid?

New York’s Hart Island; where unclaimed bodies are buried


NOTE: title is co-opted from one of my favourite poems “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen.

Pandemic Log: Sunday, 26th April 2020

Living can often be a lonely business in New York City; especially for older people who never married, have no kids or family members still alive. At the best of times this life can be cruel for these older warriors but now Covid has made it even crueler.

We live in one of five buildings and many of the apartments are rent stabilised, so quite a few are occupied by these older, single tenants who have lived here since the early 1970’s. They are retired teachers, healthcare workers and city employees. We share a building superintendent and handyman, so over the years we have gotten to know many of them; if not by name then by face, and through various neighborly interactions or shouting matches with the building super.

Those of us who skew younger tend to check-in on our older warriors that reside in our block. One of these warriors died yesterday. He lived two buildings over but I had been introduced to him a couple of years ago by another neighbour. His name was Richard.

I remember Richard vividly. I would see him walk up our street on summer evenings carrying two heavy bags filled with stuff. He always carried the same two bags. One a cloth tote and the other was one of those old supermarket plastic bags, before they switched to the cheap, flimsy plastic that rips by the time you get home. It was clear that both bags had seen better days.

The bags looked very heavy and he would pause numerous times, resting them on the ground, along the roughly two hundred yard distance from the corner of the street to his apartment building. I once offered to help him carry his bags but he declined, saying he could manage and thanked me. I always wondered to myself what he was carrying in them; where he had gone and where he was returning from every evening.

The neighbour who introduced us had a dog, and our dogs were friends. So on summer evenings we would sometimes sit on the steps into the building and talk about life and work, as our dogs entertained themselves or scared passing dogs by ganging up on them.

It was on one of these evening that this neighbour introduced me to Richard. That evening too he had made his slow and precise journey up the street with his two bags and multiple rest stops. Richard told me that he thought my dog was very cute and asked if he could pet her. As he enticed her to come over, I asked if he had a dog. He told me that he was a cat person but that he generally liked animals and found them to be kinder than most humans in this city.

After that I do not remember the specifics of our conversation but we probably talked about how unfriendly people could be in this city or the unusually hot spell we were having. But I do remember one other detail. He wore the same sneakers every day, but that day I noticed for the first time that his right shoe had big hole around the toe area. I remember that it made me feel sad, and my instinct was to offer to buy him another pair but I did not know how to make the offer; so I never did.

After that day, we would greet each other every time we met and he would put his hand out to beckon my dog over to pet her. But we never had another real conversation.

It turns out that Richard had been dead for over a week. The police and coroner had to remove his body wearing hazmat suits due the possibility that Covid had caused his demise.

Last night when I was out walking my dog, a police van suddenly zoomed up and parked in from of Richard’s building. I saw three cops proceed into the building with masks, protective gloves and long sticks. My neighbour informed me that they had come to round up Richard’s cats.

It turns out that prior to this pandemic about 20 to 25 people died every day in their homes, but since March that number has increased to more than 200 people per day. However, we know that Covid has been far more deadly for those over sixty-five years of age and is likely decimating our old, single warrior population that Richard was a member of.

It breaks my heart to think that at the best of times these warriors are lonely, but now Covid has snatched from them the one lifeline of human contact they had, at their local library, supermarket or from greeting their neighbours on the street.

I wonder what is crueler; dying during normal times and fading from existence because there is nobody alive that knows you, or to be remembered as a statistic of a global pandemic.