May 1, 2020
Happy May Day. I hope you are well.
A close friend gave me two wonderful gifts yesterday: the websites of a local butcher with a drive-thru window and a local cooperative farm that sells produce and eggs with a pickup location close to my home. I gave my friend the website of the local farm, where I buy my cheese. We’re both happy. I’m not giving up on my own vegetable and herb gardens, though the days of rain and few sunny days are not helpful. I have lettuce, kale, and spinach popping up and in the next day or so, I must space them out as they’re crowding each other. That’s a good sign. I remain hopeful for a good harvest.
For fresh fruit, I’m trying out an online fruit market that has pretty good prices and free shipping. I miss fruit smoothies and making green juice with greens, apples, and ginger. Last month, I bought a bag of fresh ginger and placed chunks of ginger in a container of water and put it in the fridge. I hope that method keeps the ginger fresh as I love steeped ginger tea with a teaspoon of acai or acerola powder for a healthy energy boost. I am determined not to go to the supermarket and so far, I’ve found ways around that.
Why not go all the way and become an urban beekeeper? I say that tongue in cheek because while I love honey, I’m afraid of bees. There are those who can sit still when bees land on their shoulders or arms. Not me, I run like hell. Maybe it’s best to search for fresh, local honey instead. In case my fears of bees are unwarranted, I ordered the debut memoir, “A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings” by Helen Jukes, who said beekeeping changed her life. So, there is a glimmer of hope and if beekeeping isn’t for me, at least I’ll have read a memoir described as wonderful by Publisher’s Weekly. A win-win.
Last month (before my friend recommended the local farm for fresh eggs), I considered turning my garden shed into a hen house. I know! What is this pandemic doing to my brain, where I think I can turn this city house with a garden into a homestead? Somehow, it has freed me to think more outside the box than I usually do…and my long-held belief that life is precious is as crystal clear to me than ever. It’s an interesting phenomenon. And I miss fresh eggs! Why not start with two hens and turn this city home into a homestead? Well for starters, there may be ordinances against raising chickens within the city limits. There’s that and I’d have to deal with several neighborhood cats, who’ve left two dead baby birds on my kitchen porch. Not a good situation for chickens. I’ll start by calling City Hall. I’m curious, smile.
May 2, 2020
I’ve thought about death over the last two months. Most probably, we’ve all thought about it at some level. I’m worried about my 87-year-old father who suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives in a Florida nursing home. I keep in good contact with his caregiver, who reports he seems to be doing well physically. How I wish he could remember us. I’d love to speak with him about what we’re going through with this pandemic and living in quarantine. My dad was always a no-nonsense guy with a keen sense of humor. I’m sure he’d have a lot to say. For now, I rest easy knowing he is well-cared for and seems relatively happy.
I wish my sweet mom, who passed on in January 1992, was still with us in the physical sense. I miss my mom every single day. If she were still with us, it’s very possible my parents would be in quarantine with me or me with them. Like always, we would have enjoyed cooking and laughing together, and remembering the good old days. We would have taken care of each other. Those in quarantine with their aging parents are very fortunate indeed. Bless my parents.
It’s difficult to read the gruesome reports from across the country (mainly out of New York), of filled-to-capacity funeral homes and trailers-turned-morgues parked outside of hospitals. Those reports always bring up bad memories of the thousands of unnecessary deaths in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, and that the true number of deaths may never be known.
From the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve felt such sadness for the patients who’ve died and are still dying. I cannot imagine the depth of immense grief and suffering of dying alone without a loved one to hold them, or experiencing the death of a loved one who has died alone. That would haunt me forever. My heart and prayers go out to those who’ve experienced that unimaginable reality.
I remember the dead in my own way by holding space for them. I do that because it feels right and necessary. But Holy God, I was not prepared for the report out of Brooklyn this morning shared by The Daily Beast. The title was bad enough, but the first accompanying photograph before the actual text was jaw-dropping and heartbreaking. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told The Daily Beast, “We have an emergency going on right now.” Right now? He added, “There is so much more we could do to better move this situation forward.” No kidding. As of yesterday, 23,616 people have died in New York and you have an emergency going on right now? He added, “There is so much more we could do to better move this situation forward.”
So…Adams is establishing a Bereavement Task Force that will begin meeting next week. Good God, why wasn’t this done before? “We’re going to bring people in the room in every aspect of this industry and sit down and hear directly from them what we should be doing to coordinate this operation.” No one anticipated this would be a problem before today, Mr. Adams? And to the responsible funeral director who carelessly, callously piled unclothed human bodies in the back room with no respect and human decency, I say shame on you. Shame on you.
May I never grow numb to the daily death count in this country and never forget those who died from the novel coronavirus, who were beloved by their families, friends, and communities. We may never know what they achieved in life or how they individually contributed to their families and communities, but we can honor and remember them by speaking of them, showing respect for every and every person who died or is dying at this moment.
This morning, I learned it is not considered ‘essential’ for priests or pastors to administer the last rites to dying COVID-19 patients. Despite Pope Francis urging priests to minister to the flock in any way they can, including people with coronavirus diagnoses, priests are afraid. Funeral directors say they’re afraid because cemeteries aren’t taking bodies fast enough and preparing them for funerals. It’s unthinkable to die alone but not to have access to last rites, a proper funeral, and a cemetery plot because the government or states didn’t plan for it is negligent and cruel. How would we feel if our loved one died? I know I would be raising holy hell.
A man who later died from coronavirus was given last rites by his pastor over the telephone. A compassionate nurse at the hospital, where the man had been cared for, organized the ceremony for the family who listened in from quarantine. How sad and beautiful.
My eternal thanks to the doctors, nurses, and health workers who’ve shown true compassion and deep empathy by holding dying patient’s hands; for praying with and for their patients; for giving warm hugs and offering soothing words; and for making a patient smile during their last hours.
This morning, I find comfort and hope in their love, compassion, and humanity.
Until next week, be safe and stay healthy.
Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning, debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, set in 1900 Puerto Rico, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, “Latina Authors and Their Muses“. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is in quarantine and working on her second novel, THE LAMENTS, set in 1927 Puerto Rico. Her children are out in the world doing amazing things, which fills her with enormous pride and comfort.