A perspective on death

With 465,000 deaths and climbing, it’s time to remember the impact of each individual life

Emily DiSalvo, Arts and Life Editor

My cat, Rose, died last week.

It was a painful death. She died as a result of a heart aneurysm. It was a death of indignity following a life of dignity. Rose was a poised and elegant cat with snow-white fur. For her life to end in blood and gasping for breath is not at all a reflection on her life filled with dainty strolls along windowsills and hours spent in the company of her loving owners.

Since she died, I have been thinking a lot about death. I have been crying almost every day about the gaping hole she has left in my family. When I look at her photos on my wall, I consider all of our good times together, but I also consider the harrowing notion that I will never get her back. Death is permanent and tragic.

Infographic from Wikimedia Commons

In the United States, we have suffered almost 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 11 months. This is the type of tragedy that will never sink in because of its enormity.

I am blessed enough to say that no one in my life has died of COVID-19. However, many of my family members and friends, like me, lead a life of privilege. We have the opportunity to work and attend school from home. We have the opportunity to live in a house, not a crowded apartment or a homeless shelter. We have access to medical care. We are more equipped to avoid death than so many others.

This is why I am privileged enough to say that while this week I have cried about the death of my wonderful cat, it was not my mother or my brother or my grandmother. But not all families can say the same. Some even lost multiple immediate family members as the virus tore through their home.

Rose was a best friend to me. She always sat by me while I worked, rubbed her furry side into my leg and looked at me with her deeply understanding eyes. I have taken the death of Rose particularly hard because of the context in which it is framed. This death hits even harder in the midst of a world that is grieving the loss of normalcy, but most especially thousands of those that we love.

As I reflect on death, I find it so trivial that people on my social media feed and sometimes right before my eyes blatantly act like COVID-19 and the deaths resulting from it are a joke. If you are privileged enough to have not yet experienced the painful wound of losing someone who matters to you, that is not an excuse to act like your actions will not indirectly cause another death.

Almost 500,000 deaths is not a number to mess around with. That means hundreds of thousands of families crying and looking at photos and coming to terms with the fact that they will never get their loved ones back.

I would not wish the pain of losing a pet on anyone, but I cannot even begin to imagine how I would feel if I was crying about the loss of one of my parents instead. Death is so close to us right now. It is permanent and heartbreaking.

Stop making exceptions for your 21st birthday. Stop making exceptions for holidays, sports games and other things that make you happy at the expense of others.

I am not telling you to walk around with the idea of death breathing over your shoulder because that is a miserable way to live. I am asking you to wear a mask, social distance and before you celebrate your birthday, think about the pain of grieving.

COVID-19 requires empathy. To everyone who has lost someone to COVID-19, I send my condolences but thoughts and prayers only go so far. I also send my commitment to wearing my mask and social distancing to save lives.