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Covid-19: I didn’t let my mother die alone

Monday, 22 February 2021
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

The tensions surrounding the spread of the virus, the lack of hospital beds and the increasing death rate have offered little room for mourners. We are also forgotten victims.

Our policy makers have taken decisions to protect the people, but these have caused collateral damages that will let a life-long scar on grieving citizens. By stealing such precious moments with the dying loved ones, the State has sentenced the mourning people to two consecutive sentences. Like others, I have to live now without my mother and with unanswered questions: How did my mother live her last days alone in the hospital? Did she ask me to be at her side? What was the last face she saw when she died?

I didn’t let my mother die alone because that decision was never up to me.

Which special power has the right to prevent citizens from bringing end-of-life support to their loved ones?

A few days after the virus entered our country, government decisions fell without taking care of unbearable isolation and potential collateral damages. In the most utter panic, the nursing home closed the doors to me “until further notice.”

Isolating people in nursing homes while allowing the nursing staff in and out without preparing them was only an illusion. Appalling statistics and the fear of dying forced me to play the lockdown game by the rules. I barely had the time to acclimate to this new no-way of life and to accept the ban on visiting my mother. I was holding my breath and my tears.

A few weeks later, my mom was quickly taken to the intensive care unit. After a long day with no news, a nurse has informed me that my mother had contracted this damn virus. Far from everything, confined and alone, I was feeling helpless. I would have loved to support her, but the government and its institutions have prevented me from being there for her.

A new closed door let me realize that I was deprived as much of my freedom as of my free will. Supporting loved ones at the end of their lives is now just as essential as protecting others.

How could our decision-makers let thousands of people die without their families?

My mother stopped fighting against Covid in less than five days. And on Friday I woke up in a real nightmare with the announcement of her last breath. I couldn’t even be there for her. My mother died alone, without me. I

understood how political decisions could severely have a dangerous impact on people when the decision-makers robbed me of one of the most important moments in my life and in my mother’s life. Hopefully the hospital took an unexpected and strong action.

Dressed in a cosmonaut gear, I have been entitled to stay for a few minutes with my mother. She seemed sleeping so peacefully. On that painful day I kissed her forehead without thinking of a possible contamination and social contact prohibitions. My mother passed away on April 17, 2020, just a few weeks after the beginning of the lockdown. Devastated, I collapsed in on the hospital parking lot.

How could a protocol destroy the symbolic power of funeral rites?

The new government decisions relating to funerals broke my heart once again. At that time, a freshly new protocol compelled me to endure a closed-casket ceremony and to select the “ten dearest ones” my mother would have wished by her side.

On April 22, 2020, the funerals began with this silent march. I won’t ever forget this walk of shame, one more wound inflicted by these dehumanized authorities who forced me to pass head down before this church so dear to my mother. The “express ceremony” took place at the doors of the cemetery. And that day, we were not allowed to take the time to share our pain and we dispersed in the mist of the wet soil.

How have our decision-makers impacted the mental health of the mourners?

I’m facing the void left by my mother’s absence. The lockdown, the fear of being infected and the government policy have made difficult the necessary support during these months of mourning.

A book written by the French psychiatrist Christophe Fauré then allowed me to better understand myself through the mourning process. According to him, several factors can cause potential damages to the healing process: complicated death circumstances, an unexpected death, the absence of end-of-life support, a lack of support from your circle.

These can lead to a very difficult mourning and healing will probably take more time. And, in some cases, we don’t have any other option than seeking help and assistance from a psychologist. If the government decides to isolate vulnerable people, fails to protect them, doesn’t allow relatives to accompany them in their last hours, destroys the symbolic value of rites and then sends the mourners back to their own solitude (or lockdown), it does seriously impact their mental health and has therefore more than a moral obligation to look after their mourners.

How can we give a new meaning to life after the death of a loved one during a health crisis?

After the dark days when anger, grief and depression have been your special guests, a few rays of light try to come in and to enlighten a new path to reconstruction and healing. Getting back to work can help, but videoconferencing abates the sense of belonging to the company or gives less palpable recognition than you used to get in the workplace.

The lack of living- and doing-together does not facilitate the mental recovery. The density of the social network and the support groups are also solid factors of resilience, which have been neutralized by the mandatory and opaque contact bubbles.

Without the chance to rely on the resilience of strong social bonds, getting help from a specialist is the only remedy left to survive, to contextualize traumatic experiences and to heal the inflicted wounds. Even though our policy makers are encouraging psychological support, they do not really make it fully affordable. Getting support has a price and is luxury a lot of middle-class people can’t afford.

How can our policy-makers fully take their responsibilities today?

They have to choose a more humane option and to bring clarifications and nuances to the verb “protect”.

According to the official WHO definition, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Our government must now protect mental health just like physical health. Our policy-makers must learn from the various failures in the health crisis management and offer relief to those who have lost someone from Covid.

Symbolic gestures are no longer sufficient. Concrete actions such as a decent end-of-life support and care in times of lockdown, a more systemic response to mourning counseling in times of crisis, a full coverage of all expenses related to psychological support and trauma, an extended social protection in case of work incapacity are fair and adequate compensations. And a real hand extended to the Covid mourners waiting for official recognition and true relief.

Ludovic Emmada