Memory

We all know someone who died of COVID, whether we know it right now or not; or at least, someone whose someone died. We’re all somebody in a chain of someones.

Earlier this week I met my someone. She’s a person I don’t see very much, since I currently work in the office only one day a week and from home the rest of the time. She works in my building, and while I don’t often talk to her, when I do it’s in-depth about what’s going on in the world today. (She was a Trump fan, but she felt he really needed to stop the nonsense and get off the stage after the election.)

I hadn’t seen her very much at all since Christmas, but that wasn’t surprising because everything was utterly desolate in our building during the winter anyway. But we ran into each other and I let her know that she’d soon be seeing more of the rest of us because SUNY is (currently) scheduled to bring its employees back after Easter. We chit chatted for a while and then she said, “My mom died of COVID.”

She was having a bad day. In another lifetime I might have been unsettled or not have quite known what to say, but we got to talking about how losing a parent is something that happens to almost literally everyone in the world yet no one ever talks about it. (I personally don’t get why this is so. It’s like Life is a big campaign or personality cult that everyone is supposed to support 150%, and if you talk about Death, or even acknowledge its existence, you’re being disloyal, and the whole four-billion-year project will collapse.)

But not talking about COVID deaths is an especially unfair order. We agreed that there needed to be much more openness about these losses. She told me about how her mom, an extremely active lady, was out and about almost until she had to admit something was very wrong and go to the hospital, where she was diagnosed, was treated and sometime in February died. She was buried somewhere in those stats that the county executive recites every Monday.

March 16 is the date that has been adopted by the media as the “official” start of the COVID experience in Central New York. Syracuse’s annual end-of-winter debauch (cloaked in St. Patrick’s Day) follows on March 17. What a powerful one-two punch! It makes you wonder if we should keep observing March 16 as a way to keep our already well-established spring festival that much more meaningful.

Certainly, a hundred years ago, our community dropped the ball on memory. Syracuse had one of the worst outcomes nationally during the influenza pandemic, especially during the fall wave of 1918. Then we promptly buried all memory of it for over a century. I think we can safely say that this time around, thanks to a cast of thousands, we did a lot better. That alone is worth commemorating every March 16th. But we also need to do much more to acknowledge the damage done and weaknesses revealed. What should next March 16th look like?

I heard on the news last night that Syracuse is the fifth-most-Irish city in the U.S., something we take for granted, but which is apparently not all that common any more. It seems likely that the association between St. Patrick’s Day in Syracuse and the onset of COVID will continue in our memory for some time, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Maybe our St. Patrick’s Day will become (for a time) something akin to Easter in Dunkirk (see comments).

I’m betting that next year’s celebration will be one hell of a parade. Let’s not leave all of our memories on the sidelines.