I have served the public as a funeral director for 30 years, and grew up in a family funeral business which stretches back almost 130, none of which prepared me for the tumultuous 12 months and more, through which we have recently passed. And despite the pain and suffering, I have witnessed along the way, friends and family — those fortunate enough to have not felt a direct sting of the pandemic — continue to lob skeptical questions in my direction about the severity of the pandemic, and the necessity of lockdowns, masks, and social distancing.
At times I have passed along statistics I knew from my reading, and from the ledgers of my own business to describe how severe the loss of life had been, compared with any year for many decades. However, in a world which daily drowns in clashes of statistical bloodshed, perhaps a few personal observations will provide a clearer perspective.
A 25-year-old I know and several of her friends, got careless last summer when restrictions eased. They passed COVID-19 from one to the other, and seemingly recovered in full. Yet I later learn there’s permanent olfactory damage. She and the others will never again walk into a bakery or restaurant and savor the aroma, or enjoy any meal ever again. Sadly, all food now smells somewhat rotten, and ingesting calories has become a chore, rather than the pleasure most of us take for granted. Imagine if you will, your favorite foods, let your mouth water, and then imagine a loss of those smells and tastes for the rest of your life. For them, the interruption may go on for half a century and more.
I have a friend my age who until a few months ago pursued an energetic and hard-working life, but the novel coronavirus has turned him into a barely functional long hauler. With it, seems some serious short-term memory impairments as well. Now he cannot finish the renovations he had started on his house, or work the second job he needs to make ends meet. He also lost several weeks of carefully banked vacation. This became the only way to offset lost wages from his six-week hospitalization and recovery, and the anguish is palpable that he will not have any off work days to spend with his children this summer.
And then there are the many mothers and fathers, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles and more we buried or cremated through our funeral homes over the last year. Did they have the dreaded “co-morbidities” so many use as an excuse not to care? Probably so, but why do we write off our fellow men and women so easily? Without COVID-19, most of these special people would have participated in their families’ lives for months, or in many cases for years yet to come, their pre-existing conditions only a minor concern. Instead, those precious and irreplaceable moments have slipped through everyone’s fingers, and we as a society are no doubt diminished by these losses, many of them preventable, had restrictions been pursued more quickly and sustained with more diligence.
So please, as we face the next pandemic surge which will inevitably come, keep these people and all those you hold dear in mind. Economic pangs and Wall Street’s whines, are not the greatest measure of a society’s worth. Stock markets ebb and flow, mask mandates and other small inconveniences (if pursued in a cooperative and consistent way) can come and go in no time, so that we may protect the true essentials of life; the smiles, the smells, the stories, the many accomplishments of the soul, which never tally on a spreadsheet, but which enrich us in ways only our children’s children will have the best chance to know.
(William “BT” Hathaway is a Fairhaven resident and president of Hathaway Family Funeral Homes.)
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