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Tag: death

How the Pandemic Made Mourning So Hard

My mother died in a nursing home 3,000 miles from me with a nurse but no family by her side. She was declining by the time the Covid-19 pandemic halted us in our tracks and made it impossible for me to fly from California to New Jersey to be with her in her final days.

Grieving is hard. Grieving the death of a parent even harder. Grieving without the usual end-of-life rites and rituals has been impossible. 

In my past experiences with death, I learned that aspects of the dying process made the mourning process a little easier — less disorienting, less chaotic. Keeping vigil, sharing memories, watching, waiting, and witnessing all provided an anchor for the grief that was to come. I knew where to go next because I knew where I had been, but not so with the death of my mother. 

Getting a phone call in the dead of night is not the same as being able to see her, touch her, say goodbye, watch her go. Calling her friends and family to share the sad news is no substitute for gathering to reminisce and memorialize her life. Walking out my front door and stumbling upon the box that contained her ashes was a blow — not a consolation. 

The lack of closure has left a fissure that I’ve come to realize can only be filled with some familiar rites of passage — delayed and altered though they may be. I told a friend that — jarring though it can be to see the notice pop up on my phone — I still haven’t been able to delete the calendar reminder for the weekly video calls I once had with my mother and her nurse’s aide. My friend suggested I keep it for now and create a new weekly ritual of memory and meaning. 

And so I have. And so it helps — as did writing her obituary and creating a memorial photo album. But there is more to do. 

Before she fell ill, my mother and I talked about what she wanted me to do with her ashes once she was cremated. Ever practical, she argued that she’d be gone and wouldn’t know the difference, so whatever was meaningful for me — the living — should take precedence. 

Prior to my mother’s death, my husband and I had already begun making our own final plans, and after much thought and many conversations, we decided on a grave in Oakland’s historic Mountain View Cemetery — a special place we frequented before the pandemic closed it to the public. My mother’s death accelerated our contemplation and finalized our decision. The process has been a long one, but it’s already bringing some much-needed closure.

While my mother didn’t have much to say about where her ashes would eternally reside, she did have some very specific thoughts about her memorial service: she wanted there to be photos and stories, laughter and music, and she wanted a bagpiper to play — among other songs — Danny Boy. Some friends have vowed to join us for the interment — safely distanced and responsibly masked — and never before have I been so eager to fulfill a wish. 

With her subsequent service and burial, I’m not looking to “get over” my mother’s death as I am looking to “get over” on the other side of the chasm that has been looming for months. It turns out that we humans — and even some non-humans — create death rites and rituals for a reason — to comfort the living and usher us through the grief process. Without that bridge, mourning just feels like an unhealed wound or an unfallen shoe.

Animal Neighbors

Last night, I arrived home with three dear friends who helped me host a day-long animal advocacy conference in Oakland. It was an incredible if not exhausting day, and we had only 20 minutes to rest before needing to head out to treat the staff and speakers to dinner. 

Three of us went into the house, and my friend Amanda came in a couple minutes after us — distraught. Our little deer Pious was lying in the corner of the house just at the base of our front stairs by the door. He was dying, and I hadn’t seen. This little guy who was born in April suffered an awful injury in early June that I’ve spared you all from seeing. It was very difficult to bear witness, and it was even more difficult that (after consulting with several wildlife rehabbers) he was past the age where fawns can be taken and treated. A few weeks old, yes. Over a couple months old, too difficult for a number of reasons. 

And so I appointed myself his guardian, providing him with — as always — a quiet place, a lot of water, a salt lick — and monitored him to see if there ever came a time where I COULD intervene to ease him of any unnecessary suffering. 

Last night was that night. We sent some of our group off to our dinner to meet with the rest of our party, and I immediately began making calls. I’m so grateful to the non-emergency dispatcher who, when told of the situation, voiced her compassion and concern. She sent out a call to Animal Control, and within an hour, he came out to relieve Pious of his suffering. 

I feel so grateful that Pious chose to die in a location visible enough for us to see him so we could help. Yes, I realize that free-born animals die all the time and “it’s part of nature,” but I believe where and when we can appropriately intervene, we should. As humans, we impose our lives on animals in every way and intervene in ways that negatively affect them all the time, so I have no compunction about what some would consider “interfering” with nature when it alleviates unnecessary pain. 

I am so grateful the animal control officer who came out hasn’t yet suffered from “compassion fatigue” as so many do in his profession. He was gracious and kind as he tranquilized Pious and brought him back to animal control to give him the gift of a painless end. I’m sad, but I’m so relieved that this little guy doesn’t have to struggle anymore. He was such a fighter these last two months, and he worked hard to keep up with his mother and brother, even after his lower limb atrophied and fell off. It was very difficult to watch, but in bearing witness, I was able to help indirectly — if not directly in the end. 

The animals we live among are our fellow residents. And today I just want to honor one we have lost. He has a name, and he will be remembered. 

This morning, I’m leading a walking tour from Jack London Square to Lake Merritt of the history of animal protection in Oakland in the last century. Many before me have borne witness to suffering and intervened (and continue to intervene) to help our local animal residents as well as those beyond our borders. And when I come home, I’ll make sure the water is fresh and the salt lick is in place for all who share our neighborhood. 

For Pious. 


(I’m including a photo of Remus and Romulus, two fawns born just a month after Pious, who are absolutely adorable and grace us with their playful, curious presence every day. I have only videos of Pious, and they’re too difficult for most people to watch. He was beautiful.)

Many thanks to Lila at Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue Center (YUWR) and Wildcare Bay Area who help injured and sick wildlife and guided me the last two months through Pious’ ordeal. 

Many thanks to the kind Animal Control officer who supported Pious through his transition.