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Grief stories

Who's in my bubble?

Read this story in French here

“And who’s in my bubble?” That’s the haunting, heart-breaking question my sister, Marty, asked as we were discussing the challenges of the memorial service for her husband Dave on Thanksgiving weekend.

Seventy-six years old Dave died on June 1st less than a year after his ALS was diagnosed. Because of COVID restrictions and concerns, his memorial service was delayed. No one in the family could imagine then that COVID’s inroads into our daily life would be even more threatening by Thanksgiving weekend.

When the date was announced, family members from across southern Ontario and out of province began planning to be there. We wanted to share in remembering together the man we loved. We had all been touched by his surprising generosity, unwavering kindness, mischievous humour, interesting stories, and the ability to listen with undivided attention. We missed him terribly and need to be together to grieve and to comfort each other.

The reprieve from COVID we needed and expected did not happen.

Border restrictions between Canada and the United States were extended and some family members had to give up hopes of attending. By late summer as COVID hotspots lingered and erupted anew across Ontario my wife and I decided we were not willing to travel from Manitoba to Ontario for the memorial service. Then a daughter and her family in the Maritimes said they could not be there because they could not afford to be in quarantine at home after the service. Other family members from various parts of Ontario had anxious conversations about whether or not to attend – some younger family members with complex medical concerns found the decision particularly difficult.

Meanwhile, my sister was working with local family members to arrange a suitable and safe venue for the service.  A large church could be arranged so that people could keep the prescribed physical distance from each other. My sister explained that people who shared a bubble could sit together without that prescribed distance. At this point she perhaps imagined herself sitting at the memorial service with close family members travelling from other parts of Ontario or with a local group of dear women friends. But, by late September the definition of a bubble was changing.

The beginning of school and re-opening of workplaces, businesses, restaurants and bars had destroyed the safety walls around bubbles made up of extended family and friendship groups. As we chatted about this in a weekly Zoom session Marty has with us in Manitoba and our brother and sister-in-law in Toronto, we commented that bubbles now could really be no bigger than the people with whom you live. And that’s when she quietly asked, “And who’s in my bubble?”.

It’s a breathtaking question that has jeopardized her grieving for Dave. She did not satisfactorily resolve who she could sit with at the memorial service and so felt off to the side. She was unable to hug and hold family members and friends so they could comfort each other. She was unable to welcome children and grandchildren who had travelled across Ontario for the service into her home.

These disappointments and deprivations add to the unrelenting pain of her loss. The supports that she needs to cope with them are compromised by COVID too. The bereavement group she wanted to join was cancelled. Her bereavement counselling sessions with the social worker she met through hospice happen sporadically by telephone. She is hesitant to rejoin a women’s group in which she is supported and loved because COVID precautions are difficult to maintain. A painful, immobilizing flare-up of arthritis has left her wondering who can help her manage household tasks that used to be shared with Dave.

She is not without friends and family who love and support her. However, friends and family cannot fill the empty space left in the bed beside her nor the silence with which she begins each day. But they can hold and carry her as she learns to live with the spaces and silence. If only COVID didn’t make them seem so far away. If only she could confidently say, “These people are in my bubble!”.

Glen Horst
Winnipeg, Manitoba
November 1, 2020