Monday, March 23, 2020

No Goodbye to Loved Ones...

Dear friends and readers, this is not a topic as usual.
But I thought I will give you a little bit of a perspective and comparison to the situation we are all in these days. 
I was born shortly after World War II - in a completely destroyed European country where people had to tuck valuable items in their bags and walk out (no cars then) to the countryside and beg farmers for food in exchange for precious things. We wore coats all day long at home as the heating did not work.
Later when I walked as a toddler with my mother into town, we passed by ruins, completely bombed former buildings. We often saw men who were crippled, had lost their legs or arms in the war. So I got an early insight into what a catastrophic event could look like. Here in North America, there hasn’t been a real nationwide war for two-hundred years, and barely any hunger periods during the last century. We are spoiled!
Corona “Crisis”
I know it is a very tough time for everyone, and we all have to make adjustments to our everyday lives. Many even lost their jobs or businesses, and the world is in turmoil. However, we have a warm home, electricity, Internet, enough food to cook many delicious dinners, we have a car, a TV, we can go online, watch movies, read books, write on our next article or book, order over the Internet whatever we want and we can stay in touch with loved-ones over Skype and over the phone.

Please consider what a wonderful life we have compared to others who live for years in a real war zone or a refugee camp and who have lost everything. While many people find it important to hoard toilet paper, more than 12,000 have died already…
And then there are those who don’t know how to bring food to the table (if they have one at all) or to those in Northern Italy who cannot even bury their loved ones - see a translated magazine article below.

The Austrian musician and composer Reinhard Fendrich wrote on social media: “Dear friends, our everyday life has changed from one minute to the next and we must work together to avoid the spread of this highly contagious disease in order to prevent further escalation.  Fatalism is the wrong attitude in this situation. We must stick together - by staying away from each other. Only in this way can we protect those at risk among ourselves and ourselves. The restriction of our personal freedom is serious, but a Must. Don’t panic, but develop a common awareness of the seriousness of the situation without losing our optimism.”
Let us be the tragedy of thousands of deaths in Northern Italy a warning - instead of complaining about the momentary adjustments of our lives:

Lonely Death
Thousands! of Covid 19 victims in Italy - and what it looks like:  Relatives are not allowed to go to the hospital, not to the funeral, the coffins are piled up in front of the crematoria. In northern Italy, the devastation caused by Corona is becoming a trauma for the bereaved. Those affected tell their stories.
Auxiliary intensive care unit of a clinic in Bergamo: "There is no decent funeral."
More than 4,000 people have already died of Covid-19 in Italy. In Bergamo, the worst affected city, the crematorium works around the clock. Nevertheless, the army had to bring dozens of coffins to other cities for cremation. In some places, one funeral follows the next, priests briefly give their blessing, and then the next one comes.
Conventional funeral services have been banned by the government. Sometimes the Civil Defence monitors cemeteries to ensure that relatives do not come too close or even hug each other during the funeral. In most cases, they cannot attend the funeral anyway because they are quarantined at home. In five interviews, relatives, a priest and an undertaker tell how they experience the state of emergency.

"Everyone here has friends and relatives who died of Covid-19"
Michela Zanchi, 34, lost her uncle to the coronavirus. She lives in Zogno, a village near Bergamo. Six to seven people die every day in this village of 9,000 inhabitants. In normal times, the church bell in the village is rung for each deceased. In view of the many dead, the local priest has decided to ring the bells only once a day…
“Everyone here has friends and relatives who died of Covid-19. So do I. Now my uncle Angelo Lazzarini is dead. He was a high-risk group at 80. You sit at home while your loved ones die away. We couldn't stand by my uncle, couldn't visit him. Once a day a doctor from the hospital called us. Just before my uncle died, the doctor had actually announced good news: He said Angelo could breathe again without the ventilator. But one day later he was dead.
In Bergamo, the military helped to distribute the dead from the local cemetery to neighboring provinces. The crematorium is overloaded. My uncle has been cremated 200 kilometers away, in Padua. It's madness. When my cousin's best friend died, they even took him to the crematorium in Turin. The ashes of the dead are then transported back home. There the remains are buried, only the closest relatives are allowed to be present while a priest gives the last blessing. There is no dignified funeral, no funeral procession.

"There is no dignified funeral, no funeral procession."
Michela Zanchi
“The catastrophe does not stop: For one week my mother has had a high fever. Now a severe cough and shortness of breath have been added. We called the ambulant corona emergency service. The doctors told my mother that she had to stay in bed at home, in the hospital, there was no free bed for her. They left her an oxygen apparatus and pills and prescribed absolute isolation from the family. I live two kilometers away, but I can't go to her. We don't even know for sure if my mother is Corona positive because she hasn't been tested. They only test the really severe emergencies here.”
There is nothing left in the pharmacies, no protective masks, no gloves, no alcohol to disinfect. All-day long the ambulance sirens are blaring in this town.
Three of the five local GPs are infected with the coronavirus themselves. That's why military doctors have come to the rescue. The parish publishes the names of the dead on their Facebook page every day.

"In their last hours, they cannot look anyone in the face. Everyone is masked"
Monsignore Giulio Dellavite is the General Secretary of the Diocese of Bergamo. 16 priests in his diocese have already died of Corona since March 1st, and 20 others are in hospital. The survivors and the healthy have their hands full looking after the dying and their relatives, in the most difficult conditions. For weeks, Dellavite has been trying to somehow manage the death in his communities.
Monsignore Dellavite: Just a short prayer at the grave 
“We have a tremendous problem with the dying. They are isolated in the hospital and off-limits. Our priests are not allowed to visit them. And the relatives at home are in quarantine, our pastors can only go there in protective clothing. This caution is a gesture of fraternal love: our priests could be infected or unknowingly spread the virus themselves.”
But they cannot be everywhere. Therefore, children and grandchildren may also bless their sick parents and grandparents while they are still at home. This is what our bishop has suggested. If someone dies at home, a priest can theoretically give the last rites with a protective mask and gloves. But this is now very rare.
“And in hospitals?  The dying see only doctors and nurses in protective suits. In their last hours, they cannot look anyone in the eyes or face, everyone is completely masked. They can't use the phone in the ICU either. It's a great suffering.  Doctors told us with tears in their eyes how terminally ill people ask for their blessing because nobody else is allowed to see them. Now they and the nurses not only have to give them medical care and nursing but also bless them. The Lord uses all hands when necessary.”

Monsignore Giulio Dellavite: “In the families, it often goes like this: someone falls ill, the relatives call the Red Cross, and then the patient is picked up by the ambulance. The relatives often do not know which hospital their father or mother ended up in. At some point, they might get a phone call with the death notice and the information that the sealed coffin will be delivered to this or that mortuary. Or where the deceased has already been buried. Not even dead you can see his mother or father. They just disappear. It's horrible. We have therefore set up a telephone hotline in the diocese where 70 priests, sisters, laypeople, and psychologists provide comfort and support.  At the cemetery, our priests can only bless the coffin or urn at the grave and pray briefly with relatives - if any are present. When someone dies of the coronavirus, the whole family is often quarantined. Then none of the relatives can attend the funeral.”

Disease of Loneliness
"It is cruel for the family not to be able to say goodbye to a loved one. For me, the coronavirus is the disease of loneliness. As long as my uncle was still at home, we brought him food every day at his bedside. We saw him again before he was taken to the hospital. Not after that. He died all alone. What pains me most is that we were not allowed to see his body. That we were not allowed to give my uncle a proper send-off. He was cremated. Without burial. He received only the final blessing.” 
Temporary body storage in Bergamo: "The crematorium is overcrowded.”  This is very difficult for the relatives to accept. I understand that doctors have no time for individual fates, they work day and night. But for the families, it is cruel that they can no longer see or say goodbye to a loved one.  We don't even know exactly what day my uncle was cremated. Probably on Wednesday, but the families in this state of emergency do not receive exact information.”

"In one week as many bodies as usually all year round"
Vittorio Natangeli is a funeral director in Rome. He follows anxiously what his colleagues in Northern Italy are going through. But his everyday life has also changed dramatically. Funeral ceremonies like in the old days are forbidden. Laying out the corpse, going to mass, then to the cemetery - for more than three weeks this has no longer been possible. The authorities give our undertakers precise instructions before we can take a corpse to the cemetery.
Undertaker Vittorio Natangeli: "Without ceremony directly to the grave… For the funeral, we now always drive with the hearse directly to the mortuary, from there we bring the coffin without ceremony directly to the grave, accompanied at most by two or three relatives. When we have let the coffin into the grave, we immediately drive away again. By the way, cemeteries all over Italy are closed, relatives are not allowed to visit their family graves even after the burial.
In Rome, unlike in northern Italy, there are only a few Corona deaths so far. Until now we have picked up two deceased Covid 19 patients from the hospital. They have given us the corpses in a shroud or a container made of biodegradable material. One or two relatives said a prayer there in the hospital and then we left. Whoever presumably died of Covid-19 has to be taken to the forensic department in Rome to clarify the exact cause of death. When the body is released there, we'll go to the cemetery.
The inconvenience to have to stay home is bearable compared to what Italiens have to go through.  Let’s be thankful for what we have got and how fortunate we are compared to those people.  PLEASE:  STAY. AT. HOME!


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