As global cases of coronavirus top 2 million, and people across the world lose loved ones to the virus without being given the chance for final farewells, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said at a press conference Wednesday that instead of death toll numbers, he’s thinking more about those lost moments.
“When you talk about where the numbers are going on this, what I’m really thinking about is all those people who aren’t going to have a chance to say goodbye. “
After heartbreaking, isolated deaths early in the pandemic, increasingly people are finding the way to say last words virtually; through a phone call, or video hookup. Funeral homes are live-streaming services. In-person gatherings to celebrate or mourn a passing have ground to a halt.
The absence of a familiar end-of-life ritual is “one of the more brutal consequences, psychologically, of this whole thing,” Baker said Wednesday. The governor said his best friend lost his mother to COVID-19, but that “because they had a great relationship, they never left anything unsaid.”
Still, “that didn’t make the fact that it was an extraordinarily painful process for their family to go through this, loss of a critical ritual that people believe in and hold on to, that’s this chance to say goodbye,” Baker said.
The governor got vulnerable, saying, “My wife gives me a hard time all the time about the fact that Baker men never really say what they think about anything to anybody when it comes to personal things.” But during the pandemic, “even on these goofy phone calls I have with my dad, I try to say more because you just don’t know anymore what the future is going to hold.”
“And I really hope that people have the chance to make sure, that they don’t leave anything off the table, with respect to their loved ones,” Baker said.
“There are some big pieces of our emotional grieving process that have now been truncated or interrupted,” Garrick Colwell, an end-of-life educator, told NPR. “That has a much longer-term impact on our culture because without the ritual you don’t get a chance to move your grief into mourning as easily as when you do have rituals.”
Colwell who leads the nonprofit Kitchen Table Conversations, which offers resources and education to people trying to complete their living wills, says since the coronavirus pandemic he’s been getting double his usual number of inquiries.
“So far in this century this [coronavirus] has been the biggest conversation starter when it comes to end of life conversations,” Colwell said.