It’s been a little over two months since our world and our lives changed with COVID-19. The change is discussed in every media channel, and every social, professional, political and civic conversation we have access to. But perhaps more importantly, are the internal conversations we are having with ourselves; the invisible shifts that are happening in our minds, our emotions and our hearts, changes that we may not be aware of or talk much about.
I am feeling those invisible changes, and pondering silently to myself about them, and what outside change they will bring to my life that will become apparent to myself and to others.
On Sunday 24th May 2020, The New York Times published a list of 1000 people who had died from COVID-19 as an homage to the nearly 100,000 lives lost in the USA. For the past few months, I have seen the numbers of people who have died from this disease. In a lot of (unfortunate) ways, they were numbers. Invisible people and families, behind the over 342,000 people worldwide who have died. Until, in early April, those numbers stopped being invisible and became very real to me. My brother, whom I love so deeply, died from COVID-19. The unseen became painfully seen in my life and the lives of those who loved him, or knew him. And those that knew me and my siblings.
When I saw the New York Times article on a friend’s Facebook page, I stretched it out and anxiously started to read the names, wondering if it was organised by State, or last name or age. And then I stopped, and paused. Every name was a family member to someone, every loss was a loved one to someone. I didn’t find my brother’s name; it didn’t surprise me. But it made me realise that to everyone else, except those who had lost someone, these may just be invisible names.
I haven’t talked much about losing my brother – to my family or my friends. It’s hard, it’s painful, it’s emotional and it’s terribly strange to imagine that when we come out of this situation (and I know we will), my brother won’t be a part of it. He won’t be there. From being here, he suddenly became invisible to the world, and invisible in mine. Since early April, I’ve been trawling my childhood, trawling my earlier years, trawling the memories of the times we spent together. And I keep asking myself, was it enough? Do I have enough memories of him to get me to the end of my own time?
When I pray, I greet my ancestors, my parents, and now my brother. This is one of the invisible changes – my brother moved from my physical world to my spiritual world. It happens to everyone, I know that. And it does get easier to accept with time, I’ve experienced that too. But that’s an invisible change as well. And the physical change will be that my regular phone calls are gone, my annual end year trip to visit with my brother will now be cancelled, and another grave next to my parents will take its place.
So COVID-19 has changed my world, on the outside and within. It’s an invisible change to everyone else, but my world will definitely never be the same again. And so, I am having my internal conversations, the ones I don’t talk about much but quietly to myself. Did he know and feel how much I loved him? Do I say and demonstrate love to my siblings and friends enough? Do I treat the people I interact with enough care? I hope the people who were there with my brother in his final days treated him with care.
But most of all, I am asking myself: Because life can come and go from one day to the next so unexpectedly, am I really living my life in a way that truly matters to me, and to those I care about?
There are over 340,000 reasons for me to ask myself this question. But the reality is that sometimes it just takes one good reason to truly question everything, and ask yourself what really matters. And most times, it starts with an outside trigger, that starts an internal conversation, that creates an invisible change inside you, that eventually you and others will start to see. I pray the change will be a good one.