Random Reflections from a Coronavirus Funeral Journey
As many readers are aware, my mother, Jean Wolfgang, passed away on March 31, and was buried on April 7, in Indianapolis. This necessitated two Chicago-to-Indy trips for Bette and myself, and allowed for some reflection on many things. I’ll share a few impressions here.
Deserted streets. I-65 had far fewer cars than ever before (and plenty of electronic signage reminding us to stay home except for “necessary” trips). But it was well-populated with trucks, bringing us all the stuff we have ordered on Amazon or InstaCart. But the far northeast side of Indianapolis (I-465 & I-69, 86th & 82nd Streets, etc.) is normally a hive of activity and traffic jams, now almost completely deserted.
It is strangely disorienting to stay in a Hampton Inn which has only three other rooms occupied (and one staff person). When we checked in late at night on the first trip, we increased the hotel population by 50%. The second night was crowded: triple the occupants — 10 rooms occupied. Four of them were truckers (at least, there were four big rigs in the parking lot, refrigeration equipment humming).
But no breakfast area, not even coffee (by order of the Department of Health – understandably). The generous Christian who donated points to cover our stay during the funeral commented, “Coronavirus has turned Hampton into a Motel 6!” My response: Nope. Hampton, even on 4 cylinders, is much better!
Thus, I made numerous trips foraging for food, discovering that the only food establishments consistently open, from Chicago to Indianapolis, were McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and an occasional Steak&Shake.
We did find that the Longhorn my parents liked, on Washington Street, was open for carry-out. In normal times, we often eat at a Chicago-area Longhorn for Sunday dinner. So I was able to get our usual Sunday meal, on Tuesday: Bette’s favorite salad with pecans, strawberries, orange slices, and grapes, festooned with steak strips from the Flo’s filet we usually get – tender enough to cut with a plastic knife!
We knew already, but re-learned, that Chick-fil-A servers are waayy friendlier than McDonald’s. They have created a culture of pleasantness. Our oldest grand-daughter, Ada, served at the second-largest CFA in Atlanta before the crisis, enjoyed it, and wants to return. They look for conscientious, friendly young people, and teach them the trade. But we do still like McDonald’s coffee much better!
Each time we stopped at a Chick-fil-A, there were numerous happy, pleasant young people, seriously concentrated on fulfilling their assigned tasks, but often laughing and having a good time working with each other and their customers in very unusual circumstances. The lines were long, stretching around the building and into adjacent parking areas, but very well-signed and organized and moving expeditiously, bustling with order takers and food deliverers. “My pleasure” – even through a mask.
On the central purpose for our trip: It is beyond weird to try to organize a funeral during the “present distress.” Severely reduced audiences (more than 100 for Dad’s service only 5 years ago; 7 for Mom’s service – barely enough for pallbearers). Physical distancing. Virtual fist bumps can never replace a good hug. A video of a short graveside service may provide some measure of closure for some, but it leaves others simply wanting “more.”
And, yes, the funeral homes are busy, and using “extra refrigeration,” as one funeral director put it. (Read: refrigerated semi-tractor-trailers to store the bodies).
But in one way it provided a sense of relief. Not just that Mom’s suffering (and frustration at being unable to speak much since her February strokes) is over. But relief, in a sense, for us as well who have been separated from her by this virus — unable to visit, or even talk much since her hand strength was not sufficient to dial or even answer her phone.
Though she was thankfully not afflicted with the virus, in another sense she was essentially taken prisoner by it due to the restrictions it caused. We were basically incommunicado for the last few weeks of her life, dependent upon helpful staff and Hospice nurses to dial her phone for her so we could speak, or occasionally see each other via Skype – and praying that she understood why we could not visit. Blessings upon all who cared for her during this time!
The last thing we saw, leaving the assisted living center after collecting her few earthly possessions, was a young couple, sitting in lawn chairs close to a window of a room in the nursing-home wing, separated but only inches apart from a loved one on the other side of the pane. For many, the struggle continues. May God have mercy!
And, finally and overwhelmingly, tremendous gratitude for the gift of a mother’s love, tendered by a Godly, diligent, intelligent, witty, and spiritual woman, and matched by her love for my father. May she rest in peace, and rise in glory!
P.S. Yes, a Memorial/Celebration of Life service is planned, TBA, at a future date when travel and other restrictions are lifted.