I keep thinking about a recent essay in Popula by Danuta Hinc, “Beneath the Black Rocks,” where she writes about her mother’s death — and how she just left.

 I think of the underground mountain, how it expands towards the center of the earth, how it pushes deep into the waves towards the horizon, and I wonder if she even died.

It happened two decades ago. My father told me on the phone that Sunday that my mother kind of left. This is exactly how he described it, she left. 

It’s a beautiful piece about her mother (and father and family), and I’m drawn to the parts where she also writes about people dying of COVID-19, alone, with their loved ones forced to watch from afar:

I am fortunate to be able to say that none of my friends or family have died of the virus, but when I reach the black rocks on my walks, when I stand there thinking about how much of the rock is below the sea level, I think of those who died, and of how much will never be discovered. Did they see blooming flowers on their nurse’s scrubs? Did roses open for them and spill on their beds? The same unknown that makes me nurse the thought of my mother’s death, makes me think of the loneliness of everyone who died of the virus. 

I’m reminded of a series of tweets I read this week from Laurie Kilmartin, whose mother just died of COVID. I started following her after someone had retweeted one of her tweets to ex-San Francisco Giant Aubrey Huff (who I didn’t realize was a racist, misogynistic asshole):

Laurie basically live-tweeted her mother’s death, which she and her sister watched on an iPad. It’s uncomfortable and devastating and surreal, yet also so quiet and banal — ending with the tap of a finger on an iPad screen. The images she posted — like the iPad open on her desk, with her mother on the screen, or the message on her device after the doctor ended the 69-hour FaceTime call — look so ordinary at a glance, but they’re anything but.

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it all — sharing their final, intimate moments like this. They’re very hard to read, very hard to look at. You will probably cry like I did. But people are dying this way — alone, livestreamed — with loved ones saying their final goodbyes virtually.

Her tweets aren’t all sad, and it’s actually her humor through it all that makes it even more poignant.

If you’re on Twitter, she’s an interesting person to follow right now.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

I am an editor at Longreads. For over a decade, I've worked on curation, editing, and storytelling projects across Automattic, including WordPress.com.

6 thoughts on “iGoodbye

  1. My brother died this week (an accident, not COVID) and we could not visit until we discontinued life support and he was officially dying. The ICU team offered that “FaceTime” option but I couldn’t do it. Others did. It felt crazy to me, the nurse propping a device up to my unconscious brother. My brother never regained consciousness after his accident, and we wonder if having his family present to talk to him might have helped him. I thought of everyone else losing loved ones, and all those people dying alone. It is the cruelest, most inhuman thing. Our family will never forget the frantic desperation we felt. At least they let us up at the end, one at a time, to say goodbye—but we never would have left him to die alone. The notion of a digital connection in lieu of human presence at the time of death is just sickening.

  2. The reality of this ‘time’ seems to be quite fluid. How to explain it in years to come so others can understand? Or how will we recall it? I will be attending my first funeral of this time period this week. We have been given instructions. Though now we can gather up to 25 at a time (up from 10) it is surreal at its ‘best’ and horrific at the peaks of its worst. Thank you for sharing.

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