The letter below from a young nurse to her grandmother touches on the painful separation from one another we all feel that has caused our country’s uneven response to, and resulting suffering from, this terrible pandemic.
Ellen is a 31-year-old nurse working in a Seattle intensive care unit for the past six months watching Covid patients die alone. She sat down after her shift one night and wrote this letter to her grandmother, who she hadn’t visited in more than a year.
I think this thoughtful young woman captures the suffering that social separation can cause. With her permission, I publish her touching letter below...
It’ s Ellen. I know...you’re mad at me for not visiting. I don’t blame you. I’m mad at me too. I’ve been working 12-hour days in this makeshift Covid unit watching people die all around me. As a nurse I guess I understand that people die, but most of these people are dying alone; one after the other. I’m having real trouble with that. Things just end for these people. There’s no, like, real ending, if you know what I mean. No one knows. No witness. No one says goodbye. I cover their body, then the orderly removes the gurney to the morgue, and we all go on to the next patient. It’s like they weren’t even here.
Gran, I’m really troubled by how alone I feel, and I’m the one who’s left you alone. I’m sorry for that. All these people dying alone has taught me a lesson. My generation was told to focus on ourselves. We’re great, we were told, and we’re going to do great things. That’s why I became a nurse; to do great things. Well, Gran, I’m here watching these people die alone and no one knows who I am either, or cares for that matter. I am learning that all this self-importance is empty and meaningless.
COVID has taught me this; the only thing that is important is our connection to one another.
Death is sad for those left behind. I know that. But I’m learning that all of us still alive but separated from one another is even sadder. For the most part, death is natural. It happens. But everyone just going about their business completely unaware of anybody else around them is not natural. It’s just sad, I realize. If we were closer and connected to one another, all these people wouldn’t even have died. We would have gotten together and handled this thing a lot better. What a mess we’ve made of things.
And, what a mess I’ve made of things. The only one who knows I’m alive or cares is you. And you’re down there, and I don’t visit. Well, that’s over. I’ll be down next Wednesday after my shift. We’ll have dinner. Catch up. Reconnect. I don’t want you to be alone anymore. I won’t permit it. And I can’t be alone either.