This is going to be the first Christmas my brother will not be with us. On April 13, 2020 my brother lost his life due to the coronavirus. A retired doctor himself, he thought he took all the precautions necessary to stay virus-free. The pandemic was “young” back then. Most everyone knew nothing about it. On March 11th my brother had to be in NYC to see his cancer specialist (he was in bladder cancer remission) at NYU Medical Center. The local politicians at that time were touting NYC was safe. It wasn’t. By March 19th my brother had all the coronavirus symptoms (fever, cough, tiredness, delirium). Within a month, he was dead.

Our last words to each other were “I love you“. None of us ever saw my brother again. Not his wife. Not his two sons. Not his four grandchildren. Just cell phone calls the nurses were kind enough to make for my brother so we could listen to his breaths as he struggled on a ventilator. When he died, my brother was cremated and his ashes were given to his wife in a cardboard box. No funeral. No memorial. No time to reflect on his life or his family or his friends.

I cry for my brother each and every night, despite it being nine months since his death. When I say my prayers at night to ask God to watch over my family, I stop myself from praying. How could God have forgotten and overlooked my brother? What if God doesn’t keep watch over my remaining family members who are still alive? My own kids? My own husband? My own grandchildren? What if one more person in my family succumbs to the coronavirus and dies? All that is left of my immediate family is my sister.

If you have lost a loved one this past year due to Covid-19, I feel your pain. No one can understand what we are going through unless they have gone through it themselves. All the kind words in this world are meaningless. Our beloved father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, friend, neighbor, boss, co-worker is gone. I used to think that once the pandemic was over my brother would just come back home. He’s not coming back. I will never see my brother again. I will never hear his voice ever again. He’s gone. And so is your precious loved one. We all are going to be spending the first holiday season without them. What do we do? How do we cope? What can we say to each other to make the pain go away?

I’m not a therapist. Nor do I have any training or understanding of bereavement. I don’t know if the pain and anguish I feel will ever go away. Nor do I want it to ever go away. I just know that every night I cry for my brother. I feel my prayers to God are useless. God let me and my family down. The patriarch of our family is gone. He’s never coming back.

Nothing any human says to me will ever make me feel any better ever again. And you know what? That’s fine. I cry for my brother but after I cry I feel a sense of relief. It’s OK to cry. Cry as long and as hard as you want. That’s what tears are for. They shed our bodies of the toxins and the negative emotions that keep us bottled up and helpless. Feel whatever it is that your body is telling you to feel. Sometimes I will call my sister in the middle of the night and the two of us will just cry for our brother together. That too is fine. If that is what you need to do, then by all means, do it.

After my brother died, his wife (my sister-in-law) locked herself up inside their Florida condo and to this day has not come out. She too is also a doctor and was the first to diagnose my brothers symptoms. It was she who called the ambulance and had my brother transported to the hospital. My brother was running a very high fever and was delirious. Thank goodness my SIL was wearing a mask the whole entire time. But she wore it for a different reason. She was recovering from breast cancer and had all her lymph nodes removed, which causes one to be highly susceptible to infection. So, she often wore a mask (inside and outside of their condo). If there is any miracle here, it would be that my SIL did not contract the virus, but that still doesn’t make any of us feel any better.

There’s going to be an empty seat at the holiday table for all of us this Christmas season. We’re going to remember things and feel things we never thought possible. Little remembrances are going to pop up that will take us back to a time when we were with our loved ones and now we regret we didn’t pay more attention to what was transpiring. Don’t toss these remembrances aside. Feel each and every one of them. Cherish them. If there is anything to be thankful for, it will be that you knew this person, even if just for a brief moment in time. Cherish what you had together. Not what you don’t have anymore.

This is going to be a tough holiday season for us. This is going to be the first time we feel so all alone. Don’t push your feelings aside. Feel them. But also know that there are still people around you who have not died, who have not perished in this pandemic and are very much alive. Even if it’s not a family member or close friend….maybe it’s just your delivery person or the local librarian who puts aside a book for you…..there are still people in your life, people that you see each and every day who are still alive, still breathing, still virus-free who need you. Be kind and courteous to those who are still living. We have no idea how and if they too are hurting inside but we need to give them a simple ‘hello’ or say a simple ‘thank you’ to make their lives a little bit better. They need us. We’re not alone.

My SIL’s doctor told her that she has to get out of her condo and get back to bike riding. She had both knees replaced last year and if she doesn’t exercise, her knees will suffer greatly. She and my brother used to bicycle every day together. My SIL, despite all the tears and hopelessness, got out her bike, lugged it onto the condo elevator and has been bike riding each and every day since. Alone. Without my brother. It may not be much. But it is a start.

For me, I still cry most nights and refuse to sleep. I find myself sleeping throughout the day which is my excuse for not facing the world. This has been going on for the last nine months or so. Lately, however, I have been getting up at 2 in the afternoon and staying up. I haven’t seen the light of day in months. I can’t. It’s just too painful. But then again, there is that 2PM wake up call and I am awake. So, there’s that and its a start.

If you want to drop me a comment or express your own loss this holiday season, please feel free to do so. Just know that I care about you, whomever you are. We share a bond that only you and I know exists. No one else can understand us. No one else can feel our pain. I’m 70 years old. My brother was 76. For seventy years I had the pleasure of knowing who he was. We had our differences and when we were teens he was a fairly nasty boy! He used to set up the family telephone (no iPhones back then!) that when you picked it up and spoke, he would send an electrical charge through the wiring and you’d feel a shock as you talked. My brother would often tell me some boy I liked had called me and when I put the phone up to my ear, he supercharged it! Annoying then but lots of laughs now.

I’m choosing to remember the seventy years my brother and I had together.

My brother Donald, during the wedding of his son.