I read a tweet this week from a gal who said her unvaccinated brother had just died from #Covid at age 30. She remarked that she had all sorts of mixed emotions about his death. Her emotions reminded me of my own mother’s death.
My mother was a smoker. Not a casual smoker, once in a while after dinner kind of smoker. She was hard-core. She smoked one cigarette after another, sometimes lighting the one off the other. From the time I got old enough to figure out a quarter from a dollar, my mother would send me to the store to buy her a coke and pack of cigarettes. I might not even remember that if it weren’t for the fact that it was on one of those trips I was sexually assaulted by a teenage boy who stopped me along the way. I didn’t tell my mother when I got home what had happened because I didn’t have the words for it. I didn’t know what to say but I was crying when I came in the house and she made fun of me because she thought I was crying because it was dark out. My mother thought I was crying over the dark.
We often misunderstand the emotions others are struggling with. My mother mistook my tears as tears of fear over the dark when in fact they were the tears of a girl who’d just been sexually assaulted. I didn’t correct her. I just gave her her cigarettes and went to my room. I kept that sexual assault a secret until I was in my late 30s. I never told anyone, not my husband, nor my own sister for decades.
Writers understand that point of view is everything to a story. How we see each other can determine the outcome of any story. Certainly throughout most of my life when it came to my mother, I’ve had mixed emotions. Those emotions didn’t die when she did. They linger on, affecting the way I view a myriad of things, including Covid.
It’s been disconcerting to me to read the numerous news reports about those currently hospitalized and suffering from #Covid. Just this week during a discussion about vaccines and those who reject them, someone accused me of wanting to see others harmed from not being vaccinated.
Point of view. It’s everything.
Nothing could be further from the truth, I responded, adding that they didn’t know me at all if that’s what they thought. As my dear friend Connie stated shortly before dying from breast cancer: “I don’t want to see anyone I know suffer. I don’t even want to see anyone I don’t know suffer.”
A few years before my mother died, I begged her to quit smoking. Her smoking habit got worse after she retired. She no longer had to wait for smoke breaks. She could smoke anytime she wanted. I was scared that if she didn’t get help, if she didn’t quit, she would die of lung cancer. In what must have seemed like anger to her, but was sheer fear from my POV, I told her that if she died from smoking I was going to be so mad with her.
In August of 2012, our mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. By the time they caught it, it has metastizied to her brain. Doctors estimated she had maybe six or eight weeks to live. She beat the odds. She didn’t die until Dec. 26th, the day after her favorite holiday.
I had a lot of mixed emotions about my mother during those last few months. There’s no question that what killed Mama was the result of smoking. The doctors biopsied the cancer. They told her in no uncertain terms that her lung cancer was caused by her smoking. She stayed in denial about that but oddly enough, I got the thing I had begged for – Mama never smoked another cigarette from that point on. She wore nicotine patches till the day she died, but she quit smoking, finally. I thought I would be more angry than anything, but the truth is I was mostly just devastated at the loss.
I am angry at the anti-vaxxers and non-maskers right now. I will not go anywhere near them if I know about it in advance. Even as I write this our family is gathering (antivaxxers, vaccinated and non-maskers) for a family celebration. I am not there because I will not subject myself to being in the same shared space with anti-vaxxers or anti-maskers if I have a choice. Just as I refused to spend hours in a place filled with cigarette smoke once I got old enough and brave enough to take a stand against my mother’s smoking, I give no space to those who are willingly endangering others.
I’m weary of all their excuses, just as I grew weary of my mother’s excuses. Yes, those who are vaccinated do get Covid but the reason they get it is the same reason second-hand smoke is dangerous. It’s not always the smoker who gets the lung cancer. Sometimes it’s the spouse. Or the child that was subjected to it all their lives. It’s not always the anti-vaxxer or anti-maskers who gets Covid. Sometimes it the adults or children that the anti-vaxxer and anti-masker exposes to Covid.
But even when it is the smoker or the anti-vaxxer or anti-masker who suffers, I take no joy in that. None. I live in a perpetual state of grief because of the needless loss occurring across this nation. Just as I was grieved over the early loss of my mother, I grieve for all who are losing loved ones or seeing them suffer long-haulers from Covid.
Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers often hurl accusations at those of us who are encouraging vaccines and masking: You just live in fear, they claim. I refuse to do that.
Perhaps the reason they don’t live in fear is because they live in a constant state of massive denial.
This morning I awoke to the news that a family member has Covid. They are double-vaxxed, so yes, it’s a breakthrough case. I am sure some may take that as justification for not getting vaxxed, rather than seeing that their refusal to be vaxxed put all of us at risk, most of all their own families.
I am about to head out the door to get a Covid test because this is a close family member and yes, now I’ve been exposed.
Everybody’s point of view is influenced by their past experiences. I confess my point of view includes anger right now. It’s directed at those who continue to give space for the virus to mutate, so that it is now harming the vaccinated and children. But beyond that anger is a point of view that is nothing but deep, deep sadness, the same sort of sadness I felt on Dec. 26, 2012, when I sat in my brother’s home weeping over the loss of my mother, and thinking all the while: It didn’t have to end this way.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow).