Chicana · COVID-19

7) Do I Stay, or Do I Go? The Eldest Grandchild Away During the Pandemic

I am conflicted about deciding not to attend the memorial for my maternal grandmother later this month. Although it is tradition to gather to mourn family members who have died, meeting in person isn’t safe, not yet. With a surge of COVID infections nationwide, people should follow the CDC recommendation to stay home. It is the safest way to avoid getting and spreading COVID (aka Rona). Many families have dealt with loved one’s dying alone because of COVID restrictions and many families don’t want to mourn the loss alone. It sucks for everyone. 

My maternal grandma passed as the presidential election approached. I last stayed with her for two weeks in July after her stroke, and I spoke with her on the phone the week before she passed. Driving to grandma’s house in July was the only time since March that I have broken COVID suggestions. Until she needed me, I had only gone to the grocery store once a month when necessary. I self-isolate to protect those in my household at high-risk for the Rona. I haven’t visited with friends or stress shopped. In fact, once I arrived at grandma’s, I never left her house. I still can’t believe I didn’t even drive by the ocean and that I turned my uncle down on his invitation to a restaurant meal. Instead, I behaved the same as I do in Austin during COVID. I stayed at home. I also self-quarantined for two weeks once I was back in Texas. And yet, I am wondering about my decision to stay put this time as the winter holidays begin and grandma’s memorial approaches. 

I really want to attend the memorial service. Now that my grandma has passed, I want to support my mom, her brother, and sisters to celebrate their mom’s life. I want to visit with my cousins all of whom I have seen less than twice in the last 20 years. I miss my cousins. Since grandma’s stroke, we have started reconnecting. My cousins are calling each other, even sharing information in the background via text. I like that; I didn’t have that before July. If my July visit is any indication, there will not be social distancing, no one will wear a mask, and at least eight households will be gathering. I want to see real people, but I want to protect myself and my Texas household.  Maybe a post-it note on my forehead will remind me of the COVID surge across the country.

As the lock-down continues, I imagine visiting the ocean and driving cross country. I can make the trip from Austin, Texas to southern California in about 26 hours if I sleep in truck stops. However, I am no longer as young as I used to be; in July I stayed in a hotel one night each direction, a budget breaker. Add to that the stress of arriving at my New Mexico hotel and learning there was a state lock-down that the manager said required me to stay 2 weeks in the hotel. He agreed to let me stay just one night, but I needed to stay in my room, etc. That night I ate leftover travel food, not wanting to break quarantine and glad that the New Mexico thunderstorm and rain kept me company as I sterilized the room’s handles and surfaces I might touch, finally sleeping on my own sheets and blankets to avoid any chance of COVID. I didn’t eat at my favorite New Mexican restaurant or anywhere except for ONE drive through breakfast purchase. I just made my way to Grandma’s house. 

In one of the last classes I taught in person, a fabulous student shared how her parents were not following guidelines. She was frustrated that they were going to her grandma’s funeral in Mexico; she feared they would catch COVID. Now I better understand her and her parents’ dilemma. Mexican funerals, even in southern California and Texas, are important for family relationships, not to mention inheritance issues. Knowing there is a pandemic and that groups should be avoided does not change this. I don’t want to miss the family stories or the family funeral photos that capture our history and remind us of the family who moved away to Nevada, Oregon, New York, or Texas. As I did with my students, I listen to my frustration. I try to understand and come to terms with this no-win situation. 

As the eldest grandchild, I wish I could make my family hold a virtual memorial and reduce their risk. Instead, I will enjoy the photos they send, and I will join them on the phone–I avoid Zoom cuz I dislike being photographed. Unfortunately, I can’t forget that earlier this week I thought I would drive to Escondido, California and stay with my aunt and her large extended family. I had imagined it all. I would stay an extra week so I’d bring my kayak so my sister and I could go paddling in Pacifica or under the Golden Gate. I even found my old triathlon wetsuit for the colder weather. I cleaned my car and measured it for the kayak. I was excited until reality hit me about mourning during the pandemic. And I know we all know this, reality sucks.

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