During this pandemic crisis I came down with a really bad head cold that lasted a few days replete with lots of sneezing, nasal congestion and general lethargy. This was not unusual for me in the springtime. What was different this time was that this bad cold prompted both my husband and I to face questions about my mortality as it could have been covid.
Every few hours, particularly after the longer more disgusting rounds of coughing, my husband would turn up at my bedside, thermometre in hand to take my temperature. “37.3” he would proclaim and head off to report to concerned friends and relatives that my temperature was still within normal ranges and that it was unlikely I was dying from covid.
We don’t and will probably never know whether I had seasonal allergies, a head cold or covid. However, there was a moment when I was feeling really ill and my anxious mind started to run scenarios about what if I did have covid.
“If these chest pains are covid chest pains, what happens if they get worse? What if my version of covid comes with sneezing and coughing? And from there, what if I get really sick? Will the hospital in France treat an Australian citizen without a Carte de Sejour (our application is waiting on the health insurance folk)? How would my husband cope and what trauma would the girls suffer?”
And so the spiral continued until I got to: “I don’t want to die alone”.
Aware that I had moved from mild anxiety to a full scale panic attack, I called for my husband who came and soothed me with calm words and touch.
Days later when I had recovered, we found ourselves escalating a few mild annoyances into a ‘left room in a huff’ kind of tantrum which continued on and off for a few hours as arguments can with periods of hurt and anger and words and confusion.
In a moment where tempers were cooling, I sat down and asked my husband “What is going on with us?”
We talked. Starting out with a bunch of petty incidents and who did what. Then, both of us, unsatisfied that we had found any answers, started to go deeper, and get underneath the hurt, the insecurities, the pain, the anger and the resentment until we landed on something unexpected but strangely real.
Both my husband and I had touched moments of fear at the possibility of my death, as improbable as my death was, and had looked straight into the face of a deeply held fear: I don’t want to die alone. With its corollary I don’t want you to die alone.
For a moment, we sat together in a big pool of the sadness that we feel for all the people dying alone right now.
I don’t have words.
We are connected. We are grieving and heartsick for the lonely, the ill, the dying. It is so close right now, our mortality, our stupidity, our love. We are the beautiful, selfish, selfless mob trapped inside our homes forced to face, by the sheer intimacy of quarantine, the choices we have made in our lives up until now. No more distractions. It is me, it is you and it is what we have made together.
I don’t want to die alone, and I probably won’t get to choose whether I do. But at least I know that now.
Image source: Showtime’s ‘Time of Death’ explores end of life-related issues. Courtesy Showtime.