I was digging through dust-covered boxes in my basement, looking for a photo album when I came across a box of my old birthday cards instead. Inside was one from my nana, Evelyn Jean Urquhart, who passed away in May last year.
I read over the last line over and over again until the words were blurred by the tears welling up in my eyes.
“All my love always, nana,” she wrote.
It’s strange how, after you lose someone, the hurt and the loss just seem to hit you out of nowhere from time to time. It’s as if you’re fine most of the time, you’re going about your day, and suddenly some tiny, random detail reminds you of them and you find yourself crying and feeling just as you did the day you first heard the news.
For me, that was news I had already been dreading for months.
A year before my nana passed, she was in a long-term care facility in Barrie, Ont. My family and I would go see her often, and she would come home with us on occasion. That all came to an abrupt end in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic confined us all to our homes and stopped us from visiting. Dismally, that was around the time her health started deteriorating, and fast.
Right before the pandemic, she had just started to show signs of dementia, but she still remembered who my family and I were, where she was and details about her life. In the short amount of time between the beginning of the lockdown and her death, her condition declined faster than I ever could have imagined.
It was so indescribably painful to know that she was suffering and we couldn’t be there with her, to hold her hand and keep her company. It was even worse knowing that she didn’t understand why we couldn’t go see her. Her symptoms were so severe at that point that she wouldn’t remember when we would explain. It reached the point where she would refuse to talk to us on the phone — the only contact we were able to have with her — because she thought we were simply choosing not to visit.
It wasn’t until September this year, nearly a year and a half after she died, that we were finally able to lay her to rest and bury her ashes at her family plot in New Glasgow, N.S. She always said she wanted to be buried with her parents, so that day brought my family some form of closure, even after all that time.
Of course, we couldn’t have the celebration of life she told us she wanted, because we weren’t allowed to gather.
COVID-19 took much more away from us than the funeral.
The last time I ever saw her was through the window of her room while my dad held her hand and had to say our goodbyes to us as she passed. He was the only one allowed inside. The only one allowed to be there for her final moments.
My heart breaks thinking of all the other families who have had to go through this during this pandemic.
It’s devastating enough to lose someone you love in normal times, but losing someone you love and not getting to say goodbye is completely and utterly heartbreaking. That pane of glass prevented me from sitting at my nana’s bedside when she needed me and telling her I loved her one last time.
When I stared at that birthday card from the dusty box in my basement, that moment replayed in my mind vividly. Overshadowing all of the wonderful, funny memories was one thought:
I never got to say goodbye.