No one should die alone. The coronavirus pandemic has created countless stories of suffering across the world. It is heartbreaking to lose a loved one to the virus. A less obvious story of suffering is that people have been dying alone.
Human beings are social animals with deep spiritual and psychological need for connection and ceremony. While the loss of lives from the virus are obvious and devastating, the other losses people have experienced should also be acknowledged. Weddings and funerals have been postponed. Students graduating from High School and College this year missed out on one of the most important ceremonies of their lives and celebrations with their fellow classmates and families. In Colorado, mothers delivering at Children’s Hospital were being told that if they test positive for Covid 19, they would be unable to see their baby for up to 6 weeks after delivery. One mother I recently talked to told me about a conversation she had with her doctor at Children’s Hospital back in April. When the doctor explained the policy to the mother, the mother asked, “Well if I have it aren’t there antibodies in my breast milk that will keep him from getting it?” The doctor said, “Yes… we are just going by what the CDC says.” In other parts of the country, babies have been born without their fathers being present. And as a result of one of the most egregious policies adopted during this pandemic, people have been left to die alone in nursing homes and hospitals.
Many people do not realize that individuals have been dying alone. This is one of the most deplorable and tragic outcomes of the pandemic response. This pandemic has led our medical professionals, administrators and public health authorities to decide it is acceptable to allow people to die without their loved ones present. Medical professionals are supposed to first “do no harm.” Forcing someone to die alone harms the spirit of the dying person and the spirits of the dying person’s loved ones. Our culture as a whole is also harmed by allowing this. Forcing people to die alone is a sign that our society has lost its way; lost its a moral compass, lost its compassion and lost its rational thought. It is disgraceful that “public health” experts tell families to drop our dying elders and loved ones at the door, alone and afraid, to die without a familiar hand to hold in their most vulnerable hour.
Our military has a long-standing ethic to “leave no man behind.” Soldiers will find a way by helicopter, boat, truck, or shoulders to bring back the wounded and casualties. We also honor our wounded enemies with the same respect. The military treats our enemies of the state with more dignity than hospitals have show U.S. citizens during the Covid pandemic.
I had the privilege of caring for both my Mother and my beloved Stepfather during their last days. I was able to be with them as they took their last breaths. When my Stepfather was dying he was surrounded by my Mother, my two Stepbrothers and me, each of us holding him, guiding him into his next life, helping him transition. When my Mother died, I cared for her for weeks at her bedside, and even as she lost consciousness, I knew she could hear me talking to her and telling her how much I loved her. These experiences were some of the most painful and profound moments of my life and I would never trade them for anything. I was able to give my parents a gift that showed them how much I loved them. It was a way to say thank you for guiding me through life. It created a connection that is beyond this world and beyond words. To deny the experience of this passage to anyone is to rob them and the dying of one of the most profound experiences in life. Only birth can compare and birth, thankfully, can never be done alone.
There is, a sliver of light in this story of darkness. A piece of legislation was passed through both Colorado houses this past session that will help to stop the devastation that was created by the rules that disallowed families to be with their loved ones in the hospital during the Covid pandemic. The bill was created as a response to a story about Steve Reiter who testified on behalf of this bill. Mr. Reiter and his two teenage sons were not allowed to visit their beloved wife and mother, Elizabeth, as she lay in University of Colorado Hospital, Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion for 3 weeks before dying alone without her family. Mr. Reiter made repeated requests to the hospital administration for visitation rights and even tested negative for the corona virus, yet the hospital would not budge.
Although during the legislative process the bill lost much of its “teeth,” it is still a step in the right direction and encourages hospitals to adopt policies that will help ensure patients can be with at least one loved one during times of crisis and when dying. The bill, HB20-1425, is a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Representative Tim Geitner, Representative Edie Hooton, Senator Joann Ginal, and Senator Jim Smallwood. The bill overwhelmingly passed both houses with 80 legislators voting in favor of the bill and only 17 voting against the bill on final readings. The bill is expected to be signed by the Governor. It is refreshing to see our legislature working together on such an important issue.