Grief, Hope, and the COVID-19 Vaccine
Early in the pandemic, prior to joining SOS, I recall leaving the room of a nursing home patient. I left her listless, drooling, and alone. Her death was imminent and as I left her room, I found myself in tears. People die frequently in nursing homes, but this death felt different. It was the first in a locked down facility—she would die alone.
It is crushing to think about all who have died without friends or family by their side. It is a human tragedy not distant from many of our lived realities. A life is to be celebrated and grieved in community, but community is what many of us lost this past year. Early in the pandemic, I recall feeling fearful of my patients. Who has COVID-19? Is it you? Is it me? My wife and I were expecting our son, now 9 months old, and we both feared that she would have to deliver alone, or worse, that she would get COVID-19, perhaps from me, and be separated from our son at birth. Every dark possibility was a possibility. Overnight the world changed into a place where friends were dangerous, celebrations were dangerous, and hugging your mother, partner, child, or grandparent could inflict real harm.
I’d like to think that 2020 has left me, and all of us, a bit wiser—that we take less for granted, and appreciate that love and community are what matters. If we are wiser, it is likely our grief that has left us clear-eyed about the world.
This morning, I asked our team in Costa Mesa what they hoped for in the new year. Most expressed grief over separation from loved ones and a desire to reunite without reservation. I want to do the same. My niece was born 4 days ago. I want to hold her. I want to sit close to my parents without the fear that I might harm them. I don’t want to fear the patient I am here to heal.
Yesterday, with the first 32 vaccines administered at Costa Mesa and even more at our sister clinics, we have taken another hopeful step towards what should be. I saw tears, which embody a year of pain and grief, but undoubtedly hope, and even joy, that things will be as they should be. But as we focus our hope on this vaccine, let me be clear about one thing—you have been as things should be. Throughout this past year, you have been unique expressions of love to each other, our patients, and our community—recognize the unique hope that each of you brings and continue to lean into that, as a pandemic-free world without this type of hope is still a dark one.
Dr. Edwin Kwon, Medical Director
SOS Community Health Clinic Costa Mesa