As soon as my Aunt Eleanor’s name flashed on my phone, my heart fell. I knew what was coming. I replied silently, I heard her sob and I could barely speak.
After doing her best to take her for weeks, Covid-19 had won. My great-aunt Dell was gone. A few days earlier, her son Winston had been able to talk to her briefly in her hospital bed through a video call. She seemed better. But then a second wave of the virus came and the doctors couldn’t do anything.
A few days before Aunt Dell, 82, fell ill, her daughter, my cousin Pat, 55, was hospitalized and ventilated. She had been home sick for weeks with fever, shortness of breath and chest pain. Tests confirmed it was Covid-19.
Spanked: Great-Aunt Dell, who died at St Thomas’ hospital in London after she seemed to get well, and her daughter Pat, who came through after she tested positive for the virus
When Aunt Dell was taken to St. Thomas’ by ambulance in central London after he collapsed on March 22, we thought it was because she was so concerned about Pat. But it turned out that she had Covid-19 and she was also put on a ventilator.
They both responded well and were eventually discharged from the same unit in intensive care so we had hope. We really thought they would both be fine. Pat left the hospital on April 12, but then Aunt Dell took it worse. Winston, 62, was with her at the end. All we wanted was for her not to go alone.
Aunt Dell was the youngest 82-year-old I knew – she loved traveling the world and left for Cuba in September. She wasn’t meant to go that way.
One of my cousins called it “the wrong last chapter” and she was right.
That was Wednesday, April 15. By then I was already worried that the phone would ring when more family and friends got sick and were taken to the hospital.
The average victim of the coronavirus dies ten years earlier than it would otherwise, a study from the University of Glasgow suggests.
My brother-in-law, John, 32, was another. Two more friends died. I started going to bed feeling sick to my stomach, afraid of what the next day would bring. So much sadness, tragedy and pain in just a few weeks.
I put the phone down to Aunt Eleanor and started calling to let the family know. But I couldn’t cry. I don’t know how to grieve my family if I can’t be with my family. And that’s what really hurts.
I can’t hug them. I can’t cry next to them. That’s how Caribbeans die. We collect. We drink a lot of alcohol. We laugh. We cry. We play music. We dance. We play dominoes. We pray. We eat. My god, you eat a lot – everyone brings a dish.
That’s how we show love. You do this every day from the day the person dies until you bury them. A funeral with fewer than 100 mourners is considered small. So none of that, just silence and distance. It just feels so cruel, it hurts all of us.
The ten of us can go to the funeral – but it is only in June. That’s how many people are losing their lives right now.
It was my other half, Andy, 40, a TV producer, who first noticed that there was a real difference between our experiences with the corona virus. I suppose amid all this, I just assumed that everyone was going through the same thing. But none of his family, and only one of his friends, has been affected.
Family Fear: Charlene White, center, pictured with her brother-in-law John, 32, left, who survived a dose of coronavirus, and her sister Jade, right
Andy is white – and it is now becoming clear that across Britain and the world, black people and people of South Asian background are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Just as we know that men are more at risk if they contract the virus, we need to find out why ethnic minorities have a more serious disease.
We need to be armed with the facts, so if we hit a new peak, we won’t be struggling to survive. It has killed surgeons, nurses, pharmacy workers and bus drivers. Young and old.
In my own circles, yes, some had underlying conditions – but others had none.
Black families usually have such a mix of heritage, from the Caribbean, Africa and around the world. It is difficult to see a single reason that could explain why this is happening. But the statistics speak for themselves.
It was my other half, Andy, who is white, who first noticed that there was a real difference between our experience of the corona virus pandemic
Until research is done, it’s just guesswork to come up with a reason for this.
And this is not the time for a guessing game.
I’m on maternity leave – my daughter Florence was born in August. She and my son Alfie, who is two, are too small to understand what is happening. Another small grace.
But I’m going to bed scared about what a new day will bring.
As of this writing, there has been no terrible news for a week. Do I dare to become hopeful?
I kiss my family every morning, grateful that we are still healthy. At this point, I just have to take every day as it comes. And I can only hope that someday everything will be safe again. That people I love don’t die anymore. And that we can go back to a semblance of a normal life.