On Misery and Empathy

My uncle, who lived in Israel has died of Covid19 last weekend.

This is not a story about him, or about covid…

He was a kind man, I’m told he babysat me when I was just born. I don’t remember it, of course, but I do remember him from an older age. We lived in the same house with grandparents, until we moved away (I was 6 at the time). He started his own family around the same time (he was younger than my dad), so he also moved away, but we ran into each other on regular basis. He was very kind. When we emigrated in 1991 (to Israel), his family followed a few months later, and settled in a different city. But everything is so close in Israel, we kept seeing each other, and hanging out with families and kids. When we left for Canada, he stayed behind, decided to set his roots in the holy land. He did visit NYC and Toronto a few times, but it was many years ago, since I saw him IRL. He was always so kind with everyone. The last few conversations with him – were via Whatsapp – as most of my Russian-Israeli circle of contacts. There must be a rule about this somewhere.

Last year my uncle had a close call – doctors have discovered a late stage bone cancer, and we almost lost him. If you want, google it, and read about bone marrow transplants and chances of survival. I won’t go into detail. It was sudden, near lethal for a few weeks, until we stabilized him and he started to recover. A year is not nearly enough time to recover from this – so he was still a high risk when the pandemic started. But this is not a story about him or Covid19.

His wife is a nurse in a local hospital. She’s an angel – always been gentle and very funny. She worked during the pandemic, she caught it, brought it home, and it spread to my uncle. He’s a fighter, but it was just not in the cards. It was a matter of time. When we got the first phone call, we knew there will be another one – very soon. But I say this again, the story is not about him, or about the virus, or about his wife. BTW, if you’re asking – when she recovers, she plans to go back to the hospital. Because that’s what she does. She’s an angel – the type of person you don’t need to ask twice for a favor.

We’re sitting here, 7 hours away, in Toronto, and some of his family is in NYC, and someone – is still in Tashkent – nobody can fly and visit, to do a proper burial, to share a meal with the family, to remember his life properly. But again, that’s not what I’m trying to say here. This numbing misery has been happening all over the world for a few months. I am not telling you anything new right now.

What is this post about? I hope it’s about you. Reading this. Maybe feeling something that moves you. Maybe realizing that this virus doesn’t care what you believe, how you vote, and where you live. It attacks blindly – it spreads where it can. It doesn’t care what music you like. It doesn’t care if you like gardening or biking to Niagara. It’s a virus.

Another person who was already immunocompromised, and took all the precautions – whose wife is a medical professional – and covered all the basics – is now dead because this virus jumped over from a patient to a nurse to a family member. Blindly, without reason. Because it could. Because it was allowed to transmit. Just a statistic. It was someone who didn’t know them, someone whose life was likely saved or extended – but nevertheless, the virus spread and found another victim.

So if you are moved by any of the above (or numb to everything), I urge you to do your part. Please wear a mask, please keep distance, please avoid dirty surfaces and big crowds. Hygiene, diligence, discipline, personal responsibility, empathy. These should be simple, grounded concepts, but apparently, we’ve all gotten too complacent. Country after country is increasing the spread, and although the death rates seem to be lowering – the spread is still increasing – and the only thing that can explain it – is lack of responsibility. We’re not trying hard enough.

Mask up and stay away. Not just for your own sake, but for the sake of others around you. Save a life of a person you never met. Save a life of a first responder. Save a life that’s already at risk – let them dodge this one bullet. It’s not so much about the disease, as it is about how we deal with a crisis of this magnitude. It’s on us, our bad habits and blind spots. Turns out, we have plenty of both. And not enough empathy for complete strangers.

So please, no Covid parties, no uncovered noses, no unnecessary travel. Please – our numbers can all be lower. It’s not enough to be ‘better than United States’ during this. We need to be better today than yesterday. Better this week than last week. Every preventable infection or death – is on us. On you and me.

You don’t need to know my uncle’s name, or his wife’s name. He was kind. She is an angel. She’s going back to treat patients, once she recovers. There are millions of stories like this one. The question is – how are you going to live tomorrow, having read this today.

If I’m preaching to the converted, just send this article to an asshole you know, who is unmasking and going out without proper protection. We all know such an asshole.

Thank you.


PS: I have another cancer-surviving uncle in NYC. The bug went through his family back in April. They are weaker, but no casualties. Last week we got a call about him being admitted in. And over the weekend he was released back home, because they couldn’t do more for him at the hospital… We all dread the next phone call from NYC.

This thing doesn’t stop, and doesn’t care.

Please don’t let it spread more. Please. So much of this pain and misery is preventable.


Update, Nov. 9: Exactly 2 weeks later we got THAT DREADED call from NYC. My other uncle passed away. He had cancer for a while, and whether it was the big C that did it, or whether Covid finally broke the man – doesn’t really matter at this point (the family is not doing a test, but enough of them had Covid already, to correlate the two things).

Two uncles gone in a span of two weeks. On two different continents. They both were in early 60s. Too soon, much too soon. They’re both younger than my parents. Think about it.

Now, I’m not fishing for sympathy – my family is big and strong, we’ve lived through two emigrations, and the stories that we can share, from USSR’s 60s, 70s and 80s (and Israel in 90s) – will probably give you nightmares. That’s not the point here. The point is – these two deaths were preventable, and they happened too soon. And these two people are now erased from our lives. And the plague counter keeps clicking.

Now imagine 1.2 million lives gone too soon. In a span of 9-10 months. Imagine how many of them were preventable, how many were nurses, bus drivers, waiters, cashiers… All those ‘little’ jobs we never value. All those ‘disposables’. Shame.

Imagine if you could save a few lives. All it takes is to wear a fucking mask, workout at home instead of at a gym, and stay the fuck away from crowded places. Wash your hands.

Wear a mask.