Contributed by Duncan Fremlin. For the first time in our lives, death has not so quietly infiltrated our day-to-day consciousness. The daily news feed has become routine – “4724 new infections, 29 deaths”. The alarming part is, it’s actually happening to people we know.
In the five years of the second war, which was fought somewhere else, over 45,000 Canadians died. Pretty much all of them were young men. The number suggests the vast majority of families in Canada did not lose a son. It’s even likely that most Canadians didn’t even know a family who lost a son.
This pandemic couldn’t be more different, and will likely be more deadly. In a little over one year, more than 23,000 Canadians, from all age groups and walks of life, have died from COVID. This third wave has taught us that no age group is immune. These numbers suggest, if this continues, as the experts predict, many families will lose a close family member to COVID.
My father was born in 1905 in rural Northern Ontario. By his 31st birthday, he had learned how to deal with death. One of his brothers died when he was 5. His mom died giving birth to twins in 1918. Only one was strong enough to survive. In 1932 he buried his first wife of tubercular meningitis. In 1936 his second wife died of pulmonary tuberculosis.
Dad’s entire generation lived through carnage the world had never seen before. The two wars, the depression and the flu killed many thousands. Few families from that era, if any, were untouched by this.
Those of us (baby boomers) born after the war have pretty much escaped the immediacy of death. It’s something that “happens to other families”. We know of it mostly as a news story about somewhere else in the world. The Vietnam war happened to people we didn’t know.
Our parents’ generation survived the war and were the recipients of an advanced and free health care system. They lived when their ancestors did not. For the first time, heart attacks, infection, pneumonia and so on were not death sentences. Their life span was the highest ever.
Even when someone we know does die, it’s seldom at home and more likely in a hospital. How many of us have actually seen a dead body that wasn’t in a casket? I’m pretty sure Dad saw a few by the time he buried his second wife.
I lost my parents, one when I was 18 and the other when I was 37. They were older than the parents of my peers so it didn’t leave me traumatized for life. I don’t count watching Lee Harvey Oswald shoot Jack Ruby on TV after Sunday school in 1963. I was 13, so for me it was just another TV show.
All that has changed. Our world today has been given a good whiff of smelling salts and we’ve awoken to a new everything. How adults will process this is a mystery – young people, not so mysterious. They are showing their true mettle, respectfully wearing masks, social distancing and generally getting on with it. The world is now officially theirs and it looks like it is in very good hands indeed.