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She was not just a grandmother. She was our saviour.

Mariana Abeid-McDougall's COVID-19 Story

June 23, 2020

Mariana Abeid-McDougall describes her grandmother’s funeral during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mariana Abeid-McDougall with her grandmother Zilah Ribeiro da Silva Abeid

Grief in a time of Grief

They wore masks and full body suits, and carried her away in a wooden box, while I observed through the lenses of not only my eyes, but the eyes of remote recording devices that made this moment both poignant and ironic.

The woman whose house was always full, whose trademark saying was that “in a mother's heart, there's always room for one more,” who revelled in welcoming as many people as possible, the woman who lived the saying “the more the merrier…” that woman had five people at a time attending her funeral, to an allowed total of only 10. And they wore masks incorrectly, because when the matriarch who kept a family at odds together leaves this world without warning, you cannot contain the tears, and they fog up the glasses you wear, so that you can see with even less clarity what the world may bring when the thread that held it together has unravelled forever.

She was not just a grandmother. She was our saviour. When the Brazilian economy took one of its many downturns in 1992 and our family lost everything, she welcomed us with open arms and an open heart… for five years. When we had to leave her to move halfway across the world, she asked for an iPad so she could keep in touch with her family. When poor children needed someone to love them, she taught them to embroider so they could have a livelihood. When her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren visited, she made their favourite treats and loved us in a way only grandmothers know how to love—with food, with celebration, with genuine interest in how we were living our lives... and how we were enjoying the food.

We shared a birthday. She told me I was her gift in 1982. We last spoke when she turned 92 and I turned 38. I did not get a chance to say goodbye. COVID-19 was not solely responsible for my inability to attend her funeral—Brazilian burying traditions do not make it easy for expatriates to say a final goodbye. She was buried the day after she died. An 11-hour flight, restrictions or not, is not easily fitted into this time period. 

COVID-19, however, did change the way we grieve. The way we are allowed (or not allowed) to grieve. We cannot comfort one another with a hug. We cannot cry together around the dinner table she once filled with our favourite treats. We cannot travel to our home country to comfort the ones left behind.

But there is a silver lining… grief for the ones who have left the world, on top of grief for the life we knew, has shown us we can make the effort to come together, even if only through a screen. I have spoken to my cousins more often than I have in years. I am grateful for how far technology has come. And she will be remembered, not by the masked, suited figures who carried her away as a matter of course in their day on the job, but by the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who sat at that table and were fed not only by her cooking, but also by her love. 

Adeus, Zilah Ribeiro da Silva Abeid. You were a special woman. You had your quirks, like all of us do. But you were good. And that's all that matters now.

Mariana Abeid-McDougall, Kingston