Behind Every Number, There Is a Name, a Face and a Life

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Father David BonnarIt happens every day at roughly the same time. There is an alert that comes over my iPhone informing me about the latest confirmed cases of COVID-19 for that day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as well as the number of deaths. Shortly thereafter, there is yet another alert detailing how many positive cases, along with deaths, for that day in the county in which I live.

These numbers tell a story. The numbers factually indicate the reality of the virus. The virus is here, and it is alive and well. Every day, this invisible, and at times deadly, germ finds new hosts. The battle continues. Even with the best protective measures put in place, people are still stricken and some die. Of course, one death is too many.

The daily numbers reveal trends. It is always hopeful when the daily numbers of those confirmed positive are low and there are no deaths. I think the lowest number of confirmed daily cases in one day was 27 in the county in which I reside. These numbers, though, have reached triple digits.

But these numbers eventually become personal. For, behind every number, there is a name, a face and a life. When we can put a name to a number, the whole experience becomes more real and painful.

A few days ago, a close friend of mine, who worked with me in ministry years ago and who has remained a part of my life, called to tell me that her 86-year-old mom, who has been in a nursing home for two years, tested positive for the virus. Her condition deteriorated to the point that she had to be hospitalized in the ICU. My friend recounted to me how difficult it was when she attempted to visit her mom. At that time, all she could do was wave to her mom from the window. What made this all the more painful was that because of the virus they were unable to visit with their mom in the nursing home. The last time they were in the same room together was early March.

The condition of my friend’s mom worsened. With the doctor’s permission, my friend was able to “suit up” with all of the necessary protective gear and enter the room to say goodbye to her mom. At this point, her dear mom was unconscious. Nevertheless, my friend was able to hold her mom’s hand and tell her that it was OK to leave this world and go be with dad. She also thanked her mom for being the best mom ever. My friend’s mom died shortly thereafter.

It was my honor to celebrate her funeral liturgy. I met her mom 28 years ago when her daughter worked with me at the parish. I became close to her and the entire family of four boys and two girls.

Clarey Lou, as I came to call her, lived her life with three uncompromising values — namely, family, faith, and her Irish and Pittsburgh roots. The best and most memorable St. Patrick’s Day celebration I ever attended was in her presence with her beloved family.

Clarey Lou’s death was surreal since it was tinged with a stunning irony. You see, Clarey Lou was a germaphobe. Even before hand sanitizers and wipes became popular, Clarey Lou was fastidious about cleaning and sanitizing. She wanted everyone and everything to be clean and free from germs. When she entered a restaurant, she would reclean the silverware on the table. She would often avoid public restrooms to stay away from germs. In a certain sense, Clarey Lou was a pioneer because she did then what we are all forced to do now. But somehow, even after all of her diligence, the big, deadly, invisible germ of COVID-19 found her.

Clarey Lou may have lost the earthly battle, but she certainly won the war because she was a woman of deep faith. There is an antiphon from Saturday, Week 1, daytime prayer that derives from Psalm 34:10. It reads: “Those who seek the Lord will be filled with every blessing.” Clarey Lou sought the Lord. May she now receive God’s abundant and eternal blessings.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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