Jo Ann Jaacks: Life and death in the time of COVID-19

Alan Jaacks' memorial flag. He served in the U.S. Army for three years.

I wrote my husband’s obituary and sent it to the local newspaper for placement. The quick reply gave me the sobering cost and I quickly decided to post it on my Facebook page instead since pretty much everyone who would want to know is a FB friend.

My husband was older than me, so I could have expected he would die first. What I wasn’t prepared for was a devastating scourge of Alzheimer’s, a disease that no one recovers from or returns from, followed by a pandemic of several orders of magnitude that would curtail most of the ways we honor our lost loved ones.

I began planning a Celebration of Life at my church, and lining up friends and family that would be willing to help. The first roadblock was the limit of 25 people at any gathering. Then the responses came that most people were hesitant to be in a crowd of 25 people. I then decided to postpone the service to the Spring, praying that we would all be in a happier, healthier place by then.

At a small gathering of friends while awaiting the Spring Celebration of Life, I made tea sandwiches with my husband’s favorite Rubschlager pumpernickel bread, corned beef and Swiss cheese and began a large collage of vintage photos, posting it on my easel. Making the collage was cathartic and others promised to share photos and stories.

My greatest support came from Amy, the owner of Direct Cremation, who also secured copies of the death certificate and gave me an American flag, since my German husband served in the U.S. Army for three years as a fast-track to becoming an American citizen. I offered the flag to my stepdaughter, who was happy to receive it as a memento, and I hoped it would be passed down to my three grandchildren in memoriam of their Opa.

Even though there has been no wake, church service or prayers at the cemetery, the usual path of saying goodbye, I am lifted up by friends, family and church members who have reached out in diverse ways including email from a male acquaintance who bluntly said “You don’t get over it” to invitations to “come have tea and we can talk” from several widows.

I was shocked the first time I was addressed as a widow, but have come to think this is a not-so-secret group of those offering empathy. I appreciate the “tea party” invitations as much as the blunt approach, since I am daily putting on the boxing gloves to deal with all the sad details of death.

When I received the ashes from Amy in a sealed box that was unexpectedly heavy, I made the final decision that they would be interred in my church’s memorial garden, where I can visit him on Sundays.

Connecticut Media Group