When I think of Florida, I don’t immediately think of relaxing beach vacations or Disney. Instead, I remember my great-grandmother, Lillian Kimmel.
My great-grandmother—Gigi, as I called her—was full of joy and energy, which she loved to share with the people around her. There wasn’t a time I saw her that didn’t include ice cream, she believed sweet things were just as important as sweet people.
From a young age, I knew how special it was to know Gigi, as many people don’t have the opportunity to know their older relatives. Not only did I get to meet my great-grandmother, but I also got to share memories with her.
Whenever I would visit Gigi, she would suggest we have “dinner”—consisting solely of ice cream sundaes—from her favorite ice cream parlor, Jaxson’s. In second grade, I got my ears pierced on a trip to visit her, an experience I am reminded of every time I put in a pair of earrings.
But the most important thing I shared with Gigi was baking. For those of you that know me, you know hardly a day has gone by these past few months where I haven’t baked some type of delicacy. This is a love I inherited from Gigi.
She loved chocolate—especially rugelach—and her love of baking and sharing her creations led her to continue crafting treats in her kitchen well into her nineties. My earliest memories with Gigi revolve around this, and rarely would a visit go by without fresh baked goods in her kitchen.
Last month, after a long and happy life, Gigi passed away. And my family didn’t get to say a proper goodbye.
On the day of her passing, my great-grandmother was 103 years old. Due to COVID-19 precautions, only her daughter—who lives in the retirement village she did—was able to attend her funeral.
While I know Gigi had a full life and her time had come, it was heartbreaking for many members of my family to be miles apart, unable to come together in celebration of the wonderful woman Gigi was.
Instead, her daughter—my maternal grandmother—held a Zoom call for family members to join while a brief service was held. To me, 30 minutes of bad connection over Zoom felt far from the appropriate remembrance, but there were no other options.
As we all try to keep each other safe by traveling only when necessary, we make sacrifices. For my family, this was our sacrifice. Something that hasn’t been addressed enough over the last few months is how the pandemic has impacted the way we honor those we’ve lost.
I’m not saying it would have been appropriate to travel to Florida to pay my respects—that’s something I can safely do from home. What I am saying is we can’t ignore how the pandemic has impacted the way we grieve.
Many members of my family look to each other for support when coming to terms with a loss, and they weren’t able to do that when Gigi passed. Instead of sharing memories of her over a scoop of butter pecan ice cream at Jaxson’s—Gigi’s favorite—I watched my mom and her siblings spend hours on the phone, trying to determine how to best support their mother.
The loss of Gigi put a lot of things into perspective for me, particularly the ways the pandemic has impacted what we do when we lose someone. Whether it’s due to COVID-19 or natural causes like my great-grandmother, many people have lost someone this year and had to reevaluate the safety of the traditional grieving process.
To start, traveling is a huge risk, making it hard for families that don’t all live in the same place to gather. If a family lives in closer proximity, there’s still the concern that large gatherings are unsafe. Either way, things such as a hug or hand on the shoulder to show support are frowned upon given the current circumstances.
With no clear end of the pandemic in sight, people will continue to suffer losses and have to find new ways to honor those who are lost.
For me, I honor Gigi through my baking. Each loaf of bread or fresh muffin I take out of the oven reminds me of baking with her during my childhood, and I feel so fortunate to have made those memories with her.
To anyone who has lost someone, I am sorry. I hope you find a safe way to grieve and honor the memory of who you have lost. More than anything, I hope one day it will be safe enough to gather again and support each other, however you choose to do so.