Guest column: Pain and tragedy unite us during the pandemic.
As the sun was setting, I gathered with my family at the dinner table. It was about a minute or two before Iftar – the time to break our day’s Ramadan fast – when the phone rang.
My cousin’s voice on the other end was quivering but the words were clear – “Chachi (Aunt) has passed away.” His aunt is my mother.
The death of a parent is always hard. But this one is particularly devastating.
For the past month, as Mom’s cancer had progressed, I wanted to be by her side, but India’s foreign travel ban due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stifled my wish.
While my Mom did not contract coronavirus, she is a victim of this pandemic. She was diagnosed with cancer around the same time India instituted its ill-planned lockdown of the entire country.
Millions of migrant workers were stranded as public transportation came to a halt. Thousands of these workers journeyed on foot from the bustling cities where they worked to their hinterland villages. Others have lost their children along the way.
My Mom had barely received her preliminary diagnosis of cancer before most major medical facilities, facing personnel and equipment shortages, had practically shut down. She could not receive any further diagnosis on the spread of the cancer because the dye required to conduct the necessary scan was unavailable.
Making matters worse was India’s poor and patchwork health care system, which ranks 145th out of 195 countries in health care access and quality, according to The Lancet.
Getting her the first round of chemo proved to be another ordeal.
All this came with police check posts barricading the main roads. My family had to cross several of these barricades using typical Indian ingenuity, which involves a combination of pleading for mercy and pulling rank where applicable. With doctors, pharmacists and lawyers among my extended family, going from one pharmacy to the next, all the medicines required for chemo were finally obtained.
Mom breathed her last on the second day of Ramadan, shortly after the dawn call to prayers reverberated through our neighborhood.
During this pandemic, as I read numerous stories of family members unable to be with their loved ones when they breathe their last, I feel their pain more personally than ever.
I pray for my Mom and for the day when our respective democracies in both India and the U.S. reward leaders who seek the unity we lack to fight the existential issues facing humankind – from pandemics to climate change.
Parvez Ahmed is director of Diversity and Inclusion and professor of Finance at the University of North Florida.