The first night my infant son came home from hospital, it was time for his mother to get some hard-earned maternity sleep, so, I got to “walk the floor” with a newborn.
The TV was running black-and-white classics and the title my son’s first night at home was, “Death Takes a Holiday.”
Watching the old movie in a rocking chair seemed so coincidental with having new life in my arms. It was 35 years ago and since then, between us, in cold war and hot, amid his combat losses, family illnesses and inevitable mortality, we both learned repeatedly, the idea that death ever takes a holiday is folly.
The old movie starred Frederick March as “Death,” disguised as a count, to explore what’s going on with life. At an elegant dinner, he was so charmed by life that death stopped for a bit. Death went on holiday. Soon, the ruin that would bring, with everybody staying and nobody leaving life, became evident. It was just an old movie.
This year, death stayed busy, busier than usual, it turns out.
The Antelope Valley Press edition of Dec. 29, just ahead of the old year 2020 dying, took note that we have 145 people in the Antelope Valley Hospital afflicted with COVID-19. That is about 40% of hospital capacity, for all the doubters. Among them, 25 were in the Intensive Care Unit and that about maxes that out. Some will, inevitably, die. Many already have. There are more than 200 dead in the Antelope Valley, with more on the way.
Because of congressional intervention at urging of Mayor R. Rex Parris and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and California Department of Emergency Services, out-of-town medical staff are here for two weeks to assist with the overwhelming burden of trying to save lives. Dispel your doubts and conspiracy theories. The virus, and death, does not care.
Humans are social creatures. We gather in families, political parties, racial sub-groups, cultural affiliations, orientations and lodges.
About the time the pandemic curtain was lowering, I started losing friends in the veteran community. COVID did not take them all. Older veterans are usually impacted by a field of underlying conditions that include, but are not limited to, heart conditions, tobacco, diabetes, Agent Orange, addiction to alcohol and drugs, old shrapnel, depression and suicide, brain injury and burn pit exposure. Some veterans live to 100 and never experience war trauma but veterans disproportionately stop short of old age because of service they performed for our country when they were young.
The pandemic spread out like a gloomy searchlight sweeping the landscape, with death, a bony hand pointing, and clutching.
Part of the contract of honorable service is having your service remembered. I mention a few from our community, knowing that I have missed many others who died in 2020 and must leave it to others to remember them.
Among those who served and died in 2020, were Army vet Dennis Byrnes, Vietnam, director at VA Vet Center; Marine vet Jerry Lawrence, Southeast Asia, hospice volunteer for veterans; Ed Galindo, Korean War, Air Force, co-host AM-1470 Café Con Leche; Tom Hilzendeger, Army, Vietnam, founder of Vets4Veterans nonprofit; Robert Hall, Korea service, Air Force; Marine vet Lino Torres, Vietnam War Era, Legion Riders, Patriot Guard; and Dean Funk, Marine veteran of World War II, at year’s end, at 98.
Others who served our community outside the ranks included Brian Chase of K-Mix radio, Javier Castillo of the Crazy Otto’s team that hosts Coffee4Vets and Cynthia Beverly, community activist and children’s advocate.
So, these are the losses. What were our gains? The entire category of “essential workers,” underpaid, under-loved and showing up to work daily at the service counters, fixing up, cleaning up, picking up and delivering. They are doing their job because they must and doing it in the face of infection and death.
Gains? Our hospital and health care workers, risking their health and lives. Our first responders, firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement. Our teachers and classroom staff, working to make school happen. Our nonprofit providers, feeding the hungry and working to shelter the homeless. Our troops, serving far away from home, in crowded quarters and in harm’s way.
My sense is that if death took a holiday in your household, it is cause for extreme gratitude. If you can mask up, wash your hands and watch your distance, it is a sign of respect and gratitude to all these, and more, in mention. I do hope it is a Happy New Year. We can hope.
Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group. An Army veteran, he deployed to the Iraq War with a local National Guard unit to cover the Iraq War as embedded journalist for the Antelope Valley Press. He works on veterans and community health initiatives.