Home >Magazine >In a World Numbed by Death Statistics, How Much Does One Lost Life Matter?

In a World Numbed by Death Statistics, How Much Does One Lost Life Matter?

Michele Willens was afraid that COVID had made her immune to true emotion about death. Here's what she discovered when a loved one passed.

Sixteen months into this weird, divisive, and often depressing time, I began to wonder if I had become numb to the well, numbers and to death.

A hundred thousand potential COVID deaths…then 600,000, then in the millions around the world and on and on. Finally, the exponential thing reversed, and life was opening up. Now, a new variant comes along, with a moniker that Paul Simon sang was “shining like a national guitar.” Hello Delta, and the upward tally begins again.

So many have lost loved ones during the Pandemic, and the impact should never be diminished. Each life is something to celebrate, and each death is a heartbreaking, often hug-free experience. For those of us fortunate not to have personally suffered, it began to feel like the days of the Vietnam War, when the mounting casualties eventually felt more like statistics than actual men and women who perished. 

Read More: “When I Look Up, All I See is Sky:” Losing a Generation to the Pandemic

A Singular Woman

Doris Willens Kaplan in the 1960s.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, my Aunt Doris, a remarkable woman, died just before her 97th birthday. I wrote about her last year here at NextTribe, in the form of our back-and-forth emails. The piece seemed to touch many, and the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles adapted it into a short, two-character play. Doris proudly said it made her a star. (Though she didn’t get why I was “portrayed’ by a Black woman. Ha, welcome to 2021.) I had visited Doris monthly at her Assisted Living facility in Princeton for years, but obviously, not in the last one. Her three sons, her grandchildren, and I last gathered for her 95th birthday, and I was rooting for her to be ready for us to do the same for her 97th next month. Alas, she went into hospice and, as she repeatedly told me, she was ready to go.

I was hoping we could gather again with her for her 97th birthday next month.

So when her son Peter called to tell me the news, I was not entirely surprised. But I was surprised, and even grateful, that my tears came so easily. I loved that woman beyond words, but I was also afraid that death had been around us for such a long period, that it would have made me immune to true emotion. It felt good to remember that ‘people’ are persons.

Doris Willens Kaplan was a special one. She had an amazing career writing for newspapers, advertising, and the theater. Her clever musical shows toured the Long Island Libraries. Oh, and she was part of the Baby Sitters folk group that recorded four children’s albums in the ‘50s and ’60s. She was the lyricist and Alan Arkin played guitar. They brought grateful glee to a lot of parents and their kids, and inspired others. (I remember taking Doris to a Raffi concert at Carnegie Hall, and he was beyond excited to meet her backstage. Who knew?)

For the Living

My family has argued politics and COVID, but we are all united in taking the time to mourn one member who did just about everything right.

This is not so much about my extolling an accomplished woman who will be missed, but about taking the time to appreciate those in our lives who have mattered—even if it means just sending them a note (or text) every week. It’s been a challenging time, filled with so many threatening emotions, even among families who bitterly argue over to vax or not to vax, not to mention which candidate to support. Mine, too, has had to deal with that, but right now, we are all united in taking the time to mourn one member who did just about everything right.

So, if I could write her just one more note:

“Dear Auntie D: You were my role model, and even how you chose to leave this world was admirable. Sure, I wish I could have seen you one more time, so you could help me with one more crossword puzzle, so we could talk books, and so much more. But you deserve a long peaceful rest, and say hi to your brother (known as my dad) up there.

From the one you always called `My daughter.’   Michele”

Read More: How to Lose a Husband: Saying Goodbye to Your Other Half

By Michele Willens


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Find your tribe

Connect and join a community of women over 45 who are dedicated to traveling and exploring the world.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This