SARS-CoV-2 claimed my mother’s life this past March 2021. As I never failed to appreciate the risk of the novel coronavirus pandemic looming over the world early in 2020, I had worried, in advance, about Mom. Maria Claudete Sary, a person of humble education and habits, lived in southern Brazil, over 5,000 miles away from me.

I took it upon myself to remind her–and everyone around her–to take precautions to avoid the virus. I did it for months via phone calls, video calls, and direct messages. In my fear, I tried to impress upon them the severity of COVID-19—even sharing what I had learned from doctors’ public testimonies about patients’ plights in ICU’s, many of which ended in decease.

Today my grief and frustration with Mom’s demise linger, like mental whisperings of “did you do enough? The vaccine was just around the corner! How did this happen? It was not her time.”

I had emotional struggles regarding my parents early on. Mom and Dad’s relationship was difficult—occasionally, their quarrels turned physical, and I had to intervene. 

At times, I suggested they should divorce. After my youngest brother was born, in 1991, and Mom’s father perished, in 1994, Mom’s thyroid dysfunction worsened, triggering a bipolar disorder. Ultimately, Mom was admitted to a mental health facility. 

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A painful period to me, so I used patience and kept myself occupied. One day she finally came home, and meds attenuated her symptoms. Mom and Dad’s marital incongruities eventually subsided too. 

Many years later, in 2015, we lost Dad, 64, in a failed hip surgery. I lived in the U.S., and I was busy being a father, going to school, and working—much like now. My guilt was enormous, but again, patience was key. I wrote about Dad, painted his portrait, and talked about him. I embraced my sadness, trying to exhaust it, and I promised myself that I would take care of Mom. I remodeled her home and fixed what could be fixed.

Mom had just turned 65 when the COVID-19 symptoms materialized. She fought through the damage left by it for forty-three days, then entered a refractory state–as the ICU doctor put it. He said, “Prepare the family.” I got this news on my birthday. A day before, I had gotten a notice from CU Boulder that I had not been admitted to the creative writing graduate program. Two days later, the worst happened.

I knew to be patient with myself and the world around me, to let time chip the edges off my grief. I wrote about Mom and painted her portrait. I asked the English department whether they could consider my application for an MA in literature, another program I desired, and that worked. Merit was important to me, so I did not mention my loss.

I keep talking about Mom, and I keep my plans moving, even when bitterness taints my disposition. I know stories like mine abound in these pandemic years, and the moral I can offer is that to honor our departed is to seize life in their name, to be resilient, and to be patient again and again. 

Maria Claudete Sary (Digital painting by Alessandro Sary)

Alessandro Sary is a graduate student and tattoo artist who lives in Boulder.