Virus and a death in the family make for ‘hellish week’

Every kid wants an extra day of spring break, but no one was hoping for a total school shutdown

By George Valadie

What a week! One of those unbelievable, don’t-ever-want-to-do-it-again sorts of weeks.

I should begin by pointing out that because monthly diocesan newspapers function the way they do, columnists like myself are asked to write our thoughts and submit our efforts well in advance of when we know our readers will actually read them.

It’s an honor to share, but I hope you’ll understand the hellish week I mention actually happened a little while ago.

Wouldn’t take a genius to guess what or when though—it was those seven days in mid-March when the chaos of COVID-19 was coming into full bloom.

The positive test numbers had begun climbing at a breakneck pace while those of the stock market went the other way. Only faster and farther. In that same week, like many across the country, our school went from “open” to “closed for a week” to “closed for a month.” We’re shut down now, and we’ll be that way when you read this.

Limited to a two-day crash course, our teachers had no choice but to become students again, asked (or should I say forced) to learn alternative ways of educating from afar. Trying to maintain connections with kids you can’t see, much less hug.

Similarly, while our Church has always proclaimed parents to be the first and best teachers of their children, I don’t think a country of home-schoolers is what they had in mind. I know the parents didn’t.

What kid doesn’t hope for an unexpected and extra day of spring break? But no one was hoping for this.

Instead, while retrieving their books before the building shut down, they actually looked sad. Before their vacation, our kids had been busy doing what kids do. Imagining their prom and anticipating their graduation, practicing for their games, and rehearsing for their play. Not anymore.

That was also the week (maybe it’s still true) that televisions were flooded with talking heads talking ever faster. Sometimes getting ahead of the truth. Hoping we’d get ahead of the virus.

Some businesses opted to shut their doors; some were forced. Workers got no options at all.

I’m hoping that when you read this, our lives will be back to normal, though I’m well aware I’m talking about a crisis that today is thought to be only in its earliest stages. (I’m really anxious to see where we are when this hits your mailbox.)

Filling a need for canceled sports, one of the many doctors in the media just made the comment, “People need to understand we’re just in the second inning of this … ,” but sadly, he didn’t seem to know how many innings we’d be playing.

I’m not one of those who believes we’ve reached the “end times,” but it sort of felt like we were getting close when someone said they walked into a public men’s restroom and there was a line of guys—at the sink.

It was an emotional week, too, all of us experiencing a variety of ups and the downs, often on the same day or during the same hour.

“Did you hear the good news? China doesn’t have any more cases.”

“O Lord, did you see where the young can get it, too?”

“I heard they think they have a cure!”

“Can you believe they canceled graduation?”

It was the epitome of a raucous rollercoaster ride. Yeah, we knew things could go bad. Then we’d be momentarily buoyed by hopes of thinking life might almost be normal. But by week’s end, we had finished it all off with an old-fashioned “Oh, hell, this isn’t good!”

The sporting world followed that same pattern of ebb and flow. They might have even started it.

“We think we can still play if we’re smart and clean,” followed by … “We can play anyway just without fans,” capped off with … “We’re taking our balls and going home. All of them. And you should, too.”

Believe it or not, in the Valadie household that isn’t even the most notable event of this week. Today we buried our brother-in-law.

He was one of the really good guys in this world, and though you knew it wasn’t true, he had a gift for making you and your life seem as if it was the only thing that mattered in his.

Though he was mostly oblivious those final days, Bob’s final walk to heaven was ironically filled with the same sorts of stops and starts, highs and lows.

While others were fighting the virus, his was a different struggle. One issue led to a second which led to a third which led to …

“What he has is nothing to fool with,” … followed by “His bloodwork looks better today,” … followed by “He’s going to need surgery for sure” … followed by “We think we’ll wait, why don’t you take him home?” … followed by “We have to operate now! Right now!” … followed by “He made it through like a champ” … followed by “We can’t get him off the ventilator” … followed by “He’s doing better today” … followed by “We sure are sorry!”

No mistakes, no one to blame, doctors fighting his unknowns just as doctors around the world were doing the same.

All in all, it was a singular week in my life when I was reminded, as I often am, that the mortal mind can never understand that of the Almighty.

Worldwide sickness and unemployment, sadness and disappointment? Really? That’s God’s plan? Countered head-on by story after story of humans being human, serving the needy, feeding the hungry, sacrificing for the greater good. Maybe that was God’s plan?

Or was there a plan at all?

I’m reminded frequently of Father Kavanaugh’s remarks in the football movie classic “Rudy.”

“Praying is something we do in our time,” he began. “The answers come in God’s time … and in 35 years of religious studies, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts. There is a God, and I’m not Him.”

Dear God – May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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