The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Bad news can’t last forever, can it?

- By Howard Sann Howard Sann is a writer and editor living in Bridgeport.

In the last 17 months, whether I stayed home or ventured out, bad news kept finding me. I never knew where or how I’d hear it, only that I would.

Last March, the final line in a friend’s email was, “I’m guessing you heard about Marv.” I hadn’t. My heart sank.

The email was from Marv’s last inperson tax appointmen­t. Ironically, he was going home to shelter from the coronaviru­s. Neither knew they already had COVID. Marv was gone within 10 days. When my friend heard Marv had died, he thought, “I killed him.” By the time I reached Marv’s assistant, they’d already held the service, over the internet.

Marvin Gelfand, 86, was a large man who bragged he’d “personally known every medical procedure under the sun and been rebuilt like an old car engine.” We became fast friends, and he my confidante. He took me to lunch after each tax season and I’d bring him a book.

That June my wife and I were in one of 100 cars in a police-escorted parade in Marv’s honor, snaking through Easton, past his home where his wife, children and grandchild­ren stood on the lawn waving and applauding.

“Wider now. Don’t blink.” Dr. James Thimons, my eye doctor, checks the pressure in my right eye. “Got it. Now the left. You’ve heard that Carl died …”

Dr. Carl Gruning was a pioneer in vision therapy. I’d been wearing glasses for 33 years when I began work with him in 1980. I saw him once a week for 30 minutes. The work to correct my vision was intense and rigorous — physically, mentally and emotionall­y. I learned to relax my eyes and accept “the blur” — the beginning of fusing images to bring things into focus. After four months he said, “You don’t need glasses anymore. Go to the DMV and get the restrictio­n taken off your license.” I’ve gone without glasses for more than 35 years.

My cousin Brooke and I run hot and cold. At 19, we both lost our mothers. After my second vaccine, I called her. She spouted conspiracy theories; the need to do more “research.” Then: “The friend I’ve been staying with through the pandemic died of COVID four days ago. I just got over it myself.”

I’m so sorry, I say. “I’m OK,” she says. “Trying to find another location …” But Brooke, first, tell me how you are coping with the loss of your roommate. “He was my boyfriend . ... He got sick and wouldn’t go to the doctor.”

We’ve heard this story, over and over, for far too long. But when it hits home and happens to someone you love — it’s gut wrenching.

“He wasn’t isolating and wouldn’t wear a mask, coughing terribly. He got worse and worse,” she said. “He couldn’t keep anything down. He was moaning and crying. Finally, I called an ambulance. He had pneumonia. In the ICU he had two breathing apparatuse­s. The night we spoke he said he was fighting for his life. We cried together. The morning they were going to intubate him he died.”

Sounds like you did everything you could. “But I couldn’t save him,” she said, solemnly. Had he been vaccinated? “No, he wasn’t.”

Then, Brooke got sick. Chills. Fever. Vomiting. Tightness in her chest. “They put me on an eight-hour drip, then sent me home. I can go outside in 10 days. I have eight months immunity and can get the vaccine after 90 days, but I’m not going to get it.”

I’m sorry you lost your guy. Get your health back. “I’m lost.” What else to say? I broke the silence with, “I love you.”

Seventeen months of lives stopped on a dime. People forced by quarantine to say goodbye through an app or outside a nursing home window. Not so long ago it was common to read about someone passing “surrounded by friends and family.”

Grief can bring people together. It can heal broken relationsh­ips and misunderst­andings. The pandemic has made me think of old friends — people I loved who loved me — who I’ve fallen out with. This time has softened my heart. Given me a deeper appreciati­on for the goodness of others. Gratitude for life itself. More than once, I’ve summoned the courage and, with trepidatio­n, dialed a number just to say, “It’s me, Howie, are you OK?” Inevitably, I’ve heard, “Hey, I was just thinking about you.”

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