Denise and Joe in December 2001, a little over a year after they were married, at a party in their new neighborhood | Credit: courtesy of Denise Torcicollo

By Denise Torcicollo for Next Avenue

For the first time, I find myself purchasing a box of sympathy cards. I’ve come to expect news of death. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Maybe it’s the passing of my husband. And then: grief.

Texts, phone calls, emails, Zooms, FaceTimes, Facebook posts — communications for which I am grateful. A morning “thinking of you” replete with animated heart texted meme from a friend can go a long way. Someone is out there.

But, there are gaps. Big gaps. Late night and early morning gaps and midday gaps that wind themselves around cat feedings and sunrises and anxiety and doctor appointments and mail delivery and bill paying and unemployment and grocery shopping and washing out face masks and counting backward to the last time I visited with someone in person. The gaps that hurt the most are the gaps where my husband should be.

I lost Joe in October 2019. I could not save him. I tried. During the last year of his life, I was his caretaker and after he was gone, my family and friends returning to their own lives, I went to bed for three months.

Sleeping, crying, grieving — I knew at some point, I would begin to thaw. At some point, I would decide to live. At some point, I would lift my head and again look for purpose. I could not foresee that months later in early 2020, a pall would come over the rest of the world, too.

Grieving during a pandemic means navigating most things on my own. Waking up without my life partner and making coffee for myself becomes emotional. He loved coffee and we liked drinking it together.

Cooking meals for myself is not enjoyable. He loved my cooking. Taking the car to the mechanic, filing income taxes, shoveling snow — the world going on with things that don’t matter, and yet they do. This is what we’re supposed to do, right? Go on in the face of grief and the face of death.

There is sometimes joy. Enrolling in a master’s program at age 56, getting an “A” in Statistics, planning the flower seeds I will be planting in spring, laughing at my cat laying upside down.

But still — the gaps. The joy is not complete joy. I want to share it with Joe. He should be here. And there should not be a pandemic. I need to grieve with others.

What I wouldn’t give for a hand squeeze, a hug, an arm around my shoulders, a meal across the kitchen table, a tissue for my tears handed to me by a friend. For now, until the pandemic clears, I navigate grief from a distance.

When the pandemic clears, there will be a memorial service for Joe. A big party is what he wanted. “Remember me and have a party,” he said.

He will be honored — surrounded by friends and family, surrounded by love — and gaps will be filled.


Born and raised in rural Nebraska, Denise Torcicollo now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I lost my husband to cancer right before the pandemic hit. I am 56, have a wonderful step-son, am an artist, health care compliance professional, and recently enrolled in college to get a master’s degree.” 

©2021 Next Avenue

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