A Family Separated Physically, Not Socially


Carmen Collins writes about her family’s experience.(Courtesy of Carmen Collins for The Fordham Ram)

Carmen Collins, Contributing Writer

I would like to tell you my story of my family that is suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in one of the hardest-hit countries on the planet, Spain. 

In Spain, my grandparents, close family friends and extended family have all been affected by the coronavirus. They’ve either contracted it or died; meanwhile, family members and loved ones like myself can’t even say goodbye for fear of contagion. During this trying time, my grandparents are quarantined at home to avoid catching the disease. They have been stuck in their apartment for the past month and a half and have no way of getting groceries. 

They live in a town called La Laguna on the Canary Island of Tenerife. It’s a beautiful small place with cobblestone streets and a panadería, or bakery, where they sell fresh bread on every corner. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and my grandparents live in the downtown area. They’ve lived there their whole lives. The thought of them living somewhere else is unimaginable to me. 

Luckily, my grandparents, who I call Baba and Babo, are able to live independently. If they had lived in a nursing home, they would have gotten the virus and most certainly passed away from it as they are lifelong smokers. The horror stories of Spain’s nursing homes are a terrible, grim reality. If I were to go down the path of what-ifs, this article would be a novel. 

Their only family, my mother and I cannot send them groceries through the mail because the postal system is shut down. We live in Connecticut, thousands of miles away from them. Only by the grace of neighbors and a social worker, Victor, are my grandparents able to eat and not starve, or even worse, to have to go out to buy food and contract the virus. 

But even this option is perilous. Many of the building’s residents where my grandparents live have the virus. Their circle of friends and family cannot help them because they are afraid of giving them the virus.

My mother spends hours on the internet and phone trying to get groceries delivered to my grandparents. It’s tedious, hard work, only exacerbated because they live on an island, so everything takes longer. The term “island time” has never been truer in this instance, but takes on a deadly twist. If we don’t get them their groceries delivered because of the oversaturated volume of mail orders from private grocery store chains like Carrefour in the Canary Islands, where everything takes longer, they could starve.

And we’re not the only ones doing this. For many families whose elders live far away from them physically, the emotional toll of this virus is heartbreaking. This virus preys on our most vulnerable, and it makes me so angry. We cannot even say goodbye to our loved ones in person nor attend their funeral. 

The daily routine in this quarantine every day is to write in my family’s WhatsApp group chat and text “Buenos días” or good morning. I pray for a response back. When I see my grandmother’s text in the morning, I breathe a sigh of relief. Another day I know that they’re okay. I try to not dwell on the negative, and my daily escape is to go take a walk with a face mask around the block early in the morning.

My grandparents and their health are always in the back of my mind, but I try to alleviate that worry by calling them through WhatsApp. In Spain, the main method of communication is WhatsApp. I’m grateful for how this pandemic has really put things into perspective, such as how much my elders matter to me. They’ve been there for all the ups and downs in my life, always spreading that little bit of wisdom that has informed my worldview.

My grandparents have given me my culture, language and ability to see the positives in life. That’s why I’m embracing despair and looking for hope. Every day that the sun rises and I wake up to see another day, I’m grateful. I’m grateful I have a home I can social distance in and stay with my parents who love and care for me. I’m grateful my grandparents are still alive and healthy. I’m just grateful.