Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

When I got up on Jan. 1, 2021, things were looking okay.

The coronavirus pandemic still raged, worse than ever. But vaccines had been created, and were starting to be distributed.

We had stayed up until midnight to help our dogs cope with the fireworks, but I have to say it wasn't as bad as it has been in previous years. There was no Rose Parade to watch, but the weather was good.

The day was uneventful — we're still in COVID-19 lockdown, after all — and I tried my hand at grilling small lobster tails for dinner. They were edible.

We went to bed on Jan. 1 looking forward to a year of climbing out from under the pandemic with new vaccines, a year of new political leadership cognizant of the great need for social and ethnic equity, and most importantly, a leadership with a moral compass.

It all came crashing down when Maria's phone started buzzing at 1:30 a.m. When you get a phone call at 1:30 a.m., it's never anything good.

One of Maria's sisters had died suddenly in Colorado. Laura was the youngest of four sisters, and while she had plenty of health problems, her death was a shock.

No, it wasn't COVID. It almost certainly was a heart attack, although an autopsy will be performed just to make sure.

By shortly after noon on Jan. 2, Maria was on a plane heading for Colorado. Southwest had a nonstop flight to Denver out of Long Beach (amazing) and it was easy to get a seat, even though we booked it three hours before take-off (not so surprising).

Maria was with her family less than 18 hours after her sister's death. Considering Denver is 1,000 miles away from Long Beach, that's saying something.

Colorado's coronavirus protocols have delayed releasing the body to the family by multiple days. As soon as paramedics arrived when Laura died, family members were required to vacate the room, and were not allowed to see her again. That's despite the fact it was clear a heart attack was the cause of death.

I would argue that Maria's grief, her sisters' grief, the rest of the family's grief is no less than the grief felt by all those mourning the loss of family members to COVID-19. That's not to take away from the tragedy of loved ones dying essentially alone from COVID-19, without the comfort of family by their side. Technically, that's how Laura died too.

I will say that sudden death by heart attack is by far preferable to months lingering on a ventilator, or struggling against cancer or other diseases — at least for me. And while sudden death is a shock to family members, it might be easier than dealing with a prolonged illness.

I guess what I'm trying to get to is saying that I, we, feel the pain of all those dealing with serious cases of COVID-19-related illness. It is a crappy way to start the year.

We can only hope 2021 is the year where things will turn around, healthwise and otherwise. The way we start does not dictate the way we finish.

From your lips to God's ears.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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