Within the last week, I lost my fourth relative to Covid (since I last published a column, my family has had another loss). All of the Covid deaths in my family have been in the Philippines and three have been in Cebu. In the United States, I am not even aware of a family member catching Covid. In the case of my aunt, an experience I wrote about early in this pandemic, she suffered through Covid in the UK and likely caught it there or traveling there. I know I am not alone in losing relatives during these times. Our community has been hard hit.
When I think about visiting the Philippines one future date when this is all over, I picture an emptier place, void of those people to whom I had habitually paid my respects. The loss of these relatives means fewer reasons to visit Cebu and I realize that, one day, there may be no more reasons to visit.
In our culture, the senior members of a family are typically the glue. We rally around them and, through them, we manage to keep in touch with each other. They cement our tribal identity. When they go, there is always a risk that the tribal bonds will loosen, that we’ll be less in touch. It is becoming increasingly clear that the emotional generosity of the prior generation will be hard, potentially impossible, to replace.
Judging from the social media posts, other families are sustaining the same losses as mine. I wonder if we’ll emerge from this pandemic a different community with our older generation reduced in number. I wonder if our connections to our past with be thus diminished.
When I call the Philippines to implore my older relatives to wait out the rest of the pandemic in the US, there is that inevitable pushback: they claim that the Philippines is safer than the US, the statistics are better, and testing is widely available. I doubt that.
After such a time of sadness, I almost forgot how fortunate we are to be living in the United States during the pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, only 25% of seniors in the Philippines have been fully vaccinated (2.1 million people). Considering the elderly are a priority group, this implies that the vaccination rate for the entire country is very low. I have heard it is something as low as 3%. Moreover, SinoVac vaccines are included in that number…and I have my doubts that SinoVac works. I wouldn’t believe the statistics out of the Philippines. Compare that with here where the unvaccinated are a function of personal choice and not a lack of availability. The US government (under this administration and the last) have done a great job of accelerating the development of a vaccine and distributing it so quickly (and being able to print the money to pay for that bill). Living in a country with a meaningful vaccination rate has clearly had its advantages. I am grateful for our medical system. I am grateful this country has the critical mass of knowledge and brainpower to have come up with a vaccine so quickly. At least our population can look across the Pacific and gain some perspective on how much worse the situation could be.