An emigrant’s pandemic: I returned to Brazil knowing I would never see my mother alive again

The pandemic knocked us for six. The distance is both geographical and emotional

Ciaran Leonard

Ciaran Leonard

 

I’ve been living and working in Goiânia, central Brazil for eight years now, having previously lived here for seven years in the 1990s. Covid-19 hit Brazil very hard.

Like most countries it was not prepared for an event such as this. Public healthcare is precarious in many states and this was compounded by a government which never took the pandemic seriously. Social distancing was rarely observed and attempts at lockdown were half-hearted to say the least.

My wife was considered as a high-risk case having recently survived sepsis and has a much-reduced immune system, so there was a lot of fear around contracting the illness.

But nothing prepared me for the news from home in Dublin last August that my mother had about three months to live as a result of a cancer diagnosis. I was advised not to try travel to Ireland for all the reasons we knew but I decided that I had to go and say goodbye to my mother.

I managed to spend 10 days with my parents. My mother was calm and strong about her diagnosis – “I’m just going on a long journey,” she said. Dad didn’t really recognise me as he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

On the day of the funeral a power outage threatened even this small courtesy of watching my father’s farewell from thousands of miles away

I returned to Brazil having said goodbye to my mother, knowing I would never see her alive again. She saw me off at the door of the house. She passed away six days later.

Watching her funeral on TV, attended by only immediate family, was heartbreaking. I never wanted so much to be somewhere else.

Dad went into a home shortly after and passed away three months later. Again, the pandemic ensured I could not attend his funeral either. On the day of the funeral a power outage threatened even this small courtesy of watching my father’s farewell from thousands of miles away.

Eventually I got a connection on my mobile phone – but there is something particularly ignominious about saying goodbye to a man I knew and loved for over a half-century by phone.

The pandemic was a leveller, it knocked us for six – constant concern for those here and so far away – wondering how they were, how they were coping. Computers and the internet have brought people closer, but there is nothing to compare to human contact. The pandemic has robbed us of this, robbed the lives of almost 600,000 people here in Brazil. The distance is both geographical and emotional.