Detroit dispatch: ‘Mourning delayed’

July 1, 2020

From the July-August 2020 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—Despite Detroit Water Department claims that because of the pandemic they have restored all 1,100 water shutoffs in the city, advocacy groups and individuals have been witnessing continued water shutoffs to residents. When the Water Restart program began in March, they reported that some 5,000 applications had been received. What became of the other 3,900? The controversy continues.

One of the many Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Detroit, this one on June 29, 2020. Photo by Susan Van Gelder for News & Letters.

The police department, recovered from a substantial COVID-19 outbreak, has enforced social distancing on streets and in stores without incident. Residents who have been directly affected by this illness are not about to ignore non-compliance.

With the economy reopening, grocery stores require shoppers to wear masks and have marked their floors for social distancing. Keep Growing Detroit, a non-profit which facilitates family and community gardens in the city, used to hold pick-up events where urban gardeners would enjoy meeting and greeting each other as much as getting their plants and seeds—a rite of spring for us. This year’s curbside pick-up system just wasn’t the same, though necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. Gardening classes are now online video demonstrations. Good information but no fun: no hands in the soil.


The most difficult situations are hospitalizations and funerals. Hospitalization is a black box for family and friends; communication between the overworked staff and outside world is low priority for the hospital.

It is the lowest-paid caregivers and sanitation staff, unsung heroes who are closest to the patients, who give of their time to use their own personal phones and tablets to help patients contact their families.

At funerals the necessary distancing (no large gatherings, no hugs or touches for the bereaved, no repasts) is the most painful for all. To paraphrase Lorraine Hansberry, “mourning delayed is grieving denied.” Families have live-streamed and videoed funerals; a community group has created a memorial album on its Facebook page, but survivors miss and mourn the loss of their traditional rituals.

—Susan van Gelder

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