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Happy Mother’s Day, Grandma. We’re with you

You’re our original first responder, and your safety means more to us than you can imagine.

Danny Cho and his grandmother, Sue Noh, watch the Chicago Memorial Day Parade in 2018.
Danny Cho and his grandmother, Sue Noh, watch the Chicago Memorial Day Parade in 2018.
Sun-Times file photo

Hey, Grandma, happy Mother’s Day. May you have many more.

We’re going to keep you safe from this virus. We’re going to prize you now the way you have prized us all our lives.

We know COVID-19 kills older people the most. We’ve seen how it sweeps through retirement communities and nursing homes, taking your friends and leaving you worried.

But we’re with you, Grandma. We don’t intend to leave you behind. You were our original first responder, raising up our moms and dads and sometimes us and keeping us safe, and we’re going to be your first responders now.

We hear people say that this coronavirus is not so scary because most people survive COVID-19. Middle-age people, if they’re otherwise healthy, usually bounce back. Young people might not even know they caught the bug. The disease, some people say, mostly kills older people who are on death’s door anyway. If COVID-19 doesn’t get them, something else will.

No worries, Grandma. We’re not buying it.

It’s true COVID-19 is especially dangerous for older people. Eight out of 10 people killed by the disease in the United States are 65 or older. It’s not true that most of those people are so gravely ill — from diabetes or heart disease or whatever — they’re going to die soon anyway.

They could have years ahead of them, maybe even decades.

The New York Times figured this out last month, Grandma. They counted the number of people who had died in New York City from March 11 through April 25 of this year and compared that to the normal number of people who die at that time of the year. If most of the people who died from COVID-19 were going to die anyway, then there should have been no dramatic increase in the total number of deaths.

But in fact, the Times found, six times as many people died. People died who didn’t have to die.

What is it about growing older, Grandma, that makes some people look at you and think your life doesn’t much matter anymore, as if human beings have a shelf life like a bottle of milk and it’s time to turn over the stock?

We know there are times when hard decisions have to be made. Saving one life can mean letting another one go, and age can be part of the thinking.

If two desperately ill people in a hospital need a liver transplant but there’s only one donor liver, the hospital’s going to give it to the young woman who has a couple of kids to raise, not to the old woman in the next room who remembers listening to The Platters sing on the radio.

But to accept that one person might die so that another might live is one thing. To shrug away the lives of tens of thousands of people just because the rest of us want to get back to “normal” is something else. Since when has compassion been in such short supply?

You’ve been around, Grandma, and you know the answer to that — since always.

The funny thing is, we all want to get our lives back to normal. We all worry about our jobs, if we’re lucky to still have one, and we miss our friends and a good night out. We miss you, Grandma.

Zoom doesn’t give hugs.

It’s just that we think the country should reopen in a way that looks out for everybody. We think it should be done rationally and cautiously, not recklessly, trusting in science and medical experts. We’re prepared to stay home as long as we can manage, which we see from the polls is how the great majority of Americans are thinking.

Throwing open the country right away, like the president wants to do, won’t work anyway. The coronavirus will jump back on the fast track. Even more people will get sick and die, and nobody should kid themselves — the economy won’t bounce right back.

Most Americans aren’t stupid. We may have to go back to our places of work before it’s safe, exposing ourselves to infection, or risk losing our jobs. But we’re not going to restaurants or concerts or malls or baseball games again until the science says we safely can, no matter what the carnival barker in the White House says.

We saw another ambulance pull up in front of another old folks home the other day, Grandma. We see so many now.

We wondered about the old woman the paramedics carried away. We wondered whether she grew up on Elvis or opera, whether she had children, whether she worked at a diner all her life or got a Ph.D. and taught at a university.

We wondered whether her life was as easy and hard — and happy and sad — as yours.

Nobody can put a price on that.

Happy Mother’s Day, Grandma.

May you have many more.

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