Northwest needs to add another category to its COVID-19 dashboard: Deaths of a student, faculty or staff from the virus. And in that new category stands a lone tally mark. Ronda Wiederholt, a Northwest campus dining employee for over three decades, has died from the coronavirus.
It’s easy for many of us during this pandemic to become callous. We place distance in between us and the overcrowded intensive care units and the decimated urban neighborhoods and the areas of the country where the cataclysmic effects of the pandemic can be felt in every aspect of the landscape.
A majority of us sat there and read and watched stories of doctors pleading for personal protective equipment, already poverty-stricken communities being plunged further into economic decay and refrigerated semi trucks filled to the brim with the bodies of those taken by this virus because there was no room left in the morgues.
These were the horrifying truths that struck at our core at the beginning of the pandemic, and then as a society, we started to move on. Sports began to be played again; stores and restaurants opened, and we, students, returned to class. All the while we began to fight rather than unify because of this virus.
It seems that everyone longs for the "unity" in the days after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. A time when the U.S. stood together with a common goal, but that was different. We could see terrorism; it was right there on the television screens, and we had an enemy to hunt, a visible one that could be tracked down even from the other side of the globe and brought to justice. While we should know now that those in power took advantage of our emotions and made foolhardy and dangerous decisions, we will still have the unity of Sept. 12.
But, the enemy that claimed the life of Wiederholt and millions of others is not like that. It’s invisible and imperceptible. Because of its relative infancy, we know so little about it compared to other illnesses and diseases that have plagued our species.
Sometimes, we think certain people have it when they don’t, and other times we expect people to be in perfect health, meanwhile, they are infecting countless others. It’s a silent killer that’s threatening us all, yet we stand divided.
Due to its microscopic nature and wide-ranging degree of effects depending on the individual that has the utter displeasure of playing host to this stain on humankind, people can’t agree on what to do. It’s not like cancer. Almost all are in agreement with the hating of hijacked cells creating masses that cause the deaths of everyone from smokers who have had three packs a day for five decades to a baby that has had no time to experience the world.
Whenever the word cancer is uttered, a chill is sent up everyone’s spine. It’s the last words a patient wants to hear and the last words a doctor wants to say.
Yet, COVID-19 has taken the lives of 2.2 million people since it emerged thousands of miles away, a little over a year ago, and some are still using their apparently useless frontal lobes to reason that this is merely the flu.
It has taken fathers away from sons, daughters away from mothers. It has gobbled up the lives of grandparents who will never once again hold their grandchildren in their arms and children who died frightened and alone in a hospital bed because those whom they loved couldn’t come to see them.
It’s easy to take these stories and rationalize them. People die every day, right? Our empathy is not as strong because we can’t see it, because for many of us we haven’t had someone we love die from COVID-19. Yet.
Wiederholt was loved, and her death will create a hole in the lives of those who loved her that can never be filled. No words printed in a newspaper, stories recounted at a funeral or condolences given can replace the emptiness felt by those who love and miss her.
She was a member of this community. She walked the same campus that we walk. She interacted with students and staff who may not yet even realize she’s gone. She was a person who undoubtedly had an impact, and she will be missed.
For many of us, the “first world problems” of the pandemic will still remain. We will still have to wear something on our face every time we are in a crowd. We will still have to limit the size of our social group. We will need to get a vaccine so we can “return to normal.” We will have to deal with limited capacity restaurants and maximum capacity Zoom calls.
To many on this campus, Wiederholt may morph into another statistic, another tally mark, but not for those who cared for her. Coworkers, friends, family and community members will remember her passing and will live on with a void in their lives.
The best we can do is try and meet them in those moments and show we care. A member of the Northwest family has died, and she deserves to be remembered not as one in 2 million-plus, but simply as one person whose loss cannot be quantified or simplified by some dashboard or map.
Ronda Wiederholt August 15, 1960 - January 24, 2021