IN PHOTOS: What it’s like to grieve during a pandemic

Jan. 15, 2021 / By

A woman has her arm extended as she looks forward. To the left, another woman draws blood from her arm.

POMONA, CA— Jane Kiley, left, draws blood from her mother, Amelia Parungao, right. Kiley, a medical technician, was asked by Parungao’s doctor for a blood sample to test. Parungao has been experiencing low blood pressure levels and high blood sugar since her husband’s passing. All photos by Paula Kiley.


When Cal State Long Beach indefinitely moved classes to online instruction last March, I indefinitely moved back into my parents’ house. Which also meant that I had an indefinite amount of time to spend with my grandmother, who was grieving the loss of her husband, my grandfather, Baltazar Parungao.

The global pandemic made the ocean that separated my grandmother from her family and home in the Philippines feel wider and even more out of reach. Because of her old age and increased susceptibility to contracting the COVID-19 virus, she’s spent almost every day at home, forced to sit and stare into the spaces that my grandfather used to occupy. 

I spent the five weeks after my grandfather’s death documenting my grandmother’s life. We spent nearly every day together since stay-at-home orders had been put in place. She only asked for company and distraction, and those were my roles as I helped her with dinner, accompanied her for neighborhood walks, and slept with her when she avoided the room she once shared with my grandfather. Our days were quiet, interrupted only by the game shows she watched during breakfast and the Tagalog folk songs she listened to before bed. 

My grandmother’s plan, after COVID-19 restrictions ease, is to take my grandfather’s ashes home to the village they both grew up and raised their children in— Cabiao, Philippines. As of right now, his ashes are securely stored at the crematorium waiting to return home.

I would never go as far as to say that I knew I was helping my grandmother cope. I’m far too young to understand something as complex as my role in my grandmother’s grief, let alone how to soothe her. I’ve only observed loneliness— the way it lingers in empty rooms and settles like dust. These photos are simple and document mundane tasks, but that is my grandmother’s reality. It’s quiet. It’s solemn. And it’s done alone.


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