Death Becomes Us

We learned last week that Merrick Garland’s Justice Department is dropping its nursing home probes in New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Then we received word that the star of pandemic media, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, will never face questions about his policies that were directly responsible for the COVID-related deaths of thousands of New York’s most vulnerable residents in the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

And with that news, the loss of grandparents, parents, and the disabled over the past 18 months unfortunately will fade into a corner of our memories. The needless suffering and deaths of these people will remain unaddressed, uninvestigated, and most importantly, unavenged. Why are we as silent as their graves?

Once the virus arrived in the United States, the media became obsessed with the daily body count. Warning signs were ignored instead of being met with outrage. New York state, for example, reclassified its ombudsman program─federally mandated volunteer patient-advocates in long-term care facilities─as unnecessary workers, then banned family and friends from keeping watch over their loved ones. This was a failure of American conscience and a sin.

The growing prevalence of the Delta variant strain of COVID-19 has led the current administration to threaten to reimpose the failed policies of the last shutdown. What is desperately needed now is the ability to discriminate between policies based on caring and the vainglorious policies of 2020 that masked mass senicide.

Death Becomes Her,” a classic black comedy from 1992, is one of the best parodies of youth and beauty culture. In the film a demon grants youth and immortality to frenemies Helen and Madeline in exchange for the deaths of their bodies. They compete for the services of their former love-interest Dr. Ernest Menville—an alcoholic, disgraced plastic surgeon, now embalmer to the stars—to repair their deteriorating bodies. 

While the film criticizes the conceit and self-absorption of women and their relationships with men, the movie ends with Dr. Menville escaping their clutches to live a long, happy life and experience a peaceful, natural death. We are left with the animated heads of Madeline and Helen screaming at each other to “get the car,” after their last failed attempt at one-upmanship leaves them hopelessly trying to repair what is left of their rotting immortal corpses. 

In 2021, the movie is still relevant as commentary on beauty and youth culture, the value of aging, and, yes, dying surrounded by loving family and friends. During COVID, it seems our capacity to understand this last thing, especially, has been lost. CDC statistics report nearly a third of COVID-19 deaths were among nursing home residents and employees. These poor people died isolated from family and friends in their final days. While there was some initial outrage, it is clear it has gone nowhere. The media has squelched the story and the Justice Department has now told us there is nothing to see here, so move on. Our heads are rolling on the ground, like Madeline’s and Helen’s, and we remain oblivious to the implications. 

It isn’t merely that our culture is obsessed with physical beauty. Cheap virtue-signaling in all its arrogance and disdain for others has replaced bonafide righteous indignation over what is clearly an injustice. 

The CDC reports that over 180,000 U.S. COVID deaths occurred in nursing homes. These deaths are inextricably linked to state-mandated admission of COVID-19 positive patients to vulnerable nursing home populations. Surely this merits investigation and possible prosecution.

But where is the outcry over governmental refusal to do so? 

Before we mask ourselves again, we should consider whether we do so only to appear outwardly respectful and caring. Are we shielding our faces from the virus or are we suffocating ourselves in complacency? Are we unwilling to speak up for fear of being canceled while Biden, Fauci, Pelosi, Cuomo, Whitmer, and the rest continue to pontificate about what moral citizens ought to do with respect to this ongoing crisis? 

It is ironic that in 2020, Joe Biden, who at 78, is the oldest person inaugurated president, failed to direct his Justice Department to examine the deaths of his elderly peers. The sycophantic press, feigning personal interest in the old man’s choice of ice cream flavor, said almost nothing in 2020 as so many of our elderly suffocated in their beds, sick and alone. Biden, like many of those on the Left, rails against racism and champions the politically correct oppressed. But the truly oppressive nursing home mandates will not even garner an apology to the families who lost loved ones.

Cuomo shines his Emmy and enjoys the rewards of being touted as a hero of the pandemic. But don’t forget the New York Post’s report that Cuomo’s mandate sent extra body bags along with the COVID-19 patients back to nursing homes. The failure to hold him and other leaders accountable will succeed because, culturally, it’s not important enough to us anymore to demand it. Death becomes us.

We ignore the nursing home scandal at our peril. If the lives of the elderly and disabled are not valued, what is stopping the administration from lowering the bar even more?

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About Elizabeth Fortunato

Elizabeth Fortunato is a wife and mother from New York. She has a background in liberal arts and philosophy.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images