Elizabeth Warren Says Her Brother’s Coronavirus Death “Didn’t Have to Happen”

“I kept thinking about whether he was cold.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a primary night rally, at Eastern Market in Detroit, March 3, 2020. Patrick Semansky/AP

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There’s a particularly cruel aspect of the coronavirus pandemic. Patients have suffered, and often died, alone. Their families, meanwhile, have had to grieve in isolation. That reality was underscored by Sen, Elizabeth Warren, who discussed her older brother Donald Reed Herring’s death from COVID-19 with the Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere.

“It just feels like something that didn’t have to happen,” Warren says. She remembers losing her parents and a beloved aunt in a relatively short span of time years ago, but notes how different this loss feels—and how alone her brother must have been:

And so a little while later I called back, and then I got the news that he had been taken to an emergency room. In any other state of the world, I would have been there with him. We all would have been there with him. And instead he was by himself. I just kept imagining what’s happening to him. Is he afraid? Is he cold? I kept thinking about whether he was cold. There’s no one there to talk to him while he waits for the doctor. There’s no one there to be with him while he receives the news.

“And all I could do would be talk by phone with my brothers,” she adds. “It’s not the same. You need to touch people. We have to hug; we have to be with each other.”

The coronavirus has transformed the grieving process all over the world. Support systems and traditions that have long been the pillars of grief—funerals or memorial services, for example—have broken down in the age of social distancing. Sure, some people have tried. More than 200 people gathered at a funeral in Albany, Georgia, in February. That event was later identified by researchers as a “super spreading event.” By early April, more than 500 people in the county had tested positive for the coronavirus. In late April, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio broke up a large funeral gathering for a rabbi who had died of the disease.

Given the disastrous federal response to the outbreak, Warren—who’s in the running to become Joe Biden’s vice presidential nominee—is in a unique position. Her personal tragedy is one being shared by millions of potential voters, putting her in a position to maybe, possibly do something.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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