In March 2020, Bergamo’s main hospital in Italy’s Lombardy region became the European epicenter of a developing pandemic.
In some parts of Bergamo, COVID-19 claimed more lives in three weeks than in all of 2019. This high death toll has left many scars still visible to this day.
Matteo Cella has been a priest for 10 years in Nembro, one of the most affected municipalities in Bergamo. Between March and April 2020, almost 2% of the population died. Father Cella’s evening services now come back often to remember those infected with the virus.
He says that it is not just statistics, behind the numbers there are people, special people for the communities. Remember a 58-year-old midwife and an active volunteer in her parish. He recounts how well known she was and how eager she was to help mothers in need. He took care of his mother, who fell ill with COVID-19 and died. She herself died shortly after the same illness, a few weeks after becoming a grandmother.
At the beginning of 2020, the death rate in Bergamo increased by 400% compared to the previous year. The church bells stopped announcing the death of the parishioners; they had become a source of anxiety and fear.
The funeral homes were submerged. Local cemeteries had to stop their operations.
Father Cella remembers that moment with sadness:
“We came here in limited numbers; only close relatives. We celebrated only a short funeral rite, a blessing from the souls. Each rite lasted only a few minutes. It was a very intense moment. It was the only means, the only Language at our disposal to give back. a bit of humanity to the final stages of these abandoned lives. Many of the victims had died in total solitude, far from their loved ones. “
Sara and Diego know what it is like to lose loved ones in complete solitude. Diego is a metallurgist, he lost his mother and father in the space of 4 days. Around the same time, Sara, a security guard at Bergamo airport, lost her father.
Diego tries to hold back tears when he describes what happened to his father. He tells me that his father “gave his life for his children and yet my father died alone. My mother was the same, she also died alone. No one should be in such a situation.”
Sara’s story is similar. His father was 67 years old and in good health. He fell with a fever that he couldn’t shake. His doctors said it was a respiratory illness and they shouldn’t panic because if he didn’t have respiratory problems and he hadn’t been in contact with any Chinese then he would be fine, it was probably just the flu. When the fever didn’t stop, Sara’s mother took her father to the hospital and that was the last time a family member saw him.
Sara and Diego still met in mourning. Now they live together. They are members of “We will denounce“(We will denounce) an association that seeks answers and justice for what happened first in Bergamo and then at the national level.
Diego says he is angry that his parents left early. Being a member of “Noi Denunceremo” helps you fight for justice. They look for answers and try to understand if the rules were followed.
Captain Karim Rachedi works in a driving test center in Milan it can process up to 500 people a day. He is 29 years old and is an army doctor. He served in Afghanistan and Lebanon. At the beginning of the first wave, he was sent into the overwhelmed main hospital.
He agreed to accompany us to the place where so many tragedies unfolded before his eyes.
Remember one man in particular. I was in the hospital and couldn’t stop crying. He told Karim that his son had been hospitalized there for several days and that the man was very concerned. His son was young, in his forties. Karim checked the database and saw that her son was in intensive care. After a phone call to the service, she discovered that her son had died a few minutes earlier.
After experiencing war zones as an army medic, Karim says he had never been in this kind of position before. He had to tell the father that his son had just passed away.
Despite this, Karim also remembers moments that restored hope:
“My best memory is that of one of our patients. He had been hospitalized in critical condition. He finally recovered and was later discharged. He worked as a carpenter. Some time later he came back with several small carved wooden hearts, which said” Mola mai. “This is the Bergamo slang for the Italian expression” Non mollare mai “,” Never give up. “
Bergamo and its surroundings are still learning to live with the pandemic.
Father Matteo has created support groups for adolescents, whose lives have been severely affected by the pandemic.
In addition to the pain and suffering, he believes that the tragedy has brought a new sense of belonging and solidarity. He told me that many people in the area have used the pandemic to find ways to be of service to the community. They have used the time to reflect on personal growth and be more responsible. Not everyone has been able to do it, but there are “positive examples of people who have not allowed themselves to be overcome by fear and resignation.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism