I’ve been wondering about the parallels between grieving the loss of someone you love and our collective experience over the last year plus. Many have experienced death intimately, viscerally. We’ve all experienced the death of our realities pre-COVID-19. Following a death—at least an uncomplicated one—rituals sustain us. (The loss of those during the pandemic has been one of the most devastating parts.) People circle around, bring food, have services. For someone living in relationships and community, friends sit across the table over tea and remember important firsts without the one you loved—birthday, wedding anniversary, holidays. After the first year, things are supposed to “get back to normal.” Sound familiar?
We’ve now passed the anniversary of COVID-19 pounding into our lives. For our family, March 20, 2020 when my daughters’ schools extended spring break by a week. Then two. They went virtual as the reality of the virus and its unpredictable dangers came into clearer focus. My husband set up office (and school) in my home work studio and I shifted to the dining room table. Slowly, we realized along with the rest of the U.S. and the world that “normal” life wasn’t returning any time soon. Do you remember the moment that sank in for you?
We’ve also passed the anniversary of George Floyd’s violent death—that climax of killing upon killing of Black bodies that erupted a racial reckoning in our streets. Many of us White folks finally turned our gaze squarely at systemic racism even as the complexity of simultaneously supporting physical, emotional, financial, and mental health in our communities spun us like tops. We stared hard and came away rightly bewildered and terrified, hopefully ready to act. Small business owners and students with neurodiversity or who lived in poverty slipped behind. And their families suffered alongside them. Food, electricity, rent, learning: all out of reach. So many large and smaller deaths.
The second year of grieving a loved one is often subtly harder than the first. There is no back-to-normal when someone you love is gone. And so the slow process of creating a new normal begins. We cross the line separating goodbyes from tentative hellos. As someone who moved every few years growing up, I can attest that goodbyes are hard but hellos are, too. That first day in a new school cafeteria wondering where to sit, how to become invisible. Not knowing who you are or who you are supposed to become in this new place. My stomach knots just thinking about it.
That’s where we are now. In year two. It’s supposed to be easier, but it remains a time of rawness, vulnerability, confusion, fear. Still a precarious reckoning. We need ritual to sustain us. We need each other.
I wonder if you learned some things during year one that you can hang on to for year two? I gave myself more space and pauses, less perfectionism, over the last year. I offered that to my children and strangers, too. We were all doing this very hard thing called life, after all. I’d like to keep that one as I navigate year two. I came to pandemic life as well as racism with a beginners mind and learned new stances in the world. May I begin again and again and again. What about you?
Let’s not forget rebuilding is Act II of grieving. Please be gentle with yourself, love, your community, and the world.