The Personal and the Poignant in a Time of Pandemic

The Personal and the Poignant in a Time of Pandemic

A friend’s ex-husband, ill with COVID-19, spent 10 days in a medically induced coma, on a ventilator in the hospital. He’s home and fine now, with no memory whatsoever of those 10 days of unconsciousness. My friend and their two children spent those 10 days in deep worry and anticipatory grief, now relieved and grateful.

Two very completely different experiences of the same event.

It’s like that everywhere now with COVID-19. I’m grateful to be able to work from home and meet with clients via Zoom; my nephew’s partner is grateful to be working, and he’s risking his life every day as a respiratory therapist in the V.A. hospital; my neighbor’s daughter is grateful to be working, risking her life every day working as a cashier in our local supermarket so that people in the community can still buy their food in person.

I am still able to walk the trails in the open space district near my home. My friend Natalie faces a $400 fine if she walks the public trails near her home in Los Angeles. My friend Mia in Maine just shoveled her way out of 15 inches of snow during a 2-day power outage. My friend Patricia knows of relatives in India walking hundreds of miles to return to their local provinces after businesses closed and work disappeared in the big cities.

Some parents of college-age kids are happy to have their kids home safe and sound, transitioning well enough to online learning. Some parents of much younger children are pulling their hair out trying to work from home while doubling as adjunct teachers to online pre-school and kindergarten classrooms and activities.

Questions with no answers are being evoked by COVID-19 at every level. Including the biggest questions about social and economic inequality so that the virus is impacting communities radically differently. (Sheltering in a villa in Spain with pool and garden is radically different from socially distancing in a New York City high-rise apartment complex is radically different from 7,000 refugees housed off the coast of Greece in a camp built for 700.)

A vast range of responses to the massive shifts and stressors from the pandemic. And a vast difference in approaches to the realities of death and dying, too. Deep grief over losing a loved one compounded by not being able to hold their parent’s or their sibling’s hand as they die, not being able to travel to a memorial service. Some people are holding memorial services by Zoom. Some families are choosing to have an elderly parent die at home so the family can be present.

And there is such poignancy at the personal level even when trying to grasp the big picture. Every single human life is precious (all life is precious). And every single human death is a profound loss and deep heartache for family and friends. In the United States, we’ve experienced 24,582 deaths from COVID-19 to date in 2020. Every single life precious and a loss. In the United States we’ve experienced 446,652 deaths to date from all causes in 2020. Every single life precious and a loss. [Data from U.S. Center for Disease Control website, April 15, 2020.]

“Death is never not here” is the sentiment from a brief poem on death I heard years ago in a workshop. And how we relate to death, in general, in specific, ours, a loved one’s, a stranger’s, a statistic’s, can really be challenged in these times of escalated fear and uncertainty.

Two resources to grapple with the poignancy of our personal dilemmas in these times of pandemic pain and sorrow.

The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us about Living Fully. A deeply warm and wise exploration of life’s deepest lessons by a deeply warm and wise co-founder of Zen Hospice Project, Frank Ostaseski.

“Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most.

Life and death are a package deal. They cannot be pulled apart, and we cannot truly live unless we are aware of death. Maintaining an ever-present consciousness of death can bring us closer to our truest selves.”

The Coronation by Charles Eisenstein, a long, provocative, fascinating essay exploring the larger questions raised by an event as impactful as the coronavirus pandemic.

“Covid-19 is showing us that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible. None of the world’s problems are technically difficult to solve; they originate in human disagreement. A few months ago, a proposal to halt commercial air travel would have seemed preposterous. Likewise for the radical changes we are making in our social behavior, economy, and the role of government in our lives. Covid demonstrates the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important. What else might we achieve, in coherency? What do we want to achieve, and what world shall we create? That is always the next question when anyone awakens to their power.

Covid-19 is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. When the crisis subsides, we might have occasion to ask whether we want to return to normal, or whether there might be something we’ve seen during this break in the routines that we want to bring into the future.”

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