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Grief for a world killed by COVID

If nothing else, sheltering in place gives me a lot of time to think. As I maneuver through these unprecedented times, I have been filled with an abundance of contradictory information about our new invisible enemy.

• I have been told to fear the enemy, and to fight by running away from it.

• I have been told to hunker down with loved ones, but to keep a distance from them.

• I have been told that “We are all in this together” and have seen that some are only in this for themselves.

• I have been told to follow the edicts of elected leaders that do not know how to lead, much less where to lead us to.

Out of all the confusion, one thing has become clear to me. The world that I once knew is dead. It was killed not by the virus, but by our fear of the virus. I do not minimize that the virus was the primary cause of death of almost 100,000 people in the United States to date. But it comes to mind that death has always been around, and no other causes of death have been so effective in changing the world we live in as much as COVID (I refuse to capitalize it) has. Neither wars, nor famines, nor (past) pestilence have affected our entire planet as much. I, for one, am grieving the death of the way things were.

I come to this conclusion after considerable self-reflection. One of my friends in a weekly Zoom meeting recommended a new book chosen by her virtual book review club, “Finding Meaning, the Sixth Stage of Grief”, by David Kessler, who co-authored the 2005 “On Grief and Grieving” with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Dr. Kessler is acknowledged as the world’s foremost authority on grief. His current book expands on Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) with a healing sixth stage of finding meaning from the loss of a loved one. I was not immediately motivated to read the book, but I was interested enough to research the author. I found a video interview featuring him that suggested many people may be grieving about the loss of the world that they knew prior to COVID, and that their grief is no different than the grief experienced after the loss of a loved one.

After watching the interview, I realized that I was one of those people grieving. I had read Kubler-Ross’ “Death and Dying” years ago, but had not gotten the insight that grief can be felt as much for the loss of a state of being as it can be for the loss of life. I reflected on how many times since the onset of the pandemic I wafted in and out of the five stages of grief, and how I still do. Grief has no timetable, and no order, and some people grieve until they themselves die. I grieve for the loss of a world that was my friend. I had spent a lifetime with this world, getting to know its intricate personality, peoples, and nature. I liked my friend, the world. Since retiring 6 years ago, I was enjoying it rather than working to survive in it. I loved the travel, the restaurants, the places, the grandchildren, new and old friends at home and abroad. Life was full and the world was good, until COVID put a halt to both. Travel plans were canceled, my daughter from New York flew home just before their lockdowns were put in place. No hugs at the airport or home, 2 weeks of the new normal of precautions against contagion. She is going into her third month away from the city that was home for her for the last 10 years. The coveted “all clear” keeps getting pushed back. She wonders if life will ever be normal again. Perhaps in her lifetime, but probably not in mine.

So, I grieve the loss. The loss of handshakes, hugs and kisses, rough housing with the grandkids. Potlucks, picnics, cocktail parties, buffets, airplanes, airports, buses, cruise ships, sporting events, graduations, weddings, baby luaus, funerals, livelihoods, the economy. Dead. Killed by COVID.

My Zoom friends tell me to focus on being grateful, rather than denying or being angry over my loss. While I appreciate their concern and love for me, I’m not there yet. I dared to love deeply, and therefore I grieve deeply. And I must fully feel all the stages of grief if I am ever to love again. Perhaps one day, I will find meaning in the loss. But for today, I grieve.


Nolan Ahn is a Lihue resident

  1. Christine Tanner May 29, 2020 7:04 am Reply

    You are not alone, I too grieve for our, admittedly imperfect,
    old way of life. I feel that things will never be the same, and soon we will be fondly recalling ‘the olden days’ before Covid

    1. Everythingisawesome May 29, 2020 5:58 pm Reply

      I’ll add one more thing. I’m adding this because it’s relevant to whether we are responding rationally or not. 60 percent of the deaths attributed to covid-19 are within about 150 miles of New York City. Covid deaths in the US would be at least 40percent lower if the Governor of NY hadn’t demanded that sick elderly people be sent back to nursing homes to mix otherwise healthy elderly people. A situation made worse by an incompetent arrogant governor, in an area probably geographically smaller than the state of Hawaii, is responsible for everything the author is grieving. The risk to healthy individuals under the age of 65 is almost zero. Does the response still seem rational? Not to me.

  2. Everythingisawesome May 29, 2020 8:47 am Reply

    “…so effective in changing the world we live in as much as COVID (I refuse to capitalize it) has. Neither wars, nor famines, nor (past) pestilence have affected our entire planet as much.”

    Wow. If you hadn’t mentioned you had an adult daughter, grandchildren and being retired I would have guessed you for a millenial.

    Ever hear of any of these?
    The Armenian Genocide – estimated 1.5million Armenians murdered
    The Holocaust – 6 million Jewish civilians murdered by Nazis
    The Civil War – minimum 200 thousand Americans killed in action
    The Black Plague – estimated between 75 million and 200 million people died
    The Communist Revolution in China – 1.5million people murdered
    Famine in China under Mao – between 20 and 46 million people starved over 4 years
    The Communist Revolution in Russia – 20 million dissenting citizens killed by Stalin
    9/11/2001 – 2977 killed and over 25000 injured, changed travel for our lifetimes
    December 7th, 1941 – WWII in the Pacific theater, internment camps…

    I’m sure you’ve heard of these. Hardly an exhaustive list. We could add 100s more.

    A ‘new’ virus, part of nature, that our health system has failed to shield our elderly and immunocompromised from, that has a casualty rate similar to pneumonia, pales in comparison.

    The ‘new normal’ that the vocal minority advocate for, demand that we implement, that you are grieving, is a self inflicted wound. The virus itself doesn’t justify a ‘new normal’. It’s hard on the elderly and those in poor health. Most that get it don’t even have symptoms. The vast majority of us don’t need to change the way we travel, or shop, or socialize. Communicable diseases aren’t new. What’s ‘new’ is that we have local elected leaders that are ill equipped to respond intelligently and logically to anything that rises above ‘business as usual’. How many special rules do we have now? 10? 11? And the only visible evidence of a virus on the island is everyone is wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart.

    We should be grieving the loss of sanity and demanding a return to pre-virus normalcy. Anything less is defeatist, unwarranted, irrational and not ‘normal’.

    1. Connor May 29, 2020 3:28 pm Reply

      Thanks for some sanity in these insane times.

    2. Pete Antonson May 30, 2020 2:08 pm Reply

      What the trump cult toadies always miss with their stupid comparisons to other diseases, is the exponentially more infectious nature of this virus and the long or indefinite periods people are contagious but without symptoms. There is no valid comparison!

      1. Everythingisawesome June 1, 2020 9:00 am Reply

        Unfortunately, my link to the CDC showing deaths for pneumonia this year between february and the end of may hasn’t shown up here. Don’t know why that would be moderated. It clearly shows there were 97,880 deaths due to pneumonia in the same time frame that there were 84,735. Trump has nothing to do with the data. In fact, I think all along I’ve said that I disagree with the President’s declaring of this as a national emergency. If anything, your position that this is a deadly and highly contagious virus supports the President.

        BTW, some more math, exponentially means ‘to the power of’. Squared. Cubed. The worst that this was initially characterized as in regards to transmissibility was ‘a multiple of’, i.e. twice, three times. We now know it has a transmissibility similar to influenza.

        1. Pete Antonson June 1, 2020 2:49 pm Reply

          The inaccurate cry in the wilderness that Covid-19 is no big deal and the inaccurate comparisons to other diseases is all designed to support the “Do nothing” lack of leadership by trump early this year and the premature openings nationwide. It is the action taken by FOX and Friends and similar trump cult toadies.

    3. RevW May 30, 2020 6:02 pm Reply

      Good list of mostly ‘recent’ events that changed life on Earth, without going into other events throughout history that caused cataclysmic change. You initially thought ‘millenial’ ; I’m 70; I assumed someone from my own age group or older. Aging tends to make us regard change of any sort as alarming. It makes us feel threatened because it’s not what we’re used to, we can’t predict that the outcome won’t hurt us, and … we overreact emotionally.

      COVID-19 is, if nothing else, a major, drastic wake-up call for our species. Unless it mutates and wipes us out entirely, it is forcing us to look at the flaws in ‘the world as we know it’ that we, humans, are responsible for. We have a chance to FIX what’s wrong now that we’ve obligated to look at it. If we can repair our occupancy of the earth by *modifying*, not “killing”, the ‘old normal’ – make things better – it is call for cautious gratitude, not grief, regardless of how painful that process is while happening.

  3. Paulo May 29, 2020 8:59 am Reply

    Thank you Nolan Ahn . I will be reading these books

  4. Dennis May 29, 2020 10:02 am Reply

    Thank you for that, Nolan; you echo many of my feelings.

  5. LTEreader May 29, 2020 10:11 am Reply

    RE: Everythingisawesome > “that has a casualty rate similar to pneumonia”

    There’s approximately 60,000 deaths from pneumonia annually in the U.S.
    A period of 365 days = an average of 164 deaths per day.
    The first U.S. death from COVID-19 was on 2/29/20.
    Death toll as of this morning 104,037 in 91 days = an average of 1,143 deaths per day. Yesterday in the U.S. there was 1,223 deaths, and nearly 5,000 worldwide.
    Do you still think it’s “similar to pneumonia”? Seriously?

    “And the only visible evidence of a virus on the island is everyone is wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart.”
    Now why do you think that is? Maybe because our Mayor jumped into action early? Our Governor implemented a 14 day quarantine for visitors, and residents returning home? People like you upset people like me because you’re too short sighted to see that these actions ARE what kept COVID-19 from getting out of control in Hawai’i, for now. I’m really glad we don’t have people like you, in total denial, running the State.
    And, you have it backwards > we should be grateful for the sanity that prevailed, grateful we didn’t have more deaths so far, grateful we didn’t overwhelm our medical system, and grieve for those that died from this contagious virus. THAT’S a “normal” response.
    Please trade in those blinders for a mask, and wear it.

    1. truth be known May 29, 2020 2:42 pm Reply

      LTEreader, there is a difference between “casualty rate” and “number of deaths”. Casualty rate is the percentage of people who ultimately die from the disease which is in fact the case here when comparing CV-19 to pneumonia. Also, everythingisawesome wasn’t criticizing our mayor’s initial response but rather his more recent decisions to prolong the wearing of masks and social distancing when there is no evidence of CV-19 on the island. Keep wearing your mask if you wish. Just be aware that re-breathing carbon dioxide, accumulated virus and bacteria stresses your immune system which you may need later. Be sure to sign up for the unproven, untested, loaded with adjuvants like mercury, aluminum and modified virus vaccines approved by Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates. Take the “red pill” LTEreader and come to your senses before it’s too late.

    2. Everythingisawesome May 29, 2020 6:29 pm Reply

      But, that was also a nice distraction from my main point. Do YOU think covid-19 should be more disruptive than those other events? I don’t.

      1. truth be known June 1, 2020 12:31 pm Reply

        Absolutely not! But unfortunately this is has become a political football.

    3. Pete Antonson June 2, 2020 2:35 pm Reply

      This is the same person using different names and now he’s talking to himself!

  6. kauaiboy May 29, 2020 10:31 am Reply

    I am older, and have had heart issues.

    I am ready for the quarantine to be lifted if we can (mostly) make an infestation minimal by some sort of valid testing procedure.

    My family needs to survive economically. I am willing to be somewhat careful to avoid Covid.

    If I die, i will eventually see you all on the “other side”. So be it. Let’s get on with life.

  7. truth be known May 29, 2020 1:48 pm Reply

    To everything is awesome-you are spot on! This is not a time to be grieving the loss of normalcy. This is a time to be restoring it. ZERO cases on this island for going on 7 weeks. Why are we still wearing masks and social distancing when there is no evidence of CV-19 on our island? Fear of the unknown is a byproduct of ignorance or misguidance, both of which are abundant on this island. We have to choose whether we will live in fear and subservience or exercise our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  8. jack custer May 29, 2020 3:33 pm Reply

    All the things listed by another commenter that have killed so many people in the past, like the plague, shows that humans have always bounced back from tragedy, re-creating life to an even better and wiser existence. What you miss is the result of the re-growth that has taken place during your life. With the advance of Covid-19, we have had to get used to not doing so many of the things that we love. But, it is all just temporary and we will be able to enjoy life again as time passes.
    We will all come out from under the cloud of death that the Corona-Virus has cast upon mankind. Just as the sun goes down every evening and the darkness chases away the light. The earth cools and sleeps, only to see the sun return each morning to spread its light and heat.
    Things will eventually return to what we knew before as “normal”. We will be stronger and better equipped to deal with disease and death. Hopefully, that can happen within your lifetime. And mine.
    You must grieve, but then you must also recover and go on. That’s what gives all the pain and suffering meaning. If grief turns into depression, it’s not healthy.

  9. Citizen Cane May 29, 2020 5:31 pm Reply

    Mr Ahn, here’s an antidote for your grief. Focus not on one’s own losses, but on those who need a meal, or can’t feed their kids–who had nothing and now have even less, who’ve lost a parent, whose lives may never recover from this. They’re not missing the travel you enjoyed, they never could do much more than tread water. Know the feeling? It may have been a while. We should all save the eloquent expressions of grief for our memoirs. We need to employ our energies in working on a restart, preventing a recurrence, and learning from all the errors.

  10. Debra Kekaualua May 29, 2020 5:36 pm Reply

    mAhalo Nolan, A lot of us are feeling similarly devastated and mourning much more, like that Line drawn in the CocoPalms sand, times when ledward and nedward would entertain at ur pualoke hale, back in the day. Miracles and blessings, thoughts of getting your hopes up. We are still supposed to be stoking some deep changes, but the truth maybe to disturbing to contemplate. Stay the course in peace and love! The Spirit of CAN(dot). If can, can! If no can, a’ole pilikia.

  11. JoAnn Yukimura May 29, 2020 9:40 pm Reply

    Beautifully said, Nolan. Thanks.

  12. Michael Mann May 30, 2020 12:19 am Reply

    Shouldn’t that read “my family needs to survive economically, even if it might kill us literally?” Because that IS the choice if this is not done correctly. While YOU may be willing to be “somewhat careful” (??????) to avoid COVID, others have clearly demonstrated that they simply DO NOT CARE whatsoever, or are even militantly AGAINST doing anything that reeks of “protection.” If it were just a matter of one’s own actions whether or not they contracted the virus, I’d be perfectly OK with such behavior and what you are saying, but that ISN’T the case. It only takes ONE infected person, under the right conditions which aren’t difficult to achieve, to cause an outbreak on the island. Look at how the flu blows through the island every year. That’s exactly because people AREN’T careful. COVID is 2 to 120 times deadlier than seasonal flu, depending upon what numbers you look at. We might as well ask North Korea to test their nuclear missiles by using us as a target.

    1. Michael Mann May 30, 2020 12:21 am Reply

      That should have read “20 to 120 times deadlier,” not “2.”

    2. Everythingisawesome June 1, 2020 9:16 am Reply

      “Look at how the flu blows through the island every year”
      And yet, Covid was here and it didn’t (blow through), even before curfews, lockdowns, masks, no golfing, 14 day quarantines, travel bans, magical 6 feet apart spacing, etc. That should tell you all you need to know. It’s not even as infectious as the flu. At least an unwillingness to look at this objectively doesn’t disqualify you from running for Mayor.

  13. Pete Antonson May 30, 2020 2:03 pm Reply

    What about the others you infect during the six days (or indefinite # of days) you have no symptoms of a virus that is exponentially more infectious than anything we’ve seen before. Thanks for making decisions about all those lives with your little pity party!

  14. andy johnston May 30, 2020 10:51 pm Reply

    I grieve for the several hundred thousand PEOPLE who have died, and for all of their families, friends, and loved ones. The loss of the way of life we used to know? Yea, that’s too bad, but it’s nothing compared to the suffering of all of those whose lives have actually been ended by this virus.

  15. Kauaidoug June 8, 2020 11:33 am Reply

    Nolan Ahn.
    What world is it that is dead? I would only argue it is in hibernation. The world was much closer to dead when Krakatoa exploded, or the atom bombs of October were real as the world held it’s breath. I’m not even going to mention the Black death, Spanish influenza, measles or Polio.
    What is different about Covid19 is the fact someone infected can get on a plane in China and be half way around the world in hours. Mankind has expanded into formerly wild areas uncovering all kinds of virus that in a world without technology we would never be exposed to.
    Once technology cures Covid19 I’m afraid we will go right back to our old ways of systemic pollution, climate change, societal ills and WAR.
    We should grieve for those who have been lost recently because they went way too soon. But as it says in the good book or whatever book you take solace in

    “This too shall pass”

    But what are going to do after?

  16. Kauaidoug June 8, 2020 11:36 am Reply

    What are we going to do after Covid19?

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