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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz6R20pdAIQ
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