Opinion: Stages of coronavirus grief

Stay safe, be smart, have fun and wash your damn hands.

Madeline Davidson/THE

The only chance we have right now is to band together as a collective human race and fight this thing, Kevin Travers says.


Based on recent events, I am depressed. I know many of you are depressed too.

Before the big coughing fit claimed the world as we know it, things were going well. I was finally working out, eating well, falling asleep on time, making all of my appointments and keeping up my social commitments. After what felt like years, I was “happy.”™

Then in one week, everything shut down. I went from a second-semester senior in college to an unemployed alcoholic, stuck inside with nothing to do. Classes were postponed, choir was canceled, the gym closed, the newspaper presses stopped and even the walk at graduation — the pomp and circumstance I had been working for — was taken away.

Like millions around the world, my life went on hold and purgatory began in March, due to coronavirus. Every single healthy routine I had fought to maintain was taken from me, leaving boredom, confusion and fear in its place.

I am barely warranted in my complaints. As the virus spreads, it has become clear that boredom is a gift for the privileged. With housing and food security in these socially distanced times, I am lucky to be able to sit and do nothing. Billions in the world will scramble and suffer without first-world comforts, and we need to be grateful.

No matter the circumstance, we are all facing the same beast and burdened by the same undeniable grief.

At least, for now, we grieve the loss of our lives as we knew them. All of our hopes and dreams, our plans put into a pause by an uncontrollable force of nature. Uncertainty is the new name of the game, and we look toward an increasingly distant return to normal, as the curve of infections only grows higher.

What an exhausting blizzard of events. Don’t you want to shut out the noise and just hide from it all?

According to the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, what we feel now is right on the money. We are going through stage one: denial and isolation.

Right now, entire nations are closed, and billions have been told to stay home to stop the spread. Meanwhile, politicians, society leaders and members of the press argue over who is misleading the public more. Disinformation and fear are rampant. We are shocked that the world can be turned upside down so quickly.

In psychologist Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book “On Death and Dying,” where the stages of grief were first outlined, she writes that denial is a common defense mechanism. After a sudden loss, we use this mechanism to shelter ourselves from the shock and pain. Sometimes this denial comes in the form of emotional repression or redirection. Sometimes we block out our emotions and believe life is meaningless. Sometimes we project our fear outwardly and hide from the facts.

What grim facts there are. Navy medical ships have been stationed in New York City, makeshift hospitals set up in Central Park, tens of thousands dead and the infected rate climbing all the time. Now after New York City has seen a peak of deaths, the country argues over letting the door open again, as if the worst is over. In reality, the spread is likely to sweep like a biohazard tide across the nation.

On top of that, the stock market is crashing into what could be a Great Depression-level event, as four years of late-stage capitalist Trumpenomics shatters to nothing. April 1 came and went, with millions possibly unable to make rent after being put out of work or sent home. In the face of this, all we can do is sit at home like caged animals.

Though the stages of grief do not progress in any specific order, I am afraid that when isolation and denial ends, the anger stage will begin. It probably already has, as thousands protest closure orders and struggle with the nose-diving economy. I know that I can understand where that anger comes from: I am furious at this whole damn mess.

Why can’t I see my friends anymore? Why do I have to pretend like cellphone interaction is enough, that video chatting could ever equal sharing a physical space with someone?

We all transitioned into an online economy, and though seeing my old classmates on Zoom is nice, once the calls end the crushing loneliness comes back sharper than before. After this, will universities see the costs cut by online-only classes, and will every school become DeVry?

And what about the globalist mess that enabled such a widespread disaster?

Why is the U.S. healthcare system overwhelmed by this pandemic, despite decades to prepare and the claims that a free care system like other countries would leave us worse off? Why did we know months in advance and not change a thing? I was wearing a mask in Italy at the end of January, and it feels like no one else was as afraid as I was.

Where we direct this helpless anger is important. In the coming weeks and months, news and political pundits will market that anger toward rivals and other nations, like President Donald Trump labeling it “the Chinese Virus.” Products and campaigns will be made to capture and mold our fear; we see sad advertisements using the background of the pandemic to sell products already. I find it frightening and a little sick to peddle products while people die.

Trump is now fighting with the World Health Organization over who did a worse job, while governors shout “states’ rights” to keep from going bankrupt. Just this week, the press assaulted Trump for outwardly considering the injection of disinfectant. I feel that in the coming weeks, living at home with nothing to do but watch this grand scale reality TV show will become intolerable and that same anger might be misdirected toward loved ones and pets.

And this is just the beginning. New York City was hit hard, but staying home for the following months will keep other urban centers from being hit harder. Until there is a vaccination to fight this, I doubt we should leave home for the foreseeable future, without drastic safety measures; this whole thing might start up again.

Right now gloves, masks and limited social interaction are the only tools we have to hold back the tide. Even still, we might be looking at a quarantined 2020, and I would distrust anyone that is too quick to open the floodgates.

There is only one sensible place to focus our anger: at the virus itself. The only chance we have right now is to band together as a collective human race and fight this thing. This means doing something, anything to stay active while staying home to cut the spread arc of the virus in half. Millions of healthcare workers are fighting in the front lines, backed up by firefighters, police officers, groceries, janitors and transit workers. They need our help — they need us to stay put.

To get my mind off of things, I built an Adirondack chair out of old poisonous pallet wood. Though my roommate worried I would slice my fingers off with a circular saw, at least I put my internal pain toward creating something useful. Millions across America are doing the same, with sewing needles and home goods on back order, instances of home plumbing, and even family interactions are coming from across the country.

This is my generation’s Vietnam. Our World War II, our Great Depression. How we handle it will determine the entire decade, there will be a “Post-Pandemic America” one day. In 30 years, our children will ask, “What did you do during the great pandemic?”

I hope we can answer with pride that we stayed put, did our part to keep the infections low, worked productively from home and used the chance to rethink the path we had been going on that led us there.

Now, stay safe, be smart, have fun and wash your damn hands.

Kevin Travers is a senior reporter for The Review. He majors in history and minors in journalism. His opinions are his own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review’s editorial staff. Kevin may be reached at kevobt@udel.edu.


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