There are some events that are indelibly etched in my mind – blizzards, blackouts, 9/11, the insurrection…and March 12th of last year.
I remember details of such events, like which day of the week they were on, what I was doing, how I felt, if it was hot or cold, if I was scared.
I wasn’t scared.
March 12th, 2020 was a Thursday and I was going to see the new Broadway musical about Princess Diana that night.
I took my father to his cardiologist appointment that morning. It was the last time we would go anywhere without a mask, but I didn’t know that then.
We ate lunch at our local diner on our way home, like we typically did. It was the last time we would do that, too.
We saw our friends and fellow diner regulars. We hugged, kissed, and shook hands, without hesitation or forethought. Maybe if I had known it would be the last time, I would have lingered longer.
By the time we got home and settled in, I was getting ready to go back into the city for the Princess Di show that evening. Before 5 p.m., my friend Anthony called to say Broadway had shut down.
Life as I knew it ended that day. Silently. Stealthily. Abruptly.
The next morning, I got up early and bought enough groceries for a month.
And then I waited. Hunkered down. Watching the news. Eyeing the ever-increasing number of human casualties from a strange new virus we had no way to treat, or to stop, or to prevent.
I was in the first stage of grief – denial.
I told myself that this would last maybe a few weeks, at most. Surely, this strange illness would pass or we’d figure out a solution. We’re crafty like that. Besides, even after 9/11, Broadway was only dark for 48 hours. The show must go on.
But it didn’t.
Like anything new, there’s novelty to it. I’m an introvert, working from home and now I had an excuse never to leave. It wouldn’t be hard for me, I told myself. And if I’m being honest, staying home hasn’t been. That was the least of it.
True to form, I started to ascribe a deeper spiritual meaning to the global time-out. The planet needed to heal from man’s abuse of it. Humanity needed to be sent to its collective room to think about what we’d done. The incessant hurrying needed to stop. We all needed to take a deep breath, to reflect, to regroup, and reset.
That would have been a life-transforming accomplishment. Unfortunately, most seem to have used their time to binge watch every cockamamie show ever streamed. So not so much on the whole “think about what you’ve done” thing.
Me, I didn’t binge watch until at least eight months into it. I didn’t watch anything other than news for a long time.
I thought it would be the perfect quiet time to write and get a lot done. I wrote nothing. I was just glad that my father and I were well. He was in really good shape for a 91 year old when this pandemic started.
I began doing concerts from my living room. It was a way to connect and still make music. The first time was the strangest. Performing to dead silence, but knowing there are people out there listening. After a while, I made it a regular thing – the first Tuesday of every month at 8 o’clock you could find me on StageIt. If it did nothing else, it gave me the only thing I had on a schedule. It was something in a time filled with nothing.
Runs for necessities were all consuming. Lines for hours to get inside the store, and an eerie quiet once there. There was none of the usual frenetic energy of people out and about. Everyone looked like a trauma victim, and what we most feared was each other. To ignore the peril was increasingly difficult. Though the elderly were targeted, this virus was claiming younger people in enough numbers for no one to be safe.
It wasn’t long before I knew someone who died from Covid-19. Then parents of friends and friends battling it, some at home, some in hospitals fighting for their lives.
The economy was in a free-fall. And I was praying daily for our frontline workers, which now included the people stocking the store shelves and picking up the garbage on my street.
The president was clearly in over his orange head and lacked not only empathy, compassion, and the ability to tell the truth, but the one thing we desperately needed – a plan to get us out of this mess. I was beyond pissed off.
Anger – the second stage of grief.
By July, my father’s health took a turn for the worse, though it was not Covid-related. That’s when I got to experience, firsthand, the hellish nightmare we were in, in a different way.
It was summer, and my only saving grace was that the virus spread had slowed down enough for me to at least be allowed into the hospital for 3 hours a day to be with my father. I was there, waiting when visiting was permitted, and I only left when security made their rounds and told me I had to leave. It was excruciating. The staff was sparse and overworked and the care suffered for it.
My cell phone was my only lifeline in July, August, and September, when my father was in and out of hospitals. Relatives and friends could support me by phone, but no one could be there in person, for him or me.
I prayed for more things than I can articulate – strength, wisdom, protection as I navigated hospitals and my own potential exposure to the virus. I would have traded anything to secure a positive outcome.
Bargaining, - the third stage of grief.
Autumn saw my father home, finally, but not nearly the same as he had been or will ever be again. What once was designated for old age now became the pervasive thought in my mind – the inevitability of death…and the utter fragility of life.
Everything was meaningless and meaningful, excruciating and beautiful at the same time. Nothing mattered and everything did. The fact that we even got up in the morning was a fucking miracle. And this has yet to leave me. I still feel that way.
Depression – the fourth stage of grief.
Birthdays came and went quietly, and holidays approached with no possibility of gathering. I made the best of the masked drop-offs of gifts and the elbow bumps that replaced hugs. I tried to find humor in it somewhere, but nothing about it was funny, except the potential it had for being behind us one day.
The hardest thing, by far, was missing funerals. From the time the pandemic started until now, I lost four friends, an aunt, uncle, and three cousins. Though only two were due to Covid, the enormity of the loss would have been unfathomable even during normal circumstances. And these were not normal circumstances.
For as hard as a funeral is, it is the start of the healing process. Absent that, there is a piece missing, a step skipped. And you can’t skip crucial steps when it comes to processing grief.
The New Year carried with it the promise of a new president, a vaccination, and the chance to at least hope for a better future. Me, I was skeptical by now, and January 6th didn’t help matters.
Not only is life too damn fragile, but also, it turns out our democracy is only one successful insurrection away from toppling like a house of cards.
That was it for me. I started learning the Canadian national anthem, brushing up on my French, and googling the path to citizenry.
Fortunately, Biden took office and got busy trying to help us out of this mess. And I started to look at life with an ever-so-slight glimmer of hope. If the pandemic continued, I would survive lockdown. If it vanished, I would face the new world with everyone else.
Acceptance – the last stage of grief.
Friends started talking about post-pandemic life. One said not to underestimate people’s capacity to forget.
I don’t think we can go back. At least, I hope we can’t. I am not the same person I was at the start of this a year ago. I could never be that person again. The only value there is in any experience is who and what we become because of it.
What would you tell your year-younger self?
I’ve been giving this some thought, as this anniversary approached. I think I would tell her that, no matter what happened, she was enough to handle it, that no matter how isolated she ever felt, she was never truly alone, and that Schitt’s Creak is really worth the binge watch.
Wherever this anniversary finds you, I hope it’s on a path to healing. I hope that as we re-enter the world, we do so a little bit kinder to ourselves, the planet, and each other.
Happy Anniversary, dear readers.