Mourning the Pre-Pandemic Life

I learned about the “stages of grief” model about ten years ago, when I was facing a major program shutdown and, potentially, loss of my job with NASA at the time. The agency provided discussion groups for those of us taking the program cancellation badly–and I was definitely one of them, having spent my life trying to get a career in the space business. I believe we’re facing a similar “mourning” period now, and each person is in different phases of the recovery process.

By now you might’ve gotten used to the “new normal,” with masks, economic slowdowns, random spikes in coronavirus cases or deaths, and other crises related to them. Some of us are still mourning the world before COVID-19, and I believe that’s a fair assessment of our current state of affairs. We’ve suffered an undeniable loss of our previous lifestyles, our sense of security, and yes, some of our freedoms in an effort to avoid or curtail the virus. According to the “stages of grief” model, we all go through a series of reactions, each person in his or her own way./time.

Denial: Some people are still in this phase, going so far as claiming that the virus is a hoax or conspiracy theory designed to take away our freedoms or [insert nefarious intent or conspiracy theory X here]. Some of us might have the fleeting hope that one day life will magically return to normal and we’ll go back to living the way we did pre-pandemic. If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that reality is not that simple.

Anger: Quite a lot of people are stuck here, especially if they found themselves put out of work or have been prohibited from their favorite leisure activity. That anger can be directed anywhere: at the government, at the chief executive of your respective local/state/provincial/national government, at your (former) employer, at neighbors, and so forth. This anger is helped along by a feeling of lost control, which none of us likes very much.

Bargaining: It’s impossible to negotiate with a virus. It’s going to do its own thing. Nevertheless, governments have been wrestling with which parts of the economy to keep open to keep people fed and civilization functioning. “Can we go out if we just wear a mask?” “Can I not wear a mask if I’m away from other people?” “Can I meet with my friends if we’re in small groups and maintain physical distance?” “Could I work from home?” We’re trying different things, but as we have seen, the more we try to compromise with reality, the more reality treats us to additional cases of the virus.

Depression: You’ve done what you can to return to normal: you’re wearing the masks, maybe even gloves, and limiting your exposure to other people. But that can get wearing. You miss your previous life still. All the extra precautions can seem futile, and you can start to feel like anything you do is pointless. This stage sucks, but I for one get tired of being sad all the time.

Acceptance: Eventually there comes a point where you learn to accept that the life you knew pre-pandemic is gone. You buy some more masks, maybe ones that fit your sense of fashion or whimsy. You learn to play the game as writ and find more ways to get and stay in touch with coworkers, friends, and family online or in controlled situations for the sake of everyone’s health. You might not be 100% happy with the situation, but you’ve decided to no longer fight it and to just move on with reality as it is.

Mind you, all of the above is just a reaction to the pandemic itself and the changes made to cope with it. You also might be mourning the loss of friends or family members due to the virus on top of all that. You might have lost your job and might also be facing loss of your home and other parts of your life you considered normal to your everyday existence. It’s all part of the same process, and you’re entitled to recover at your own pace. However, even if you’ve only experienced the loss of a lifestyle you had before this horrible…thing…came into our lives, you are still experiencing a loss, and you’re allowed to mourn it in your own way, in your own time. Just don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s a world full of people going through the same process.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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