But the many people who are only just beginning to share my newfound perspective are likely only just coming to terms with their loss. ln my life, it seems like the loss of time was felt the hardest by my 79-year-old mother and my eldest teenage child. For them, the passage of a year is way more meaningful than it is for me—middle age stretches out like one long desert of mid-life monotony.
My mother lost a year of time with her grandchildren, with her friends. Her life has gotten profoundly small, and the world outside her apartment feels very, very far away. She’s now fully vaccinated but the fear of the virus hasn’t abated; the vaccine cannot cure the fear that has been so impressed upon her. Fear that was necessary to keep her safe but no longer serves. And the damage of a year alone with my stepfather has been heavy—his Parkinson’s is worse, they both feel like they’ve aged dramatically. They became (like all of us) obsessed with their own mortality, and rightfully so. They nap more; they seem more fragile.
Can this new obsession with one’s mortality be undone? Can one will oneself back to normal? How does my mother erase the last year of dead friends and the anxiety of imminent demise? Does she pretend she didn’t have to lock herself away for a year? Or will the scars of a year of death be unerasable? Doctor Anthony Fauci is concerned about a post-Covid mental health crisis, saying: “the long-term ravages of this are so multifaceted.” There are some effects we can see now; the pandemic has made us gain weight: 61% of Americans “reported undesirable weight change.” And 67% of Americans “are sleeping more or less than they wanted to since the pandemic started.”
A year isn’t such a long time for someone who’s lived a year 80 times, but for my 17-year-old, a year is a long time. My teenage son has lost his junior year; he lurks in his bedroom, desperate for space from the parents who have been his main source of companionship. He’s missed debate, friends, the SAT II (they’re gone forever now), school trips, model Congress, and all the other things that make up teenagehood. Part of the teenage years is the necessity of breaking from your parents. How do you rebel when the world is such a dangerous place?
I recognize that the loss experienced by my mother and my son, and indeed the loss I have experienced, is relatively mild in the global scheme. I don’t mind the sameness of every day, though I know that I will remember this year as a blur of days mashed up together. Being 23 years sober has helped me immensely. I’ve been able to go to my AA meetings via Zoom, and I’ve had tools that have helped me stay sane. I try only to focus on just what’s right in front of me. I don’t get too stuck on next week or even tomorrow.
We are just at the beginning of thinking about where we’re going—and where we’ve been. There will be many stories of suffering that will be unearthed this summer, like fossils dug from the ground after the frost has melted. I hope these stories will be told; while they may be painful stories of suffering, they will ultimately be stories of human strength and resilience in all of us.