Perhaps it should come as no surprise that in a “culture” that hides, denies, and/or commodifies death and mourning, including by pathologizing grief if it “lasts too long,” and increasingly denies we’re even in a pandemic anymore, the two-year anniversary of #COVIDKills has met with underwhelming acknowledgment, much less rituals to honor our dead.
My body remembered, though. It flashed back to the panic attack on day one that turned quickly into “GRIEF,” like an enormous and garish neon sign that filled my whole view, and spiraled over many months into the deepest of holes, politely called “a depression.”
I spent the first nonlinear chunk of pandemic time in so-called Madison, WI, crashing at my sister’s on a foldout chair and making her kitchen into “my office.” Mostly, I cried, raged, and walked—a lot. I started seeing more and more homemade signs offering posi and false platitudes like “we’ll all get through this together” that only heightened my dysphoria, cut off as I was from the whole of my anarchist life and thus more nuanced yet “we are all we need” sensibilities to grapple with the new terrain. I was falling apart.
So at the time, it felt grounding to walk past these huge wooden letters STAY STRONG that appeared one day, mounted on a fallen tree (also grieving the pandemic?) in a popular park. I gravitated to it for a few days, with it somehow being what I needed to hear in my isolation and pain. Then it disappeared!
A week or so later, I saw its maker reinstalling it atop his house, but so high up that no one would likely see it. “The neighbors complained,” he shrugged, defeatedly. “The city made me take it down.”
Two years later, estimates range from a conservative 6 million to a likely realistic 18 million dead, and that doesn’t count “long COVID” and myriad other losses, especially among so many of our loved ones who, like this sign maker, had to hide away their feelings and weren’t strong enough to make it, so didn’t get through due to overdose, suicide, and more.
How can we stay strong, much less whole or humane, when we have carved out little space to mark this anniversary and collectively mourn our dead?