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Randi Kreiss

Fragments: surviving a season of loss

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I didn’t tune in to the news at all yesterday, and that was a happy change from one year ago, when I couldn’t not watch, but when I did watch, the grim predictions from epidemiologists, juxtaposed with the misinformation coming from the White House, had me worried sick.

Doctors told us to wear masks, stay at home, close schools and avoid contact even with our parents and children and grandchildren. At the same time, the president rolled out his no-big-deal message. He promised that the coronavirus would just go away. Yet people were dying, and refrigerator morgue trucks were parked on New York City streets. For me, not trusting our highest elected officials to keep us safe in the face of a historic pandemic was psychologically destabilizing. The message was: You’re on your own.

We did what we had to do. No kids, no supermarkets, no friends and no communal events of any kind.

Now, one year later, I don’t need to hear the news because I trust that the government is going about its business, fighting the best fight it can against the virus.

What does this pandemic anniversary mean to us?

My husband and I are just past two weeks since our second vaccine. I think we’ll be fine, but there is a definite process to re-emerging and rebooting a full life.

With the second jab, it isn’t as if this dreadful year gets erased. Just a glance in the mirror reminds me that I’m not the same person I was last March. I made a joke in a column last year about my own personal silver lining as my hair turned gray. Now it’s even more so, and very long, a kind of metaphor about time and change and a new acceptance of mortality.

I’m thinking about my friends of the heart who died over the past year, Marlene and Marty and Don. I mention their names to write them into my world and honor their memory. They didn’t all die of Covid-19, but they left this world too soon and without the comforting rituals of traditional funerals and visiting among family and friends after the loss. Letting them go is more difficult because there was no way to say a real goodbye or hold the hands of their loved ones. My husband has photos of these buddies pasted on a full wall in his office, like the man without a country, yearning for “home.”

Living through this year, with plenty of food and access to the Internet and the ability to work online, reminded me that good fortune shines on only some people. More than 530,000 of us died, many because they had to go to work, or lived in large family groups or couldn’t figure out the byzantine vaccine rollout protocols. I don’t know their names, but I want to carry them with me into the post-pandemic world, with a kind of “never forget” mantra. They shouldn’t just disappear.

In the beginning I was Zooming with the grandkids pretty often, and then less often, and then we had hardly anything to share because we weren’t doing anything all day. I thought from the beginning that the teenagers suffered most from the isolation and emotional vacuum that can follow months of down time with no other kids around. I have faith in their resilience, though, and history teaches us that young people have survived other deprivations, especially during wartime.

We ventured out the other evening for the very first time, to sit in an outside tented area of a restaurant. It wasn’t perfect. It felt strange to wait for food, and I was impatient. I realize I have to give this new normal some time.

One year after the pandemic began surging across America and the world, my freezer is still packed. I have more toilet paper than I need. I remember some of my parents’ behaviors, which I called a Depression-era mentality, and I know we have adopted some slightly irrational habits as a result of our anxiety during the worst days of Covid-19.

I expect all of this will evolve as our faith in the future — any future — is restored. I would like to live long enough to read the great books that will surely be written about this year, especially the fiction, which so often touches the most profound truths.

Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.