A return to 'normal' doesn't mean the end of grieving

York Dispatch editorial board
About 120 people braved Thursday's threatening weather to attend a Healthy York Coalition's COVID-19 memorial at PeoplesBank Park. More than 1,452 York County residents have died during the pandemic. Before the memorial, attendees printed out messages on paper hearts for lost loved ones. Bil Bowden photo

Everyone's talking about a return to normal these days.

For some, it's a lament — a desire to finally be done with the virus that wreaked havoc on our lives. For others, it's a wild hope — an expression of optimism in an increasingly unpredictable world.

It's impossible to predict with any certainty what BA.2 or XE or Vladimir Putin, for that matter, has in store for us.

What we can say: The pain of these last few years is still with us.

And we shouldn't mistake a return to normalcy — however we choose to define it — as the end of our collective grieving process.

More:York County remembers those lost to COVID

More:Chronicling COVID’s ruthless death toll

More:How many COVID-19 deaths are acceptable? Answer is key to post-pandemic world

Nearly 1 million Americans have died since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. That includes nearly 1,500 of your family, friends and neighbors in York County.

And this, unfortunately, has been a complicated grief.

Between the time this editorial is written and when you read it, COVID-19 will have taken even more from us. It's difficult to move on from a sudden, wrenching loss when there's an active, lingering threat all around us.

Sometimes life appears to be moving on as the pandemic ebbs and flows with each new variant. Everything seemed to be returning to normal last summer, too, until a wave of infection and death began swelling again.

Grief takes time.

It also requires safety, support and the ability to simply fall apart sometimes. The loss must be acknowledged in order for true healing to take place.

In the best of times, grief can feel like insanity.

One moment, everything is fine. The next, you're standing in a stairwell at work with a racing heart and sweaty palms. For some, it can lead to outbursts of anger, of denial, of sadness. It can lead to behavior that's self-soothing and self-destructive. A good friend may disappear altogether for a period of weeks.

And grief comes with an element of shame, too, even from well-meaning people who insist that everything will be OK or that the deceased wouldn't want them to suffer or that it's time to simply move on.

Today, we're coping with loss on a massive scale.

One million dead.

Millions more sickened at some point in the last two years.

And millions of others experiencing a measure of grief in all of its forms.

The question is: What does it look like to remember the dead and to heal from this collective trauma?

It's pretty simple, actually.

Empathy.

It's important to remember that many of us lost someone during this pandemic. It's essential to provide a safe place for them to grieve, however they need to.

Ask your colleagues, friends and neighbors how they're doing.

Listen to their answers without judgment.

Show them love.

Grief is normal — even if there's nothing normal about the depths of loss we've experienced.