OPINION: You are not alone: Collective grief in the time of COVID-19

Illustration by Alex Cox

Laurel Deppen

I’ve cried almost every day of this pandemic.

When this first started, I’d wake up each day and check my phone while lying in bed, scrolling through Twitter, like I always did. But very quickly I became overwhelmed, my cheeks flooding with tears. 

This is bad, I thought. This is all happening so fast. This is affecting every aspect of my life.


I’m no stranger to worst-case scenarios. When times were normal, I always prepared for the worst. 

Almost daily, I’d worry about small things and become fixated on them. When I didn’t understand something in class, I’d quickly plan for what would happen if I failed. When I couldn’t figure out how to operate a feature on a camera, I ran to my professor thinking I’d have to change my broadcasting major.

And even worse — something I hate to admit — for years, I’ve worried about my loved ones dying in unexpected situations. Car accidents. Sudden illness. Mass shootings.

Normally, I can tell myself my fears are illogical. I told my loved one to text me when they got home. They will text me when they’ve made it there safely. My loved ones are healthy and take caution in their daily lives. They have healthcare. I trust doctors.

But in the time of coronavirus, everything is uncertain, and I can’t reassure myself of anything.

I realized that the last time I felt this consistently low was when I was grieving.

When I was 17, someone who was very important to me died unexpectedly. At the time, he was my favorite person in the world, and the pain I experienced when losing him was unlike anything I’d ever felt before.

It was lonely and isolating. 

The thing about grief after a loved one dies is your world stops, but everyone else’s moves on. 

But in the time of COVID-19, everyone’s world has stopped. But it feels even more lonely and isolated.

This feeling reminds me of grief because it is grief.

I’m grieving the way life was. The small things that make life life

I’m grieving crowded classrooms. The jokes I whispered to my friend in the back of the room have been reduced to private messages in Zoom class meetings.

I’m grieving the times I spent standing in the Chick-fil-A line after class, talking to my friend about problems that seem so trivial now. “This assignment is due.” “My roommate left her dishes in the sink again.”

I’m grieving the simplicity of shared spaces. Goofing off with my coworkers. Studying at crowded coffee shops and battling for empty seats.

I’m grieving the restaurants, bars and shopping malls.

I’m grieving the pushing and shoving of sweaty strangers in basement concert venues my favorite band played in, and I’m grieving the packed escalators of Bridgestone Arena after a hockey game. 

I’m grieving the times where I could listen to the news without developing fears of existential dread — when the biggest news story was the results of the Iowa caucus. 

But the grief hits me harder when I can’t hug my grandparents. When I can’t drive them to church on Easter Sunday. When I can’t share a meal with them.

I’m grieving times I didn’t have to worry about my dad getting sick simply by going to work. I’m grieving the times my mom didn’t have to worry about crashing government websites after the daycare she works for closed its doors.

But this grief is different from the grief I experienced when I lost my friend in 2016, because I’m not alone in it.

The air is heavy with our collective grief, yet we can take comfort in the fact that all of humanity is sharing in it. 

Even though we are apart, we can find great and unifying moments of solidarity with our neighbors we ordinarily wouldn’t speak to. We give them waves when we pass them on walks and smiles down grocery aisles.

We are apart, but when our friends call “just to chat,” there’s no reason to deny the call. We can remind each other of the times we shared in the past and things we’re looking forward to in the future. 

Our grief is foggy, and it’s hard to see through it, but even though we’re alone, we all are doing it together.

Managing Editor Laurel Deppen can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @laurel_deppen.