by Jessica Williams
Grieving comes easily for no one. And yet, it is something every person on this earth will experience in one way or another. For grief, loss, the deep painful feeling of emptiness, is born of the lack of the only other thing that all of us share – connection. Of course, we can all likely relate to the power of connection in our everyday lives. We feel it in our homes, surrounded by those we care for – be they animal, plant, or human. We feel it in our neighborhood, our places of work, the restaurants, parks, and museums and libraries we frequent. Even when we think we are without connection, on a solo hike in the wilderness, in a night looking at the stars, or reading a book in our home alone – we are still connected. Whether we realize it or not, we are connected to the breeze, the trees, the birds that chirp and the bees that buzz. We, as living beings, feel connected to all other living things, whether we realize it or not.
Human connection, science has shown, is unequivocally important. Connection, research tells us, can change everything. According to the Stanford Center for Connectedness & Health, in an article written by Dr. Emily Seppala, those who lack human connection are statistically more likely to become depressed, experience anxiety, feel less empathic, and even have a weaker immune system. Connection with others, she says, might even extend an individual’s lifespan; and there is even a chance that humans cannot survive at all without it.
When we miss connection, whether due to relocation, absence, divorce, or death, we lose something significant, something that is about more than just being lonely or longing for something of the past. We lose something far more important – a sense of what it means to be human – to exist.
There are already so many things in present day life and in history that have brought loss. Some of these losses may seem ‘every-day,’ while others may be catastrophic. Sometimes, catastrophic loss is so poignant, so widespread that it leaves in its wake a trail of grief so thick that it tumbles downhill, gaining speed and power in each new generation. For some, that generational grief may even become a form of collective trauma.
Examples of some of these collective traumas are known to us all – the World Wars, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, September 11th, and mass shootings as Sandy Hook Elementary and Pulse Nightclub just to name a few. Of course, it suffices to say that no one quite anticipates these events, nor do they always know how to cope with them.
Thought we may not have anticipated this at the start, it is clear now that the Coronavirus Pandemic will be a generational trauma for those currently in their youth. There will always be a “before COVID” and “after COVID” when explaining life or historical events. Even those who are now quite young will remember – that one spring when suddenly school break began earlier than usual, they could sit and watch TV all the time, and didn’t even have to go grocery shopping with mom. It may, at first, be remembered as a time of time with family and extra fun – until it wasn’t fun – and then it became almost unbearable. For many, this will be a time of the graduation they never had, the long-awaited family vacation that got cancelled, the friends they couldn’t have playdates with, or even, the grandparents they may never see again. It might be the lost spring, the sad spring, the lonely spring, the spring that caused the loss of our most precious currency – connection with others.
For those who are older, this time will be looked back on with a sense of loss as well. True, the pandemic began with some extra hand sanitizer ad jokes about stocking up on toilet paper, but quickly became painful in so many ways. In recalling this in the future, our memories may quickly turn sour as we recall the endless number of online meetings, and our reactions that jumped quickly from the joy of not having to leave our desk, to longing for a glimpse of our coworkers from 6 masked feet away. We might wonder how we minded that staff meeting so much before, or why it bothered us so when asked to meet our supervisor in another area of the building. We will likely recall the video conference fatigue, the reflection of feeling trapped inside our computer screens, when our meetings quickly turned to Zoom events with either audio or video; it was rare to achieve both. We too, will remember lost connection – to jobs, coworkers, parents, neighbors, book and bridge clubs, church communities, and our favorite waitress at that one mom and pop restaurant.
No matter how strong we pretend to be, or how independent we think we are, whether we consider ourselves introverts or extroverts – we all must face the fact that we need each other.
Whether we are used to having regular Sunday dinners with loved ones or constantly bickering about silly things – we need each other. No matter how healthy or unhealthy our relationships, how close we feel to our coworkers, or how much we look up to or down upon our bosses – we need each other. Whether it means a shoulder to cry on, a hand to shake, or just a knowing glance – we need each other. Whether we realize or not, like it or not, believe it or not, event desire it or not – we need it – that human connection. We simply cannot exist without it.
Many of you reading this right now (if you’ve gotten this far), may disagree. Some readers may feel fine, content, fulfilled, or accomplished during quarantine. There are those that may have taken this time to get fit, spending time in nature, craft, or learn to play guitar. And to those individuals I say, I applaud you for your drive, your diligence, your positive thinking. But, please realize this does not make you immune to the human condition.
My hope is that as we as a group, a state, a region, a nation, are able to simply continue to weather this storm to the best of our abilities, as it is far from over. Maybe some of you reading this live in areas where the pandemic seems all but a memory, while others may still be right in the midst of it, watching the death tolls climb around them, afraid to go to their ‘essential’ jobs. Regardless, the interpersonal effects of this pandemic will not relent for quite some time, even when the threat of disease is over.
We all, young and old, rich and poor, essential and remote workers will all come out of this with a void, a place where our human connections and memories should have been. Some of us will feel this void acutely, while others may now find themselves disagreeing with this notion as they read. The bottom line is this – I need you. And you need me. Our children need us, and we them. Our friends, relatives, and tennis partners need us. And we need them. There is no other way.
So, however this piece finds you right now, whether you have lost a loved one, worked on the front lines, or watched the horror unfold on the news, please know that however you feel is perfectly normal. It’s okay to be sad, scared, angry, confused, or even apathetic. We are all missing the connections we have spent so long cultivating and we will grieve those losses collectively, until we can begin to heal. And we will heal.
Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to grieve. Loss is loss, big or small, and no loss is insignificant.
I wish for you the speedy and safe return of human connection, however that plays out in your “new normal” life. I wish you peace, and I wish you health. One way or another, we are in this together.