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Two years of transformation
How has the pandemic changed us?
In a few days, we’ll reach the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is news to no one—even if you aren’t paying attention to the calendar or haven’t been walloped with reminders through the news and social media, you know it instinctively. Our bodies carry the memory of traumatic events.
This anniversary feels a lot different than the last. In March 2021, many of us were still waiting for our turn to get vaccines. We hadn’t yet let our guards down. We were reeling from the fact that we had, somehow, lived through an entire year of a pandemic.
Over the next 12 months, we largely adjusted to pandemic life—or, at least, our version of it. We established our own COVID rules and boundaries, while also navigating the expectations and boundaries of others. We experienced the promise of Hot Vax Summer, swiftly followed by the bummer of the Delta variant. By the time we reached winter, the Omicron variant was less of a surprise—though we were stunned by the amount of friends, family, and seemingly everyone we knew who caught COVID during that time (including those who were vaccinated).
And now here we are. The Omicron surge has passed. Mask restrictions are loosening. We have entirely different global concerns on our minds. As far as the COVID pandemic is concerned, things feel a lot less bleak than before.
It makes sense that we would want to return to the way things were.
To borrow a phrase from Joan Didion, one bit of magical thinking I did after my husband died was believing that, after a certain period of requisite grieving, my life would largely return back to normal. I knew that Jamie would never reappear, but I figured I would eventually resume my old routines. I told myself that it was just a matter of time before I was once again hosting big parties, enjoying decadent home-cooked meals and fancy dinners out, and juggling a social calendar bursting at the seams.
This return to “normal” never happened. One of the harshest truths of experiencing a major loss is that your life is forever altered. You don’t just grieve the person who has died. You grieve all of the losses layered on top of their death.
My social life has never looked the same after Jamie’s death. My meals at home—and out—haven’t been nearly as extravagant. After a couple half-hearted, overly exhausting attempts at hosting large parties, I discovered that those days were over too.
Eventually, I had to accept that the life I shared with Jamie no longer existed. Trying to hold onto that reality was painful and awkward. It made me sad. Instead of looking back and trying to recreate the past, I had no choice but to adapt to the present. I stopped holding on so tightly to relationships that felt estranged. I quit trying to force old traditions into my new relationship. I even moved, from a house that carried a ton of memories and expectations to a largely blank slate.
We’ve all experienced some version of this. Anyone who’s become a parent, graduated from school, or simply gotten older knows the subtle and not-so-subtle signs that their life is different than before. Our relationships shift. Our expectations change. Our boundaries around things like sleeping, drinking, working, socializing, and spending money all transform over the years.
It’s easy to glance at these changes and see them as negative. I’m just not as fun as I used to be! There have been many, many times that I’ve judged myself harshly for who I am now versus who I was before Jamie died. In those harsh moments, I’ve viewed myself as less vibrant, less fun, less social, less interesting, less joyful. Less. Less. Less.
But if I really pause and think about the ways I’ve changed since Jamie’s death, I can honestly say that I’m proud of the person I’ve become. I’m more empathetic with others, more patient with myself, more willing to take risks, more focused on personal fulfillment, more resilient, more aware of life’s awe-indung fragility.
In so many ways, I am more.
We’ve spent two years in a pandemic. Two. Whole. Years. It’s depressing to think about all the time and opportunities we’ve lost. It’s painful to face how socially awkward we’ve become or how anxious the past 24 months may have made us. There’s a strong temptation to cast aside this no-good period in an attempt to return to the way things were.
But there’s no returning. Just like my life with Jamie no longer exists, our pre-COVID lives are long gone, too. There’s no putting the genie back into the bottle. We have learned new things about ourselves, our neighbors, and the leaders we rely on. Our relationships have changed, with our friends, our family, and the housemates with whom we have spent an incredible amount of the past two years. Our boundaries, neuroses, and expectations in life have all transformed, too.
But not necessarily for the worse.
I’m curious: How have the past two years changed you?
On March 11, it will be two years since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Before we reach that milestone, I would love to hear from you, dear readers.
How has your worldview changed? How have you changed? What about your routines and relationships? When you look back, do you see these changes as largely positive or negative, or a balance of the two? And, looking forward, what from the past two years do you hope to carry with you?
I’m eager to hear your stories. You can reply to this email, leave a comment, or send me a message. If I hear back from enough of you—fingers crossed!—I’ll put together a special version of this newsletter featuring readers’ wisdom.
Even if you don’t share your reflections with me, I still encourage you to take some time to sit with this question. How have you changed? It’s worth contemplating.
It took me a while to accept that I’ve experienced positive changes in the face of grief. Some days, I still wrestle with that realization. I have to remind myself that even if I have transformed in ways that I love, that doesn’t mean I love the awful events that led to that transformation.
I hope you can accept that too. I can’t wait to hear from you.