Getting Ready for Loss in a Pandemic

Photo by Todd Turner on Unsplash

By Douglas John Imbrogno | March 31, 2020 |

Listen, I know we are supposed to be up-tempo and pandemic-positive. You and I have likely been dutiful in sharing the happiest memes and ‘quarantinis,’ as someone delightfully dubbed the online performances everyone is sharing. I’ve done a few quarantinis myself.

Yet anyone closely following the pandemic worldwide—or anyone not slavishly listening to dangerous happy talk of this pandemic ending in time to resume our regularly scheduled programming—is probably aware a tsunami of grief and loss is headed our way.

That is, if you or someone you know or love has not already experienced loss and grief, in places like Italy and New York City.

I have not. And I will note that I am not at all prepared for the tide of deaths headed our way. The overwhelmed hospitals. The triage decisions that will have to be made in my locality and yours—in some instances, by med school students graduated early and moved to the frontlines out of desperate need.

I am not prepared for my own death from Covid-19. But it is possible. And many of us should be prepared likewise: if not for our own deaths, then the passing of someone we love. Or the friend of a friend we love.

This is not to be morbid. It is to be realistic—and prepared.

Prepared to advocate for far better leadership than we’re getting from a chaotic White House, misled by an empathy-free man with the exact lack of skills for such a complex crisis.

It is to be prepared, beyond stockpiling toilet paper and protein bars, to figure how to keep awake and caring when devastated by loss and grief.

It is even to prepare our personal instructions for what happens should we be infected and fall victim to the tide of people increasingly washed away by this pandemic, until it peaks or we find a vaccine.

To know what’s coming is to be ready—should we be the ones unaffected or immune—to be the people running to the scene of the disaster, not away.

It is also to come to the belief, mentally and spiritually, that we have it in us to handle whatever comes.

ARE WE PREPARED FOR THE LOSS OF A LOVED ONE? “The Passwords He Carried: I had to get my father’s affairs in order. You do too”| Mother Jones |MARCH 27, 2020

We all can draw on the cultural DNA of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond. These are the people, after all, who weathered World War 1; the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic; the Depression; WW II; the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and on and on—going back to generations of descendants of those who died or survived a catalogue of plagues.

We can look to other crises. We can be inspired by the compassion and community that blossomed amid the HIV-AIDS crisis, dismissed as just a “gay scourge” by the narrow-minded, but which washed through families worldwide.

Maybe you are not convinced yet. The news you read may suggest this pandemic could be over in a few weeks or months if only we just watch enough Netflix and eat enough popcorn.

I have nothing against Netflix. Or popcorn. I consume vast quantities of both. But before we get to the good news, let’s consider, and consider deeply, the not-so-good news.

You will recall Donald Trump saying:

Jan. 22, 2020:“We have it totally under control. It’s just one person coming in from China.”

Feb. 26, 2020: “The 15 cases within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero.”

He has now changed his tune and tone. But the man has not—and will not—change his stripes, as this Ben Mathis-Lilley SLATE story underscores: “Let’s Not Get Carried Away: Trump Is Still Screwing Up Most of His Job, and He’s Still a Hollow Monstrosity.”

There are now 600,000 Covid 19 cases around the world, with more than 200,000 in the United States, as of this Thursday, April 2. The U.S. now has the most cases of infection in the world.

In Italy, some 10,000 have died. America’s deaths now number more than 5,000, and we’re on the same arc that put Italy’s toll where it is.

Andy Slavitt, former Obama health care head, said in a notable Twitter thread on Saturday, March 28:

“I think this is the week when we start talking in millions [of cases] and never look back. Only a few weeks ago, we were breaking a thousand cases. We have a lot more testing now so we have likely been in the millions for a while.”

As Slavitt notes, a “lag” occurs with Covid-19 reported cases: “What shows up as reported cases could be new or could be weeks old. But the hospital beds don’t fill up for a couple weeks and casualties don’t happen for a few more weeks after that.”

Millions of cases, he goes on, “means tens of thousands of losses,” probably occurring around May. That also means overcrowded and overwhelmed hospitals, morgues, and mortuaries.

That is why for Slavitt “Job 1” is getting frontline health care workers personal protection equipment to keep them safe and on the job.

In his Twitter thread, he pauses to address Trump: “Mr. President, fly the flag at half mast. Acknowledge our losses.”

What happens with our losses beyond the point of millions of infections and tens of thousands of death is an unknown. It’s a fork in the road that depends on what choices we make and what leadership we have at the federal, state and local levels, says Slavitt.

Take the wrong fork and we end up with many hundred of thousands of deaths in America and Covid-19 casualties that will reach into every city and town and most every family or extended family.

Now, for the not-so-bad news. While the White House response has been a travesty, the state and regional response has been heartening. Slavitt’s United States of Care group has developed a Covid-19 Priorities Checklist for State Leaders, who—in the absence of decisive, thoughtful leadership from the president—have been at the heart of the most effective action.

We also see the way people are reacting in our towns, cities and states. In West Virginia where I live, a small effort launched on Facebook as the “WV Food ER 2020” page to feed people in need now operates in all 55 of the state’s counties. The organizers just spun off a new website, to offer pandemic support, ways to volunteer, and to embody the site’s motto: “Taking care of each other is the West Virginia way.” 

Elsewhere, some school personnel and county boards of education have pulled in all the food in the state’s now-shuttered schools to send it back out again.

In Cabell County where my kids went to school, they’ve created a centralized distribution process, bagging meals and sending them out via school buses to kids long dependent on school meals for daily nutrition. The buses pull up on rural roads and staff hand out meals. Here’s an inspiring video a friend did about that effort.

Watching my fellow West Virginians mobilize, watching them run toward scenes of disaster and not away, I feel in my bones we’ve got this.

But it will come at huge costs, costs in money, illness, deaths, and much misery. And for that we must be prepared to share the burden—and share the joy, even—of coming together even as things fall apart.

A friend of mine who passed some years ago left a final post on his Facebook timeline. Those of us who loved him dearly thought it was just a placeholder message and that he was taking a break as he attended to his life-threatening illness.

It was the last I ever heard from him. But I share his straight-from-the-heart message with all for these trying times:

“Look out for each other.”

Douglas John Imbrogno is a freelance writer and multimedia producer. See more of his work at:

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[…] I have wondered if I spend too much time on ‘Pandemic Diversions and not enough on the barricades. I’ve spent some time on the barricades, armed with sharp dipthongs and explosive metaphors. (‘Here Comes the Tsunami: Getting Ready for Loss in a Pandemic’.) […]

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