A note on grief, work, and kindness in the age of COVID.

I am tired of being strong, and I am growing disillusioned with a culture that insists that we must always be — even through nineteen months of hell. When this pandemic ends, we will have to evaluate the damage it has inflicted on our mental health.

How many of us have lost friends and family? How many of us are still living with the hurt of losing our loved ones? How many of us have had the loneliness of this pandemic chip away at our identity? How many of us have struggled to maintain our humanity?

Last December, I wrote my final exams after learning that a close family member had died a week earlier. I could not cry. I had exams coming up, and crying would not help, I thought. So, I sucked it up. I continued studying even as I communicated with my family about funeral arrangements.

Two weeks later, a colleague, one of those with whom I had the most contact throughout the semester, died. I learned of his death on December 31st. I had not known him for a long time, but I had had zoom meetings with him and two other colleagues every Wednesday since the start of the semester. In the middle of a pandemic that had disconnected most of us from the rest of the world, I saw this young man’s face and heard his voice every week. In an otherwise chaotic time, his presence — and that of our colleagues — was a constant. And that, too, was now gone. Just like that. Just like that.

I remember the night of December 31st vividly. I had been telling myself the whole day to remain hopeful. I was trying to bring myself to continue my tradition of attending church service every New Year’s Eve. I remember telling a friend over the phone that I looked forward to thanking God for the year despite all of the hurt that it had brought. I had stated that I looked forward to 2021 because it would be a year of blessings. And then, I checked the GroupMe chat for a law school group that I belong to and learned that my law school colleague had died.

Finally, I wept. For about thirty minutes or so, I cried. I could not understand why anyone should have to go through what we had gone through that year. I remember just screaming, “why?” All of the hurt of that year finally came rushing out. The loneliness. The anxieties. The depression one covers with intense work and smiles that probably never quite reaches one’s eyes. It all came rushing out. Finally, after a year of sublimation (or so I thought), it all came pouring out.

And the residue remains. After nineteen months of terrible loneliness and struggling to make peace with the deaths that still do not make sense to me, I find myself questioning my priorities. Wondering if happiness resides in the spaces that I had previously thought it lives.

See, I am tired of being strong. And I feel sorry for all the times that I have told others, “just be strong.” I want to cry. I also want to find and feel joy again. When this pandemic ends, we must ask if we did enough to recognize one another’s trauma and do our best to be kind. I know that I have not been the most successful in this regard. A stranger said to me a few weeks ago: “even though you will be working in the corporate world, I hope you will find a way to approach your work with kindness.” This may come as a shock to those aware of my cynicism, but I hope so too. I hope we will all strive, first, to be kind.