How to Offer Condolences in an Instagram Comment

Covid-19 deaths are being announced everywhere. Is “I’m so sorry” ever enough?

By Jocelyn M. DeGroot

Over 100,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, and thanks to social media, many of us who aren’t personally in mourning are digitally connected to someone who is. Especially for people in the hardest-hit areas, death announcements in Facebook statuses, Instagram posts and tweets seem more frequent than they’ve ever been.

While social-distancing requirements have limited funerals and burials, sharing condolences online is as easy as ever — or at least it should be. But I worry that people will keep scrolling and fail to reach out — or worse, make hurtful comments — because they are simply overwhelmed by the scale of loss.

Because I’ve studied grief for nearly 15 years, I’m often asked what to say to a person whose loved one has died, and my response is always the same: Recognize the loss. And let the person have their grief.

The pandemic has made that advice even more salient.

But what if the grieving person is someone who has appeared in your feed for years but you haven’t talked with since high school? What if he or she is just a casual acquaintance or a former co-worker? What if you exchange likes on each other’s posts but haven’t met in person?

I repeat: Recognize the loss. And let the person have his or her grief.

When you see the bad news, don’t delay, deliberate or draft and redraft responses you’ll never send. “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m thinking of you” are perfectly good messages. I always advise sharing a favorite memory of the deceased, but if you don’t have one, it is fine to say, “I didn’t know your loved one personally, but I wanted to let you know I’m thinking about your family.”

If you’re thinking friends and family members who are closer to the mourning person will handle the comforting words, don’t be so sure.

The writer Nicole Chung, who recently lost her mother, said in a tweet, “One thing I’d almost forgotten from grieving my dad: you can suffer an enormous loss and hear almost nothing from people you thought you were close to, while near-strangers come out of the woodwork and send you the most life-giving messages.”

You could be one of those near-strangers.

With the absence of physical contact and proximity being limited to six-foot distances, grieving people will miss out on the important psychological aspects of touch and physical presence, exacerbating the grieving process. Many will be at home alone. So your words matter more than ever.

Preliminary findings from a study I conducted with Dr. Heather Carmack have revealed that the statements most appreciated by people after the death of a loved one are those that acknowledge the person’s grief or offer tangible help: I’m sorry for your loss; My condolences on the death of …; Deepest sympathies; Praying for you and your family (if they are religious).

Our participants also welcomed hearing memories of their loved ones. You can share these even if your recollections come from stories shared on Twitter or photos you’ve seen in your social feeds over the years.

When you navigate to the comments or replies to leave a message, you might see that others had the same idea and posted something similar to what you planned to say. That’s OK. Your words don’t need to be unique. I’ve learned that people often scroll through social media comments not to glean unique insights but simply to remind themselves that people support them — so the specific message is less important than the fact that the message is there.

But please remember not to make the loss about you. I’ve observed that at times, people who only tangentially know the deceased post extensive messages about the death, tagging close family members. Researchers have called this behavior “grief-lite” or “grief porn,” and it’s a practice born in the social media age. I call it emotional rubbernecking, and you should avoid it.

Our study’s preliminary findings indicated that the most damaging messages to bereaved people were those that marginalized the death in some way, causing the grief to become disenfranchised. Trite sayings such as “Only the good die young” or “God must have needed another angel” are decidedly not helpful. Admit that the death was terrible, the current circumstances are terrible, and if you don’t know what to say … say that.

Comments like “At least she lived a full life,” “I know how you feel,” “You still have your husband” are not supportive. Instead, these comments invalidate the person’s grief.

Remember that people are fearful that others will forget their deceased loved ones. You can make sure that’s not true, even as the number of people lost recently is so great. Make a comment now. Send a message in a month. Send another in six months. And when the pandemic is over, when the food photos and political debates remain but the tragic announcements are less frequent, reach out, recognize the loss and let the person have his or her grief, yet again.

Complete Article HERE!

Anticipatory Grief

-The Fearful Worry About the Future

By Mike Schoenhofer, MSW

Today, Mary and I volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry. I looked forward to getting out of the house and doing more than take a walk. Mary sewed face masks for us and we got gloves to wear when we arrived. Four National Guardsmen were helping. I felt good that I could pitch in and help. Looking at my coworkers wearing face masks and gloves felt a little surreal. I felt grateful for the service of the four Guardsmen wearing protective gear and doing the most dangerous task of loading food boxes into cars.

I can’t believe I just wrote that. Who would have thought loading a car with a box of food is dangerous, even life-threatening? As someone wrote, it feels like we’ve all entered a Stephen King novel. Is this the future? Face Masks? Social Distancing? Gloves? Troops loading cars with food?

What is Anticipatory Grief?

The term for this is “anticipatory grief.” Sam Dylan, in a Healthline article, How Anticipatory Grief May Show Up During the COVID-19 Outbreak, gives us an excellent overview of what this looks and feels like.

1. We feel on edge and are not sure why — hypervigilance; we scan the news regularly.

2. We feel angry and out of control — working at home is not fun anymore, and our favorite brand of mac and cheese hasn’t been available for weeks.

3. We focus on the worst-case scenario — ruminating about an apocalyptic version of the future.

4. We feel exhausted — our worry and stress hormone, cortisol, floods our body and zaps our energy. We read posts about how productive and creative everyone else is, and we find it hard to do anything more than read a novel.

5. We avoid telling anyone how we are feeling. “I am having an awful day today.”

No wonder we have these feelings. We are experiencing a lot of loss. Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee identifies loss we experience in her article: Necessary Self Care During COVID: Working through Loss. We’ve lost some financial security, the ability to buy what we want, the opportunity to travel and meet with people. And we’ve lost the feeling that we are in total control of our lives.

Some Things We Can Do.

i. Connect with someone even if we don’t feel like it. Social distancing does not mean cutting off communications.

ii. Name what we are feeling and tell someone about it. “I’m not doing so well today.”

iii. Stay fed, hydrated, rested, and get exercise. Make this a priority.

iv. Try doing something a little creative. Write a poem. Draw a flower. Take some pictures. Start a scrapbook. Learn to knit. Check out YouTube for countless creative ideas.

Step Back a Moment in Compassion.

This is a tough time, and our reactions and the reactions of our family, friends, and neighbors will be different and changing. Instead of lashing out in judgment, try stepping back in compassion. We have some challenging weeks ahead, maybe longer. Instead of looking to a time when it will be over, focus on what is happening right now.

So much is out of our control. Let’s look for what we can control in the here and now.

Complete Article HERE!

Navigating ‘anticipatory grief’

– how to deal with your lost year

By Amelia Lester

David Kessler, the man who together with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross invented the five stages of grief, says that’s precisely the emotion we’re all struggling with right now. In a powerful interview published on the Harvard Business Review website, Kessler went on to suggest the air was filled with an unprecedented amount of a particular type of grief.

“Anticipatory grief is the feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain,” he said.

“Anxiety” had never seemed like quite the right word for this moment. It didn’t explain why I could barely look at photos taken just a few months ago, because they made me cry about how we used to frolic on the beach and go out to restaurants and hug people. Nor did it totally summarise the feeling of loss when, on a routine visit to the hospital, I saw nothing along the way but shuttered shopfronts and empty streets.

“I don’t know you, but I miss you” was how I heard it put, which seemed to describe perfectly my longing for the collective undertaking we call society.

How do we get through this without surrendering to the darkness of the moment? Kessler said it was important to bring our thoughts back to the present wherever possible. To simply name five items in the room we’re in, to breathe, and to realise we’re okay right now.

He also said to let go of things we can’t control. Like whether or not we feel a neighbour is practising adequate social distancing, or whether – hypothetically speaking – a president is taking this once-in-a-century crisis seriously enough.

I have been noticing the restorative power of sunlight; the calming quality of a solitary walk; and the absolutely vital service performed in supermarkets.

Things which don’t seem to work as well include texting, because it’s too emotionally ambiguous for big conversations; getting angry at that hypothetical president; and eating too much pizza. There are instead more productive coping mechanisms. Parents who are heroically attempting to home-school their children tell me a schedule is vital. Those of us in book groups are enjoying taking them online. And one Chinese man, Pan Shancu from Hangzhou, ran 50 kilometres in his living room during lockdown by completing 6250 laps around two tables. So what’s your excuse?

Kessler’s last point really stayed with me. He said he has added a sixth stage to the steps in the grieving process, which is Meaning, because “I do believe we find light in these times.” (He also added the often-forgotten caveat that we don’t necessarily move through the stages of grief in a linear fashion.)

A friend put it this way: “People are being forced to see what’s really important in their lives.”

I have been noticing the restorative power of sunlight; the calming quality of a solitary walk; and the absolutely vital service performed in supermarkets and by many other workers keeping the lights on, the water flowing, the internet up. (Never thought I’d be giving thanks for internet service providers, but this is a brave new world.)

Right now there are so many people grieving for the year they thought they were going to have. Maybe you were graduating from university, or getting married, or starting a business, or travelling abroad on a much-anticipated holiday. Or maybe you’re an Olympic athlete who’s spent every waking moment for the past four years preparing for Tokyo. No matter your story, for all of us, it feels entirely appropriate to talk about this virus in terms of what we have lost and will lose. It’s time to give our grief a name.

Complete Article HERE!

Grief For Beginners

– 5 Things To Know About Processing Loss

By Stephanie O’Neill

We’re all experiencing some form of grief these days. As this pandemic progresses, more of us will brush shoulders with loss.

The death of someone you care about deeply can be so gut wrenching and annihilating that you may be left unable to imagine ever regaining your equilibrium. And if you’re there right now, just know you won’t be in that painful place forever.

Explore Life Kit

This story comes from Life Kit, NPR’s podcast with tools to help you get it together. To listen to this episode, play the audio at the top of the page or find it here.

I know, because that happened to me in early fall of 2017. That’s when I lost my partner of three years in a motorcycle wreck.

His death flattened me. For two weeks, I couldn’t eat. And for months after the accident, I barely slept, anxiety and exhaustion my constant companions. I came to believe that I’d never crawl out of the desolation.

But with proper care and attention, grief eases its heart-clenching grip. And, says grief expert Terri Daniel, embrace it fully and it can shake you alive and awake like nothing else.

“It’s an opening to a new world, a new self, higher awareness, spiritual growth — whatever you allow to come in,” says Daniel. “And it leads to greater peace in life.”

Daniel knows this firsthand. In 2006, she lost her 16-year-old son to metachromatic leukodystrophy, a rare metabolic disorder.

“It was a progressively degenerative disease. He went from being a perfectly normal kid to in a wheelchair, unable to speak or manage his own body in any way,” she says.

She offers these five strategies to help you cultivate a healthy relationship with grief.

1. Be with your grief.

Tending to grief requires us to be with it, in all its misery and messiness.

“We want to find a place where we can be present with it rather than be in resistance to it,” Daniel says. “It’s an old Buddhist teaching of sitting with uncertainty, sitting with discomfort. And that’s the real tool we need for being with grief.”

Coronavirus Has Upended Our World. It's OK To Grieve

It’s not easy. But doing so is key to embarking on the “tasks of grieving,” which span the entire grieving process.

Psychologist William Worden developed the concept, which involves four main tasks: acceptance of the loss, processing that loss, adjusting to life without the deceased person and finding ways to maintain an enduring connection with your loved one as you continue your life.

Daniel suggests thinking of the tasks of grieving as you do other recurring tasks in life. You face the discomfort and do the work because a healthy mourning process demands our presence.

The tasks differ from the “stages of grief” made famous by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She described the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance that a person goes through when facing their own death.

One thing is certain: Sidestepping grief isn’t an option. Numbing the pain with work, alcohol or other drugs only delays the inevitable, says Sonya Lott, a Philadelphia-based psychologist.

“We have to move through it, or it will continue to show up in insidious ways in every aspect of our being: physically, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually,” says Lott.

2. Grief is a lifelong journey.

The acute pain will subside, but the pain of loss never fully leaves us. It finds us at unexpected moments.

When you’re in the throes of acute grief, this may sound untenable. But Daniel says, given time and space, grief matures into an old, comfortable friend.

It has been more than 13 years since Daniel lost her son. And when a wave of sadness hits her shore, she embraces it.

“I like to say, ‘Hello, grief. … I don’t want you to be here, but I’m going to make friends with you because I can’t get rid of you. So come on in and sit with me, and I will be your friend,’ ” Daniel says. “That’s how you heal. That’s how it strengthens you.”

3. Grief needs expression.

Paint, sculpt, throw clay, dance, bake, journal — whatever feels right. And reach out to trusted friends or family members who get it.

“One of the things a grieving person needs more than anything else is to tell their story and be heard,” she says.

Making Art Is Good For Your Health. Here's How To Start A Habit

Many people benefit from support groups or time with a grief counselor.

If after a year, you still feel stuck, you could be moving into complicated grief. While regular grief doesn’t usually require therapeutic intervention, that changes with complicated grief, says Lott.

She specializes in treating the condition, also known as prolonged grief disorder. Lott says it’s diagnosed when a person experiences acute grief that interferes with their daily functioning more than a year after the death. A host of factors puts people at risk for complicated grief, Lott says. Among them are multiple losses within a short period, preexisting mental health conditions and unexpected deaths.

For that there’s an evidence-based treatment called complicated grief therapy. You’ll have to find someone like Lott who specializes in this, and it involves between 16 and 20 therapy sessions.

If you need help finding a therapist, there’s a Life Kit for that too.

4. Healthy grieving involves pingponging between loss and restoration.

The journey through grief is not linear.

“So you’re sad, you’re crying, you can’t get out of bed. You’re angry. That’s loss,” Daniel says. “Then you get out of bed and you go write in your journal and take a walk in nature — that’s restoration. Back and forth, back and forth. As long as you’re moving between those two focuses all the time and you’re not stagnant, you’re gonna be fine.”

Eventually, you’ll find yourself residing mostly in restoration, which is healthy but also sometimes brings its own challenges.

“There’s so much guilt that comes with that,” she says. “We feel that holding on to our pain keeps us connected to our loved one, and it’s not true.”

Instead, Daniel and other grief experts urge you to find a positive way of remaining connected. Doing so is one of those important tasks of healing. For some, it’s as simple as framing a favorite photo or planting a tree. For others, it’s getting a tattoo. Or in the case of Daniel, adopting her son Danny’s first name as her last.

5. Grief can break you open to a new you — if you let it.

In early grief, the change to your life is unwelcome. But grief is supposed to change you, Daniel says.

And for many of us, the healing period brings new passions and sometimes an entirely new direction in life. You may find yourself starting a charity, volunteering or going back to school.

Advice For Dealing With Uncertainty, From People Who've Been There

For me, it has been to better understand profound grief so that I can continue healing and, when possible, help others through it.

“The term that we use in counseling is ‘meaning-making,’ ” Daniel says. “You make meaning out of your life.”

Complete Article HERE!

Kids Are Grieving, Too

Parents are facing difficult moments as children confront the death of a loved one, something they may not fully understand.

By Melinda Wenner Moyer

The coronavirus pandemic has taken more than a quarter of a million lives, many of them mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents — adults who have left grieving children behind. Many more children will lose loved ones in the coming months. Here’s some guidance on how to talk to kids about illness and death, and how to support them when someone they love dies.

Be Honest

It can be hard to know how much to share with kids right now. We want to prepare them for what might happen, but we don’t want to needlessly terrify them. Still, if a family member or friend becomes seriously ill, it’s best to be honest about what’s going on, even if you don’t know exactly how things will play out, according to Joseph Primo, the chief executive of Good Grief, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that helps children deal with loss and grief. It’s a good idea, for instance, to tell your kids that grandma has the coronavirus and that even though lots of people are trying to help her, nobody knows whether she will get better.

This honesty might go against your protective instincts, but when we share our feelings and our vulnerability, it makes it easier for our kids to open up about what’s worrying them, and our honesty builds their trust, Primo said.

If someone close to your child is sick, it might also be wise to go over what your family is doing to stay safe, according to Robin Goodman, Ph.D., a certified trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapist based in New York. You might say, “‘That’s why we take care of you, that’s why you wash your hands, that’s why we’re careful when we go outside with a mask,’” Dr. Goodman said. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., a New Jersey-based clinical psychologist and author of “What’s My Child Thinking?,” also emphasized honesty — don’t lie by asserting that you’re all definitely going to be fine. “You can’t give any guarantees, but you can say, ‘my plan is to be around for a very long time,’” she said.

Explain Death

If a loved one dies, it’s best to avoid euphemisms, Primo said. If you tell children that grandpa’s just sleeping or he’s gone somewhere else, they might continue to believe that grandpa will come back or eventually wake up, and not process what happened. “When we try to protect kids by sugarcoating things and not giving them the real information, they end up constructing a narrative that is often far more scary than reality,” Primo said.

Dr. Goodman said that it was best to tell your kids that grandpa died, and then make sure they understand what death means. Tell them, “Once you die, you can’t come back, that your body doesn’t work anymore,” she said. It can help to differentiate what it means to be alive versus dead — to explain that people who are alive can watch TV, brush their teeth, eat and sleep, but that people who are dead cannot.

Correct Misconceptions

Children under 5 probably won’t be able to grasp the permanence of death. They may continue to ask when grandpa is coming back. That’s normal and age-appropriate; just patiently remind them that he died and is not coming back. “It doesn’t mean they’re avoiding it, denying it, not understanding it, it’s because that’s developmentally what they understand,” Dr. Goodman said.

It’s also common for children to worry that they caused a loved one’s death, Dr. Kennedy-Moore said. “The idea that terrible things can happen ‘just because’ is terrifying,” she said. “On some level, it’s painful — but less terrifying — to think that they did something to cause it.” To ease your child’s mind, Primo advises against chiding them or flat-out telling them they’re wrong. Doing so won’t change their mind — it’ll just make them feel like they can’t talk to you about it, he said.

Primo suggested that parents engage with the idea and ask the child why they feel responsible. You want to “explore the thought, keep providing facts delicately, and give them the space and time to process it,” he said. “The kid who gets onto the other side of this thought more quickly is going to be the one who was allowed to live with it for a little bit longer — and to dissect it and to realize, ‘oh, no, that wasn’t me, that’s not how this works.’”

It’s crucial to give your children the opportunity to talk about the death if they want to — and to gently help them understand what happened and why. Dr. Judith Cohen, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Drexel University College of Medicine and the medical director of the Allegheny General Hospital Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents in Pittsburgh, witnessed her sister’s sudden death when she was 6, and no one engaged with her about it afterward. “I have a strong belief that when parents don’t talk about it, children develop negative beliefs about what they should have done, what they could have done, and why it happened. That can be very difficult, if not damaging, to their understanding of themselves and the world around them,” she said.

Share Coping Strategies

Funerals aren’t possible for many families right now, so it’s helpful to come up with other ways to remember and memorialize the person who has died. (If a funeral is taking place, you still might want to give your child the option of staying home — not all children like to attend funerals, and that’s OK, Dr. Goodman said.) Maybe you plant a tree in the backyard to remember them, bake their favorite bread, watch their favorite movie or make a special photo album.

Remember, too, that grief doesn’t follow a schedule. American culture expects people to mourn quickly — to cry at the funeral and then feel a sense of “closure” and move on — but these expectations aren’t particularly healthy or appropriate. “Ultimately, the purpose of mourning and memorializing is to foster an ongoing sense of connection with the person who died,” Primo said, and that means “we can memorialize and remember as often as we want.”

It’s also OK for your kids to see you feeling sad and to engage with them about your grief, according to Robyn Silverman, Ph.D., a child and teen development specialist who hosts the podcast “How To Talk To Your Kids About Anything.” “When you talk about your own feelings about anything, it opens the door for the child to talk about theirs — it gives them that permission,” she said.

If your children are having trouble talking about their feelings, Dr. Kennedy-Moore suggested getting out a pack of index cards and asking your child to help you brainstorm various emotions, writing one emotion down on each card (and making sure to include feelings like “sad” and “lonely.”) Then, ask your child to sort the cards into three piles: A “yes” pile (for feelings they’re feeling right now), a “no” pile (for feelings they aren’t experiencing), and a “maybe a little bit” pile. Then, ask them to go through each of the cards in the “yes” and “maybe a little bit” piles, pausing on each one to explain why they believe they are feeling that way. Dr. Kennedy-Moore said that parents should try not to “fix” their children’s feelings or talk them out of having them, but just to briefly acknowledge them. This approach encourages kids to name and engage with their emotions, which “makes those big, messy feelings seem more understandable, and therefore more manageable,” she said. (Sesame Street also has online resources to help children understand and talk about their emotions when they are grieving.)

Support Your Grieving Child

Children often grieve differently than adults — and on a different schedule. They might be upset for a few minutes, and then seem totally fine, and then a few hours later feel sad again. “They grieve deeply, but they don’t hold on to those feelings forever,” Dr. Cohen said. Also, kids may not mourn all that much after they have lost a relative they only rarely saw, and that’s fine. This doesn’t mean they didn’t love them.

If you sense that your child is doing things to avoid engaging with their grief — refusing to talk about grandma or the memories they have of her — “therapy can be helpful,” Dr. Cohen said. Reach out to your pediatrician, a child therapist or a grief counselor for recommendations.

Finally, grieving children can benefit from following a somewhat normal home routine, Dr. Goodman said. This can be tough during a pandemic and especially after a loved one dies — nothing is going to feel normal at that point — but a routine can provide children with a sense of control and reassurance that everything is going to be OK. It tells them that even though things are so very hard right now, life is going to go on.

Complete Article HERE!

Who Knows Where the Time Goes

We are all in a box, and in those boxes we are grieving.


Absent any other marker, nature indicates the passage of time. Daffodils and hyacinths give way to roses. Blossoms fall, new leaves bud, pink petals are gone from empty New York streets. Frozen figures in rumpled clothes may note some slight change in the canvas. Who knows where the time goes?

We met in the warm season. We met in the cold season. It becomes possible to imagine time reordered in such a way. Oh, yes, in the warm season, I remember the peonies. A friend tells me her marker of time’s passage in Paris has become the advancing decomposition of a dead rat in the bike lane on her circumscribed daily outing. Who knows where the time goes?

We are all in a box. A smaller or larger Zoom box, depending on the number of people in the conversation. A sidewalk box that sets appropriate social distancing. The box behind the new plastic panels in stores, the box of four too-familiar walls, a mental box of insistent yet unanswerable questions; and in those boxes we are all grieving.

Grieving for a loved one lost to the coronavirus, for lost cities, for lost worlds, for America lost. The virus has revealed a nation in decomposition, incapable of coherence, un-led, angry, disoriented, scattered.

The pathogen itself becomes a political Rorschach test, perceived according to tribal allegiance. The vice president refuses to wear a mask on a visit to the Mayo Clinic, a wink to one of those tribes. Why the heck did the hospital break its own rules and let him in?

Because there are no rules anymore. Who would have thought it is possible to become nostalgic for alternate-side New York parking, that implacable marker of the days? Anything is possible; the proof is before our eyes.

Grieving is not missing. We miss conviviality. We grieve for life. For loves lost and retraced, for the precious moment unappreciated. Perhaps at root we grieve for the failure of our imaginations.

That is to say for our inability to grasp what W.G. Sebald, the German writer, called “the ghosts of repetition,” the ever-recurring patterns of dislocation and disaster that punctuate human history until they impose themselves on the present.

A middle-aged woman sits on the steps of a synagogue sobbing. A young woman props her bike against a fence and sobs. It seems indelicate to intrude on such grief. The loss of time itself can engender a terrible emptiness. I see the clock without hands, and the face without features, in the deserted streets of the shattering nightmare sequence in Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries.” Who knows where the time goes?

Speaking of dreams, here is another one. A friend finds herself in a cumbersome crude contraption that looks like a beekeeper’s bonnet but is made of sheets of clear plastic screwed together with wood framing. She cannot figure out why it is there, until she learns that banks now require clients to box their faces in this way to get money from an A.T.M. Perhaps, in intimate circles, the box-bonnet bump will replace the elbow bump.

In our boxes, the great health-versus-wealth debate rages. How, when and where to restart the economy, the appropriateness of this or that trade-off. As if the great trade-offs that produced this dysfunctional America had not already happened.

The trade-offs that disempowered the body politic and democratic practice, and empowered special interests and the wealthy; that starved a health system that might have helped people survive better; that conferred sanctity on soaring executive compensation but not on a decent living wage for the mass of Americans; and on and on and on.

The pandemic is also an urgent call for national and personal reinvention and rebalancing. After the Black Death came the Renaissance. From the depths of economic horror came Roosevelt’s New Deal. From this horror, so far, come the senseless twists and turns of the orange Narcissus.

Bandits hold sway. I have visions of Howard Beale in “Network,” and his I’m-as-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-this-anymore that brought screaming Americans to their windows.

“All of humanity’s problems,” said Blaise Pascal, “stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” We are learning. Seeing frenetic consumption for what it was, shuddering at the frantic quest for distraction and status in the time before.

I have been listening to “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” Fairport Convention, 1969, wonderful song, transporting. Turned time’s arrow backward for me, listening to Pink Floyd in Hyde Park in 1968. An ache, we all feel it now.

A cemetery may seem an unlikely source of solace, but Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, ranging over 478 acres, is a beautiful sanctuary. At the main entrance, a large colony of blue-green parrots has established itself. Urban legend has it the birds escaped from a transport at J.F.K. I watched them for a while swooping in mesmeric patterns with twigs in their mouths to add to a multistoried nest that appears to need no additions whatsoever. The parrots get on with their D.I.Y. anyway.

Complete Article HERE!

In the Coronavirus Crisis, I Can’t Visit My Sick Mother

—So I Wear Her Perfume Instead


I woke up terrified last Friday. Or was it last Thursday? Maybe yesterday. Today?

Each day bleeds into the next when in social isolation to hinder the spread of the novel coronavirus. This pandemic brings with it an acrid kind of despair, infiltrating every hour of our lives, every call we make and text we send. It’s this nauseating smog in my home, where I’ve had the privilege of working remotely, shut away from the world.

One morning, the miasma began to suffocate me. Reports said that nearly 4.4 million people were newly jobless in the U.S., some of my friends among them. Dreadful images of overcrowded hospitals appeared all over the news, while the number of those who tested positive for the virus only continued to rise. It was hitting me that people are dying because a president too concerned about his re-election chances did not acknowledge or prepare for the oncoming global health crisis.

I couldn’t breathe. I opened my windows and watched my quiet Brooklyn street. I went to my dresser. Deeply stressed, I did what I’d always done: I put on some perfume.

It’s my mother’s old favorite, a scent called “Thé Vert,” French for green tea. I bought the bottle during my first summer in New York. Overwhelmed by my magazine internship and yearning for a whiff of home, I went to a L’Occitane near Lincoln Center and sprayed the fragrance on my wrist. It’s a clean scent, floral yet piercing—Camellia sinensis with talons. My pulse steadied. My mind went from cloudy to clear. A single spritz was a vivifying hit.

A salesperson came over, eager to assure me Thé Vert was unisex. I didn’t care either way. I marched to the register with 750 milliliters of the stuff and emptied my wallet onto the counter. That evening, I ate dinner street-side (a five-dollar lamb and rice plate), as the oily halal cart aromas mingled with my new perfume.

It’s been a good investment. That was eight years ago and I still have that same bottle to this day. Some of my fragrances have turned bad over time, but Thé Vert, I think, hasn’t changed much. The green tea is still there, though now it smells peppery when it tickles my nose. Ultimately, its effect is the same: Wearing it, I inhale botanical grit, my mother’s eternal fortitude. And then, whatever anxiety I can release, I get to exhale.

L’Occitane launched Thé Vert in 1999. Bitter orange is the primary top note; the middle notes are green tea and jasmine; nutmeg, cedar, and thyme make up the base. Some reviews on the perfume site Fragrantica associate it with “a happy summer day” or “a picnic at the park.” But when I smell it, I conjure other images entirely.

To me, Thé Vert is five o’clock in the smoggy Manila morning. It’s my mother in her blazer and pencil skirt, applying a full face of makeup in the two-hour traffic jam, dropping me off at school en route to work. Thé Vert is me sobbing into my mother’s collarbone, hurt and confused by men in my family who told me to “man up.” It’s her consoling embrace, her reminders that this storm will pass once we beach upon more welcoming shores.

Thé Vert is my mother in her bedroom in Las Vegas, crying on the phone to my stepfather in the Philippines, separated from her beloved. It’s me hugging her, reminding her that we have each other as we restart our lives in this strange new country. It’s us finding solace in beautiful, simple things—in shared meals, in French perfumes, in our mutual trust and friendship.

As time wore on, my mother wore her perfume less and less, until she finally stopped. L’Occitane discontinued Thé Vert in 2013, a year after I first bought it. They replaced it with the remixed Thé Vert & Bigarade. On Fragrantica, a reviewer called the new formula “bitter and sickly,” and preferred the original Thé Vert because it was “penetrating” and “sharp.”

My mother was similar, someone who cut her own path—for herself in the Philippines; for us both in the United States. That’s the woman I try to channel whenever I put on Thé Vert. I imagine walking through a cloud of atomized courage, borrowing my mother’s conviction, her grace. The bloom of it on my skin tells me that, against all odds, all will be well.

“I’m wearing your perfume today,” I told my mother recently. (This Sunday? Last Tuesday morning?)

Daytime in Brooklyn meant nighttime in Manila, where she and my stepfather now live together. Their self-isolation began around the same time as mine. I could hear the television in their townhouse. They were watching a press briefing live on CNN.

She doesn’t wear fragrances anymore, she said, “so it’s your perfume now, anak.”

I said that it still reminds me of her. It comforts me, makes bearable the fact that I can’t be by her side in the middle of what, on the worst days, feels like the end of the world. I wish I could see you, I told her. She smiled; I could sense it over the phone.

“It’s safer that you’re not here,” she said. “But I miss you too.”

I was supposed to visit my family this spring. But between my work schedule and preparing for the publication of my book this summer, I never got around to buying a plane ticket. This procrastination did me a favor, sort of. When New York governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on March 7, my mother told me—jokingly, I think—that God had willed my indolence.

Just as well, we agreed. Flying from the U.S. to the Philippines would have meant going through multiple international gateways, potentially contracting the coronavirus along the way, and possibly passing it on to my mother and stepfather. They’re getting on a bit—she’s in her 60s; he’s in his 70s—and the Center for Disease Control states that older adults are at higher risk for severe illnesses from COVID-19. Also, my mother is immunocompromised. This is because she has cancer.

Again, I should say. My mother was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Treatment put her into remission by the summer of 2016; by the fall, we were visiting Rome and Paris together for the first time. Then in 2019, last summer, she phoned me with the news.

Through tears, she said, “It’s back.”

The words my brain managed to pick up were stage IV, metastasized, the bones. She would have called sooner, she explained, but she didn’t want to interrupt my work. I was at an arts residency in New Hampshire for the month, finishing my manuscript. So, under sudden pressure and running out of time, I completed the first draft of my book the next day, unsure how to celebrate, unsure if I should.

The rest of my time at the residency, I wore Thé Vert. I wore it when I went to Manila to see my mother that fall—and again over the winter holidays, when it still felt safe to fly overseas. This year, I wore it at my pre-launch book party, when we could still gather in large groups. I wore it on a big date, when it still felt safe to date—to hug hello, to sip each other’s cocktails, to kiss.

I wore Thé Vert when I woke up terrified. Have worn it throughout the pandemic thus far. Even now, as I write this essay, I wear my mother’s perfume.

I’m not sure when I’ll get to see her again. She’s doing fine, all things considered. Regarding her cancer, I can say that there’s no ticking clock—not for now at least. But there’s also no assured end to the coronavirus crisis. According to experts, it could take anywhere from two months to a year and a half before we can reclaim even a few routines of the pre-COVID-19 world.

At the rate I’m going, I’ll run out of Thé Vert by then. I’ve been putting it on every morning in self-isolation. It keeps me calm, for the most part—as have the facts that I live alone; that I can do my job online; that I take a soapy shower after every trip to the grocery and liquor store; that I have books and video games and group chats to keep me entertained.

But that miasma, it lingers. Thé Vert cuts through it on most days, but when friends ask how I’m doing, I mention my ambient unease. My longing for a world we previously took for granted, a world to which we might never return. This fear, one I’ve felt since last summer, of looming death. The Harvard Business Review named my anxiety when it published an article about the coronavirus that said, right in the headline, “That discomfort you’re feeling is grief.”

More specifically, anticipatory grief—the kind we experience when facing an unknowable future. In the case of the coronavirus, there’s an invisible enemy still mysterious to us, shattering our sense of readiness or safety. Everything is going to change, we think, but how? That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling since my mother said, “It’s back.” Her death is around the corner. We don’t know how long we have on this road, or when we’ll make that turn.

To grapple with anticipatory grief, the HBR article says, we must first acknowledge it—the terrifying days to come. Before making meaning out of loss, before mourning too fast, we must first manage the current grief with counteractive thinking. We must focus on the present. Like so: At this moment, I’m fine. I have food and a home, a job and a warm bed. I am not sick.

But my mother is sick. Already I feel the future pangs of loss; time-traveling micro doses of unbelievable hurt. We are already so far apart physically. Yet there will be a day, who knows how soon, when that gulf widens further, when she will no longer be just a 17-hour flight away. I will not be able to reach her by phone. My memories will fade and I will run out of Thé Vert—the ways I summon my mother.

I wore Thé Vert on a date so that this boy I liked could meet her, in a way. I wore it at my pre-launch book party in order to feel her presence too. I wore it in New Hampshire to celebrate with her a milestone in my writing career. All while we still can. These days, I’ve realized, I don’t wear the perfume to borrow her bravery, to emulate her. I wear it to feel her near me, to alleviate the present distance between us, the future loss I dread.

Like many others living in self-isolation, my mother and I find consolation in the little things: phone calls, video chats, the time we do have on earth. I’m getting antsy though. I told her I’ve been looking at tickets to Manila for my birthday in September, to celebrate with her and my stepfather once the pandemic is over.

“One day at a time, anak,” my mother said. “Take care of yourself first. That’s how we’ll make it through.”

She’s right. Though time differences remain and continents still drift, at least the world keeps turning. If we play our cards right as individuals and as communities in this time of certain uncertainty, there’s a future to hope for, to work towards.

I look forward to the day when I see her again in the flesh, when we embrace and hold each other. She will get a whiff of Thé Vert, still sharp and insistent after all these years, and rest easy. She’ll know that, wherever I go—or, one day, she goes—I will carry her with me always, even long after our perfume has faded into the night.

But for now, I must relish the present. At this moment, she’s fine. She has food and a home, my stepfather and a warm bed. My mother is alive.

It’s like another spritz, another vivifying hit.

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