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Mourning

By Ellie H. Ashby, Crimson Opinion Writer
Ellie H. Ashby ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.

Five months ago, I destroyed my knee wakeboarding. Feet strapped onto a plastic board, skimming the glassy lake water, I was enjoying the last glimpse of summer until, all of a sudden, the board caught the edge of the water and violently twisted my legs out from under me. Shock filled my body like ice as my knee dislocated and my ligaments tore like paper.

My knee was twice its normal size. I couldn’t even straighten it all the way. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, breath stifled by an ever-present mask, knowing I had to get on a flight to Boston to start my freshman year in less than two weeks. Every fiber of my being wanted to scream — and cry — out of outrage and desperate grief.

But I didn’t. Just like I didn’t when prom got canceled, when graduation was painted with masks and distance, when teachers and friends and family were spared hugs and celebratory embraces, when summer turned into a monotony of isolation, when death tolls and infection rates colored the news of every day. Mirroring my reaction to Covid-19, blinders went up, numbness took over, and the cork bottling up my grief remained tightly wedged. The accident had thrown a pebble into the waters of my life; I was trying to contain the ripples.

When my knee injury happened, I was unable to think about the weight of what I was going through and what I had gone through. The next thing, the next thing; my mind was trapped in a loop of survival. Thankfully, those blinders have started to come down. My view has widened from encompassing just the next step to working through the exponentially-expanding ripples instigated by the pebble of my accident. I’ve stopped trying to bargain away my pain or circumstance for what my narrow and finite mind deems a “better” outcome. I’ve accepted the injury and its future implications; I’ve accepted that when I feel any type of emotion connected to that original trauma, I need to acknowledge it. I must acknowledge it.

I was able to move through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — because my accident was a singularity, an event confined to one moment of time. There was a beginning, there was an ending, and afterward, there was space for my emotional absolution.

But how do you move on from something that hasn’t yet ended? How do you begin to reckon with a calamity when it isn’t confined to one moment, when every day it strips life from you and your loved ones?

No one can eat inside Annenberg. Housing Day is a distant memory celebrated by only juniors and seniors. Dorms and houses resound with echoes of half-empty silence. Widener Library stands solemnly. Lecture halls accumulate delicate layers of dust. And I, a freshman, struggle to write this paragraph as I do not even know everything I have missed; I long for what I do not know.

Covid-19 is an ongoing, collective trauma. It has taken lives and livelihoods, wiped away new memories and new beginnings, induced states of repetition and depression, forced conclusions and endings before we were ready to say goodbye. Every one of us has lost someone, and every one of us has lost a little bit of our own life.

But, no one seems to be talking about it. We analyze statistics. We yell at one another to “wear a mask!” We scold those who break social-distancing norms (while maybe secretly wishing we could do the same in order to experience a taste of normalcy). We read the news. We use humor to mask our dried-out eyes from hours and hours and hours of Zoom calls. “I’m as good as I can be,” we say. Phrases of distraction. Phrases of survivalism.

But we don’t collectively mourn. We don’t collectively cry. We don’t, as a society, acknowledge the weight of what has happened and what is happening every day. We all have blinders on. The next thing, the next thing; we can’t afford to deviate our eyes from the narrow path of the future, because if we do, we’ll see the burning, ragged ruins all around. We do not know how to mourn. We can’t afford to.

This is partly because mourning something like Covid-19 is near impossible. Never have we had to wrestle with ongoing and continuous tragedy. Never before have we tried to move from denial to acceptance when the trauma isn’t confined to a space and time.

Even so, we must learn how to mourn. It is a choice, a choice we must make every day. Not to rip off the blinders in one fell swoop, but to acknowledge and wrestle with every emotion within our collective trauma. We must be kind to ourselves. We must learn how to lament.

This last year has not been normal, so there is no reason to treat it as such. We are great at superficially acknowledging these “unprecedented times” through emails and check-ins before Zoom meetings, but we have yet to delve elbow-deep into the parts of our mind partitioned off by blinders.

We must accept the weight of this last year and the ripples in the water to come. We all must learn how to mourn.

Ellie H. Ashby ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.

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