Four weeks after my wife passed, the 2020 pandemic hit. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, COVID-19 for short. Overnight my mourning became a solo enterprise. No more casseroles from the Sisterhood. No more hugs from friends. No more in-person “Sorry for your loss.”
At least the mask I now am required to wear covers my quivering chin every time I have a Luella moment—my angel of forty-seven years, red hair the color of sunset on the Pacific. The only telltale sign of grief is leaky eyes. I could blame a faulty bilateral blepharoplasty to restore my peripheral vision, but that would be unfair. I had dry eyes for a spell after having my lids lifted but never suffered from epiphora during recovery.
It’s hard to see when your eyes are filled with unexpected tears. Sometimes I pull over while driving when that song comes up on my playlist. You know that song—the one in the Before Time when you could dance and hold someone close without worrying about infecting your loved one—the time before social distancing sterilized human touch.
In mid-March, one week after “novel coronavirus” became a household phrase, they shuttered the Senior Center and disbanded the Bereavement Support Group. No worries. There was Zoom Grief Group—Hollywood Squares-style video conferencing on steroids where I was exposed to the “Wheel of Emotion” and the “Circle of Gentleness” and “Checking-in.”
Connecting to the online app was a Herculean hurdle requiring misadventures in geekdom, but eventually, the technologically challenged became Zoom Masters, even the ones who’d forget their false teeth before signing on. Thirty minutes into the first online session, once all were finally logged in, video feeds live, audio unmuted, the Bereavement Chaplain says, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how are you feeling?”
“About COVID?” I ask.
“About your loss?” she answers.
“So, just to clarify,” I say, “for this Feelings from Loss Scale can I assume 1 is can’t-get-out-of-bed and 10 would be rapture-with-ascension-imminent?”
“Something like that.” The Chaplain nods then advises: “If you can express your emotions, you can address your emotions.”
“Clever,” I mumble. Zoom is omniaudient, hearing everything, amplifying my voice for the other online grievants. There is a muffle of widow and widower titters.
The Chaplain, omnicognizant, smiles with empathy. She’s definitely going to pandemic heaven and I’m thinking I should give her a five-star rating on Yelp when the group session ends.
“I’m feeling a…-1,” I say. Blank looks on every panel in the Zoom screen. “Minus-one-pillow-over-the-head depressed and that’s only for COVID,” I clarify. “I have two simultaneous feelings, the second being about my loss…for which I feel…0.”
No one says anything. I still have the Zoom mic, so, I offer the following: “I’m numb as in no ‘numb’er, zero being the space between living hell and spirit prison.”
One by one, the group members’ mouths flatten into tight lips. Online dialogue ceases.
“Thank you,” the Chaplain says. “In the Gentleness Circle, we never judge. Is anyone else ready to check-in with us today?”
I listen to the others share, grateful my loss is not nearly as raw as the woman whose partner dropped dead last week. Empathy tears dribble down my cheeks. My mind wanders to a FaceTime exchange yesterday with my neighbor.
“Word has it,” she said, “for introverts, self-quarantine is a blessing. Oodles of time to recharge. But…” she cautioned, “staying safe through isolation can lead to permanent psychic damage. At least that’s what the science says.”
(In 2020, “science” is privileged discourse, authoritative beyond question.)
“You know,” my neighbor confided, “Brother Gregarious is losing it.” She spins her index finger, never touches her temple, in that universal sign for ‘gone loco.’ “This pandemic thing,” she lamented. “He no longer smiles, never jokes, lives without song.”
Stay safe takes on new meaning. What if I…lose it…during Zoom Grief? I bow my head to pray, then remember some free advice about grieving, proffered at my wife’s funeral: “The only way out is through.”
Well, I think, the only way for extroverts to survive COVID is to develop a Multiple Personality Disorder—a family of the mind to keep you company. Am I an extrovert or an introvert? Merely blessed with M.P.D. kinfolk as imaginary companions or dearly blessed with self-isolation sufficient to recover from the energy-sap of “peopling?”
That’s when I come up with a simple Rx for COVID-compounded grief: Anger Displacement.
Anger Displacement Therapy
Commission a creative type to make a piñata in the shape of the COVID-19 virus—silver-gray globe punctured with red outward-facing cone florets.
I ask my gifted granddaughter to be my piñata maker.
Fill said piñata with appropriate prizes—hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, and individually wrapped candies. Forget Pile of Poo Plushies—though bathroom-humor-funny and quite possibly an appropriate booby-prize for how this year has gone, do not stoop to make the point. Poomojis are so 2019 and would only distract from the severity of the New Normal.
My daughter living in COVID-ridden SoCal orders the prizes—Amazon Prime, same-day delivery.
String the piñata over a crossbeam. Line up participants, social distancing, of course. Give them a bat, hand-lettered to read: ANGER DISPLACEMENT.
Again, my granddaughter comes through with a “custom baseball bat”—bone-ash gray with drippy red letters, ALL CAPS.
Use a disposable surgical face mask as a blindfold.
It really works! Once I move the mask up from my granddaughter’s nose to just above her eyes only, she truly can’t see.
Step Five: (and this is critical)
Disorient the participant by…Yeah, like the whole last six months haven’t been disorienting enough…spinning them three times. Use disposable medical exam gloves, of course. No skin-on-skin transfer, please. And then let them
People ask, “Do you have Phase 1 Clinical Trial Results?” And I say, “Yes. Phase 1 has proved promising, cathartic, and fast-acting.” Details follow:
Efficacy rate: 100%. Fatalities: None. At least for the treatment safety study conducted in my backyard with a non-random sample of people in my COVID bubble.
With each swing, rage transfer (from baseball bat to coronavirus emblem) reduces the desire to doomscroll the Web.
Bite-sized chocolate (milk or dark) stuffed in the piñata, tests positive for curing epidemic pain, achieving miracle drug status.
Clinical Trial Conclusion So, there you have it. Paper-mâché COVID-19 piñatas and Anger Displacement ball bats. Effective grief relief in pandemic times.
When not penning creative non-fiction, Christopher G. Jones writes detective novels about surfing crime-fighter Thaddeus Hanlon under the pseudonym Topper Jones. Book one in the series is in final editing and will be available for agent/publisher consideration late Spring 2021.
Jones’ publishing credits include poetry, children’s fiction, general-interest magazine articles, and a teaching novel—Accosting the Golden Spire, 3rd ed. He is a member of the League of Utah Writers, an affiliate member of the Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the Board of the Heritage Writers Guild. Find him online at: topperjones.com.
Image: “Ghost Kitchen, Albany” by Daniel Nester