Eckburg: The stages of grieving during a pandemic

Bella Eckburg

woman standing in front of window
A woman stands in front of a window while quarantining amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Megan McGregor | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

We survived a year of COVID-19 but hardly unscathed. 

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After an entire year of staying home and experiencing hundreds of firsts, many people are struggling to picture a future where COVID-19 is not an issue dictating our every move.

As college students, juggling virtual education on top of a pandemic has created palpable stress. We are all collectively grieving the loss of normalcy we once took for granted. 

Our reaction to the pandemic has closely mirrored the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Still, it’s easy to feel we, as a collective, will never reach the acceptance stage. College students are having a difficult time processing higher education on a virtual level and should make an effort to support those around them during this unprecedented time. 

In March of last year, college students mingled in their dorms — sans masks — and discussed their upcoming spring break. The situation worsened, and then came the denial. This couldn’t be happening. It seemed so far away, and now it was knocking at our windows. 

The world changed in an instant as the nation went into lockdown and schools across the country moved online, including Colorado State University

 

Due to the shutdown, the media quickly became an all-consuming, traumatic overload of COVID-19 information. Since the lockdown began, there has been an 87% increase in social media use by the public. Doomscrolling was the new norm, and the influx of information quickly felt like too much. The pandemic became politicized, and wearing a mask became less of a preventative measure and more of a political statement. The anger set in. 

On one hand, some felt betrayed by the United States’ lack of preventative effort, while others thought the U.S. was operating with the economy in mind, believing the virus was not that big of a deal and that they were being forced to adhere to useless guidelines. Both sides struggled to find a common ground, which lent to the increase in frustration and anger about the pandemic.

As May rolled around, discussions about reopening businesses dominated the media. Stay-at-home orders lifted, despite a rise in COVID-19 cases. Bargaining began. The social and political spheres in the U.S. have led to varying degrees of pandemic preparedness and contributed to an overall sense of unease. The government was forced to appease both sides of a very divisive argument.

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Trauma is trauma, and we should not compare it. Whether you lost a loved one or simply a few semesters, you deserve to grieve.”

The pandemic, mixed with increasingly tumultuous social spheres — the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically — and polarized political spheres, created a complex, intersectional web of change. It broadcasted to all of our screens for an entire year. Our culture split, and both sides struggled to come to an agreement on either front.

By August, there was a lull. We entered the depression phase, slinking into our lives, which now had a lack of structured routines. Forest fires flew across the country, including the Cameron Peak fire, forcing us to fall into a ‘new normal’ to focus energy elsewhere. School started tentatively before settling into life amid a pandemic.

Drawing ourselves into a sense of security, no matter how false, felt like the only way to grip our ever-shifting reality. 

That brings us to now. One semester down, one to go. 

Now that a year has passed, and we have somewhat settled into our new world, we have the opportunity to look back and recognize, validate and accept the collective grief we feel. 

College students have continued grieving the loss of their college experience; others are grieving the separation between work and home. Social interaction has become virtual, and loneliness, coupled with grief, is an incredibly isolating experience. 

Reaching out to those around you is incredibly important right now.”

Settling into our new normal has left very few feeling genuinely content due to the range of uncertainties and questions about when and how this will end. 

If you, as a college student, are feeling uncomfortable or struggling with stress, you are not alone. We have entered the depression stage, and it’s hard to keep up with this ever-changing, high stakes environment.

Although this is not grief in the way we would typically view it — in the context of losing a loved one — we are still suffering a collective loss of normalcy, and our bodies and minds are having similar reactions to this negative stimulus. 

College students are especially vulnerable. For those fresh out of high school, moving to a new place, alone for the first time, is already incredibly stressful. Adding an unprecedented year of change and chaos into the mix creates a slippery slope, where mental health rapidly declines. 

Reaching out to those around you is incredibly important right now. The pandemic puts us all out of our comfort zone, and sometimes, when you’re struggling to stay afloat, you just need someone to call out through the dark. 

When someone loses a loved one, you call them or meet with them to share your condolences as well as act as someone they can cry with and lean on for support. COVID-19 took — and continues to take — thousands of people from their loved ones too soon, and that sorrow is felt around the world. Additionally, as a college student, grieving the loss of your college experience is just as palpable and valid.

Trauma is trauma, and we should not compare it. Whether you lost a loved one or simply a few semesters, you deserve to grieve. We have spent an entire year in a media blizzard, and you and those around you deserve a break.  This last year has been a whirlwind, and mental health is incredibly important, especially during such an isolating time.

Check in with yourself and those around you. If you or someone you know is struggling with the stress of life amid a pandemic, you can look into ways of coping with stress, as well as text or call a crisis hotline. 

Bella Eckburg can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @yaycolor.