The way we turn those memories over and over is a symptom of grief. “Everybody’s grieving something,” Megan Devine, a grief therapist and the author of It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok, told me, “whether that’s the loss of daily routine, a job, housing security, people they care about, loss of a sense of stability, or knowing what’s coming.” With about 2.5 million dead and untold more suffering physically, economically, and psychologically, grief is a presence in every room, even if we don't always notice it.
Read: All the things we have to mourn now
Therapists told me that this grief can manifest in many ways we may not recognize as grief—anger, irritability, sleep disruption, anxiety, even digestive issues. And it can manifest as dwelling on the Last Good Day.
The Last Good Day is a concept I was introduced to in John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars. He identified it as a trope in stories about cancer patients, in which the pain lessens enough for the character to enjoy themselves one final time. That’s not the context in which most of us experienced our last good pre-pandemic day, but one thing he wrote still rings true: “The problem, of course, is that there’s no way of knowing that your last good day is your Last Good Day. At the time, it is just another good day.” It takes on significance only in retrospect.
When someone dies, it’s common to reflect on the last moments you spent with that person. And it’s only natural that in the midst of the massive, multifaceted losses caused by the pandemic, we would do the same. “To some degree, we’ve idealized what that last experience was like,” Ajita Robinson, a grief and trauma therapist based in Maryland, told me. “Those memories become amplified.” We may rake over them for signs of the change that was about to come in an attempt to understand our new reality, or just replay them for comfort.
“When you’re in a highly stressful situation, the human body knows it’s not feeling the way it normally does,” Pauline Boss, a family therapist and professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, told me. “It’s typical to think back to: When did I not feel this way? You remember, This is the last time I had fun; this is the last time I felt relaxed.”
Boss’s Last Good Day was March 10, 2020—her 32nd wedding anniversary. “We were a very social couple, but [my husband] was in a wheelchair and not very healthy. We went out to eat, and I remember being slightly wary, because I’d heard of the virus. But there was only one other table in the entire place where someone was sitting, so I felt safe. We had a lovely, lovely anniversary meal together. After March 10, we never went out again.” Boss’s husband’s condition worsened, and he died (not from COVID-19) on September 22. Her Last Good Day, she said, “was our last hurrah.”
Millions of people like Boss are mourning the experiences and sensations of the pre-pandemic world while also mourning loved ones. There are so many things to mourn—obvious and invisible, devastating and subtle—that we may have difficulty talking about and honoring what we’re experiencing. Especially while it’s still happening. Still. The word of the year, perhaps, in both of its meanings. A lack of motion, and an exhausting ongoingness.