If you have ever lost someone you loved, you know the feeling of seeing the world through a bank teller’s glass. You observe other people laughing and enjoying their day, but you are apart from them, separated by a thick, bulletproof barrier. You wonder how they can savor that plate of pasta or play music that loud, given what’s happened.
Normally the experience is isolating, but in our new coronavirus world, we’re all on the same side of the glass. Every day, we are in contact with the suffering of others. Even if you don’t know anyone who has died, or have a loved one who you are worried will die, you have read about the growing number of deaths in America. If you are like me, your mind can’t help but imagine the people at the other end of those numbers. Today a woman became a widow. A daughter never got to say goodbye to her father. A son answered his mother’s request for a blanket, the last words she would ever say to him. For many thousands, today will be one of the hinge points of their life; everything will be defined as either “before” or “after.”
The blast radius of a single death is bigger than we might think. There are the neighbors who burn a candle in the window in solidarity with the family fretting the phone call that might come in the night. There is the retiree who has lost a bridge partner. The nurses and doctors fighting this virus have to shoulder the emotional load for every call to frantic relatives looking for a sign of hope. They also have to deliver the bad news.