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Coronavirus: Before Courage, Pausing to Mourn

By Karen Austin

Photo by sbluerock
via Creative Commons

Coronavirus: Before Courage, Pausing to Mourn

Because of the widening coronavirus outbreak, my husband and I have been working from home since March 9th. While there are some inconveniences, we are managing fairly well.

At times, I grow frustrated, but then I count my blessings, naming them one by one: we have jobs, running water, and a pantry full of canned and dried goods.  I also remember that my ancestors survived greater challenges, including—but not limited to–crossing the Plains on foot to serving in various wars.

We have two adult children whose lives are more dramatically altered by the physical distancing.

Our son works at Brick Oven Pizza in Provo, and his hours are severely reduced. He’s worried that his next paycheck will not cover his rent.  He won’t be coming to Indiana because he’s more than half way done with establishing residency in Utah. He wants to apply to state schools at 1/3 the tuition costs. He’s going to look online for a second job in Utah County, but he will face a lot of competition from others whose jobs have been affected.

Our daughter has the most difficult situation among us. She is studying music at Ball State University in Muncie.  All of her classes went online. Most of her classes migrated to an online format without much difficulty, excepting one. It’s been really difficult for the faculty member to teach aural skills online because of corrupted sound quality.

The trumpet performance element is the most affected. Her audition-level orchestra disbanded. And she had to stop working with her trumpet quartet. The faculty member who directs the trumpet studio of 25 students is trying to set up some online instruction, but the sound quality won’t be the same. And students will have a hard time playing in sync because of Internet speed and buffering issues, so I think they are not doing any group performing—just solo work. I’m not sure if she’s still receiving individual piano instruction by migrating that to a virtual setting.

Our daughter is very sad about losing her community of talented, focused musicians. She felt as though she worked hard for six years to be accepted to a competitive program, and now she’s boomeranged back home.

Again, I realize that her situation could be worse. She could have illnesses that make her susceptible to contracting a serious case of COVID-19.  She could be a head of household who just lost her job, putting he at risk to debt, hunger, homelessness, and unmet healthcare needs. She could be in the ICU.

However, I am not telling her these things. I am giving her space to mourn the losses that she’s experiencing. She will find a path through this. But I don’t think I will help her process her feelings by telling her, “It could be worse!”

True, I like to address problems with solutions. However, I’ve seen many people move into a healthier emotional state after fully experiencing the initial pain of a difficult situation. Afterall, it’s really hard to solve a problem without first taking a good inventory first.

Watching the film Inside Out (2015) helped me see the value in sitting with others in their sorrow.  The imaginary friend Bing Bong sits with Sadness after the character Joy spent the first half of the film pushing Sadness too hard to “snap out of it.”  Once Sadness felt heard, she was more capable of taking action to address her hardships.

Before that film was released, I made frequent reference to Mosiah 18, the baptism covenant, which admonishes us to “mourn with those who mourn”  (Mosiah 18:9 ). I believe that this not only refers to mourning losses that many have experienced (like being rejected for a job or award) or losses that are obviously distressing (like being laid off, going through a divorce, being bereft of a child).

Currently, I’m seeing an invitation to mourn with those whose sorrow may seem disproportionate to the loss.  It’s not my place to quantify their losses. It’s my place to offer comfort.  I need to be a little less like Joy and more like Bing Bong.

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

5 thoughts on “Coronavirus: Before Courage, Pausing to Mourn”

  1. Thanks for your wisdom, Karen. I appreciate the peek into the struggles your children face with work and school. So many people face (temporarily?) dashed hopes and expectations right now. It's very hard to take the long view when we all currently exist in our six-feet-apart bubbles.

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  2. Linda thanks for reading/commenting. I go pick her up tomorrow. I eavesdropped on a convo my husband was having about commencement where he works. There were three students on the committee. The logically understood the need to postpone. But one of them was articulating much of what I say above: he wanted the administrators to acknowledge how disappointing this was for the students. He wanted his feelings validated. Hugs to everyone affected by this virus in ways large and small. Hugs!

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  3. Such an important, poignant post. It's been hard watching my children go through similar losses. To validate their experience, in their world, I think is simply vital. I feel like God does that for me. He doesn't continuously harp on how much worse my life and situation could be. He helps me IN it.

    We can do the same. And then, once we have our bearings, we may be more able to help others who "have it worse."

    It's such a challenge when the sense of loss is being experienced by nearly everyone. I want to offer my strength to my children but sometimes I feel so buried by my own grief processes. And so we each have to also find that "mourn with" energy from God at some point.

    I know our forebears walked hard paths like this, but this is my first experience with extended and repeatedly intensifying layers of loss. It's a lot to take in. I feel God stretching us all, inviting us into a higher and holier sphere…simply by starting with coming to terms with what is happening in our own sphere first. ??

    Anyway, thank you again. I'm in processing mode tonight so forgive the long comment.

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  4. Shawna: All my best to you and yours during this exceptional time, filled with losses and challenges. There are a few silver linings, but the losses are palpable. Take care! KDA

    Michelle: Thanks for your comment. I think that "layers of loss" is an apt way to phrase what is happening since things are being moved online, postponed, or completely cancelled bit by bit. These young people are not done mourning a particular loss when another one emerges. And I'm seeing that many are not as productive in their academic work, because they have to deal with pragmatics (such as moving out of the dorms), economic hardships (reduced hours or being laid off), in addition to the time and energy it takes to emotionally process (leading to being distracted or the brain fog of depression). It's A LOT all at once! I hope that we can work as a society to address the practical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the most vulnerable among us. And I appreciate your point about relying on God for strength so that we can loan strength to others. Thank you! KDA

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