Do you feel marginalized as you age? I do.

Perhaps you’ve heard about a new article in The Atlantic by Science journalist Ed Yong entitled:

“The Final Pandemic Betrayal.” Mr. Yong won the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for this “series of lucid, definitive pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic that anticipated the course of the disease, synthesized the complex challenges the country faced, illuminated the U.S. government’s failures and provided clear and accessible context for the scientific and human challenges it posed.

The subtitle of Mr. Yong’s latest article from April 2022 is:

“Millions of people are still mourning loved ones lost to COVID, their grief intensified, prolonged, and even denied by the politics of the pandemic.” I saw an interview with him this week that really hit home for me. At least nine million of us have lost someone we knew and cared for and yet it seems we just go on, ignoring the tremendous losses to so many. In just two years, COVID became the third most common cause of death in the U.S., which means that it is also the third leading cause of grief.

“Each American who has died of COVID has left an average of nine close relatives bereaved, creating a community of grievers larger than the population of all but 11 states. Under normal circumstances, 10% of bereaved people would be expected to develop prolonged grief, which is unusually intense, incapacitating, and persistent. But for COVID grievers, that proportion may be even higher, because the pandemic has ticked off so many risk factors.”

In his recent interview, Mr. Yong discussed what is for me the most important aspect of this horrible loss of life. The groups hardest hit were “marginalized” sections of our society. Who are they? The elderly, those chronically ill, the weakened, the brown, the black and low income groups who have less access to decent health care.

My experience in the past eight years, as I grow older and my own health declines, has been a movement from a “normal” person to one who definitely feels marginalized. First with the aging process we slowly become invisible in our culture, or worse, someone who should just get out of the way of the younger and more vital. Yes, it’s true some help me with doors and seem to feel some compassion for my difficult circumstances, but I have experienced a pulling away from others as I have become more disabled. I have found it almost impossible to make true friends in this rural area. It seems just about nobody believes I am worth their time and energy. I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

In this way I have learned what “marginalized” means in this country. We have always put an emphasis on being healthy and able-bodied, and when I was also healthy I rarely noticed what happened to those who are not. Yes, I do have financial resources unlike so many Americans, but I do not live by bread alone. Thanks to those of you who have made an effort to welcome us here. And to the rest of you, I hope you don’t ever become elderly and need a friend.

How I miss getting together with others to grieve the death of my father, much like Covid deaths

From time immemorial, we humans have been joining together to mourn or memorialize our dead. This is a tradition we seem to need, to get together and recognize the death of a loved one. In the past this would be called a funeral. Today it can be any kind of ceremony to gather together and grieve the passing of someone special to us.

My father died on March 10th of this year, right before “the virus” began to run and ruin our lives. We had hoped to have a special ceremony for Dad at the Denver Botanic Gardens, a place where he often lectured and was well known as one of our state’s foremost botanists. That could not happen. And now, six months later, we still wish we could do something to get together and commemorate his life and his passing. Then I realized, hundreds of thousands of Americans are feeling the exact same way. Because of this horrible pandemic, so many of us cannot even grieve in the usual ways. At least my Dad did not have to die alone, but we were then left with no way to get together and mourn him. I’m so glad we did at least have a fantastic 90th birthday party for him. That was a wonderful coming together of those who loved my father and knew his was a life worth celebrating!

I am struck again by how fundamentally social we are as a species. From New Orleans jazz funerals to Tibetan sky burials, we always find our own ways to deal with love and loss. We need that time to fully embrace our return to the earth from which we came. What could be more natural than dying, and yet it always seems so sudden and unexpected…

One of my favorite aspects of moving here has been that I finally feel good about my future after death. I now know I wish to have my ashes spread over this peaceful and quiet place, the land below our home here in rural southern Colorado. Perhaps my Dad would like that too, since we live in one of his favorite ecosystems, the Pinon-Juniper woodland.

“Yes, it’s beautiful to exhale after you inhale. At the right time, when the chest is full, breathe out and let go.” – Norman Fischer, “Suffering Opens the Real Path”