Grieving a Year of Pandemic Trauma and Golden Calves

Grieving a Year of Pandemic Trauma and Golden Calves

Y’all, two days from now it will have been a year since I first published my first blog post in this space about the rhetoric of coronavirus. And I HATE HATE HATE how right I was in that post. I hate how much literal damage and death and disability the rhetoric from the previous president and other leaders in his party filtering down into their followers has caused in the US in the past year. This week culminated the past year in which the CPAC convention literally wheeled in a golden statue of the previous president, which was incredibly resonant with that story of idolatry in Exodus (I mean, how obvious could you get?). In this week’s article, you’ll see me mourning the intersection of these two things as well as the more general, regrettably ongoing challenges of this cursed pandemic. At the end I hope to offer some suggestions for how we can move through our grief to keep working toward a better world going forward, toward some measure of healing from this pandemic trauma.  

My Standpoint

As I’ve discussed many times before, I’m coming at this material from the perspective of a pastor’s kid from a right-leaning moderate denomination who grew up to get a PhD in Communication and studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication. I’ve seen people from my denomination split over politics over the last four years. My standpoint combined with what I study and teach has meant I’ve been smack in the middle of being to see the fault lines over how people dealt with this global pandemic thing were formed and continue to shift.

On Grief about These Challenging Times

All of its been pretty stunning, honestly, and even as someone who has all of the tools to understand it with my head, I’m still having trouble understanding it with my gut and my heart.

To put it in the terms of those messy ubiquitous stages of grief—you know, that nifty list of denial, anger, bargaining, and the rest of it—I guess I’d not even know where to put myself these days.

Doesn’t Make It Any Better to Have Seen It Coming

But I know that I grieve. And I don’t grieve it any less that I called it.

It doesn’t make it any better that I could tell from the beginning that our previous strongman president has been elevated as the kind of strongman demagogue golden calf gaslighter who thinks he must have absolute allegiance over all else.

I rejoice not at all that I called it. That I pulled out of my denial stage of grief before the WHO called it a pandemic, and that I was right in many ways about the coming damage.

In fact, I mourn. I mourn deeply.

Grieving the Idolatry and the Unnecessary Death and Disability

I mourn that so many people have caused so much damage in putting their faith in this conman—and continue to.

I mourn that more than 500,000 people have ended up dying—many completely unnecessarily—and so many others continue to struggle with as-yet-unknown disabilities from this disease.

Recognizing the Progress—and Yet…

Don’t get me wrong—I am extremely thankful that this man is no longer in charge.

I am thankful that his actions are being challenged in the courts.

I am grateful that President Biden is not setting himself up to be a godhead, perfect and to be defended at all costs. (Even while, as I will get to, I have a longing for someone to swoop in and make everything move more quickly and fix everything better.)

I feel intense relief that we finally have a pandemic task force that is coordinating things at the national level and working with the states to try to literally heal things.

And yet I mourn. Because there is so much damage and pandemic trauma to mourn.

Not in the Denial Stage, Though

The thing is that after a lifetime of living in toxic “Christian Nice,” I really can’t do the denial stage, however much I see the allure. The damage isn’t all in the past.

This week’s golden statue shows that. But it’s only one of many pieces of ongoing evidence.

Articles on social media timelines of people I previously respected blaming Democratic governors of having “spread COVID in nursing homes” are another sign. (I refuse to link to such conspiratorial disinformation. If you know people in this and need help sorting that through, I wrote a whole blog series on conspiracy rhetoric starting here.) But there are too many to count, really, sadly enough.

I Really WISH I Could Do the Denial Stage, Though

The truth is, I am soooo thankful that we have more reasonable leadership now. I have been seeing posts mourning that they can’t fix everything at once. Believe me, I feel you.

To be honest, I could go for a bit of a golden calf right now. Not the one at CPAC, of course—that man is repellent. But sometimes I really wish for a miracle-worker to come and zap our country whole again. I really wish I could ignore the pandemic trauma.

It would be soooo nice to have a break from the ongoing national and global trauma caused by this virus and its gaslighters. (And not just an escape, but real healing.)

Sigh—Not that Easy

But it’s not that easy. And we can’t just ignore past and continuing trauma. I study this stuff, so I know dissociation won’t ultimately heal everything.

The trauma anniversary of the pandemic is coming up—the WHO labeled COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. A LOT of us are going to be feeling that in our bodies.

A lot of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue. Hitting walls. I can see why a lot of us are freaking out a bit. Our bodies and brains are keeping the score of the anniversary, and they won’t let us stay in denial.

Acknowledging and Grieving the Pain, Loss, and Strain

Let’s be clear: it’s been difficult, this past year. Definitely traumatic. Most of us are not COVID long-haulers in the technical sense, but I know too many who are. There are too many who have died.

And the rest of us—especially those of us who have sought to be as precautious as possible toward the common good—there is strain showing. It’s not been easy. It’s been another kind of long haul, in a way. And that’s affected us too.

Relational Grief (Just Possibly in Anger Form)

It’s also affected our relationships, in many situations. Not only following the protocols in ways that have isolated us, but our relationships with those who have been blatantly gaslighting and flouting the protocols.

Those who themselves haven’t known those who have died or been long-haulers, or have but have been gaslighting the everliving f*ck out of the situation even with that, and have been doing what they want. Stretching the pandemic and its trauma out.

It’s All Felt Like Too Much

And let’s face it—we’ve all had too much asked of us in this situation, and I WISH I could bargain our way into a better situation. It’s been impossible because the virus is insidious. This pandemic has made it hard for all of us in different ways. It has been a huge long-haul no-win strain in so many ways.

I could list out all the populations and their different kinds of pain–all the facets of this pandemic trauma–but there’s way too many variants of pandemic-related strain than is possible to list. Way too many types of pandemic-related anxiety to list.

It Continues to Be Hard—And That’s Also Something to Grieve

And waiting for the vaccine, and for everyone to get a vaccine, is still hard. Feeling anxious about the many anti-vaxxers and how reliant we are on compliance is hard.

Sure, we have new leadership now (and huzzah, I say!) and he’s not a dictator, thank God. He’s not fighting scientific leadership on a regular basis. He is encouraging public health experts to lead us.

But it’s been a tough time. It continues to be. It’s hard to continue to need to be so cautious and so isolated from one another, to keep wearing masks, etc. etc. etc. It’s hard to know when exactly things will feel safe again. It’s hard to know when things will actually be safe again.

Making a Safe Space for Collective Grief

Let us mourn together friends. Let us care for ourselves and others by making space for our big feels about all of this.

About the death from the pandemic. About the continuing strain and pandemic trauma. The continuing uncertainty. About how much f*cking worse all the conservative Christians and other conservatives in a golden calf cult have made and are making the situation for all of us.

How much that latter factor has damaged our relationships and our world. How difficult a task it’s going to be to figure out how to deprogram those millions of people from a cult. How much work we still have to do in so many areas.

We Need to Mourn—and Get to Work as We’re Able

See, we have a new leader, but (thankfully and disappointingly), our new leader is not a god term. He can’t magically fix the world for us. That was always something we would all need to work on together.

That’s d*mned hard when we are feeling the pandemic trauma and strain. When this past year and four years has opened up sooooo many fault lines that were already there in our country. There’s just so d*mned much damage and trauma to fix. And so many of us are so tired right now after all our efforts to get here.

That’s a lot to mourn.

Always a Time for Safe Assertive Action, as Much as We’re Able

May we all call each other to bond over the challenges of this pandemic trauma, in as safe a way as possible. May we all continue to reach toward a healthier world for us all. May we all continue our assertive efforts to reach toward that world.

They are needed, friends. They are needed. May we rest and care for ourselves and our folks the best we can, and then may we look to the helpers to regain our inspiration to keep working toward the common good.

Moving Toward Hope, as We’re Able

There is much to mourn in the wake of so much pandemic trauma, and also much to do. No human can do this on their own. Even collectively, there’s no way to fix everything. I hate that. We’re allowed to mourn that. But if we all do what we can do, we can do a lot in this relay race.

I am tired, but I have deep down a hope. I know bringing that hope to fruition will require work. And I trust that there are enough of us to make a difference. If you’re having trouble finding that hope today, I’ve got your back for the time being. May we all have each other’s backs as we move forward.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let us continue to do what we can to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. May we all help each other collectively grieve and alleviate this ongoing pandemic trauma. We can do this thing.  

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by DS Leiter Time to read: 8 min