“It’s hard to bring out tears:” Some Americans are overwhelmed by a pandemic and are fighting over their grief


© Reuters. Fiona Tulip poses for a portrait in New York


From Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Fiana Tulip lost her mother to COVID-19 on July 4th. Like so many others, she couldn’t see them or say goodbye.

For Tulip, 41, it was the only beginning of an avalanche of personal and financial loss and trouble sparked by a pandemic that killed nearly half a million people in the United States alone. The heavy emotional toll was just too much to process, which shorted out her ability to grieve.

“There are times when people need to delay their grief, there isn’t enough emotional space to do it,” said Sonya Lott, a psychologist who specializes in persistent grief.

“If you can somehow keep moving it will help you survive for some time, but eventually it will crash,” she said. “The grief doesn’t go away.”

COVID-19 has now killed more Americans than it did in World War II. January alone was the deadliest month of the pandemic – nearly 96,000 people were killed, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data.

Even for Americans who have gone deaf after a year of dismal statistics, the milestone of 500,000 deaths is an amazing reminder of the monumental loss the pandemic has left behind. Still, only stories like Tulip’s can reveal the full extent of the tragedy.

Shortly after the death of her mother, a respiratory therapist in Texas, Tulip’s husband lost his job. She got sporadic work as a personal trainer, but nowhere near enough to support her family.

They suddenly had to worry about their finances and future job prospects in expensive New York, where they live in a one-bedroom apartment with their 17-month-old daughter Lua.

In the following months, she suffered two miscarriages while the virus took her uncle and another relative. Tulip said that, tragedy after tragedy, she was unable to find the time and space to mourn over everything she lost.

“I’ve been a pretty emotional person and tears have been very difficult to bring out since my mom passed away,” Tulip, now back to full employment as a communications professional and supporting her family, told Reuters earlier this month. “I just don’t have time and it sounds so heartless and callous. … I just don’t have time to sit on it.”

“TSUNAMI” of suffering

Some experts are concerned about the long-term consequences of delayed grief and, more generally, the long-term impact of the pandemic on the nation.

“We have to be concerned,” said Lott. “We are seeing a tsunami that consists not only of sadness, but also of depression, anxiety … all kinds of physical conditions, as people are individually and collectively under stress as a result of the pandemic.”

COVID-19 has impacted the lives of Americans in a variety of ways, whether through loss of loved ones, unemployment, or childcare.

This “multitude” of losses, not limited to death, creates a greater susceptibility to persistent grief disorder, a condition in which grief continues for a year after the death of a loved one, is intense, and a person’s daily functioning impaired, said Lott.

The pandemic has also taken away many of the resources people normally use to deal with difficulties. It made it difficult, if not impossible, to care for a loved one in the hospital, attend a funeral, or just hug and find comfort in the presence of others.

“Keep giggling”

The last correspondence Tulip had with her mother was a series of text messages. “I’m super weak, I have to take a shower. The cough hurts,” her mother wrote the day before she succumbed to the virus.

“Just rest. You don’t have to get up,” wrote Tulip back.

For Veronica Espinosa, due to her father’s sudden death, she was unable to fully process his loss.

Her father died of COVID-19 just after Thanksgiving last year in a hospital near Miami. His condition worsened within a few days, and Espinosa, an only child whose mother does not speak English, was able to see him shortly before he died.

It was broken, however, she couldn’t be by his side when he passed. “He died alone, we couldn’t be there,” she tearfully recalled during an interview earlier this month.

While she was grieving, the 37-year-old teacher had other worries. Her husband had signed COVID-19 and his home inspection business was hit, making her responsible for herself and her young son.

Espinosa looks to the end of the pandemic with a mixture of concern and hope.

“I think once this wears off, things will be put into perspective and you will be able to think more,” she said. “The bad thing is that you get flooded with emotions.”

Tulip is also preparing for what lies ahead.

“I have no doubt that this will always hit me hard,” she told Reuters. “So many things will do it, but until then I’ll keep chugging.”

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