Like most of us, I have been mourning what I thought to be constants that I thought all of us understood to be true, before the pandemic struck in March of 2020.
I grieved the initial shocks: loss of reliability of routine, predictability of income, regular social face-to-face contact with friends and family members.
Then, like many northerners and transplants like me, I began to grieve the larger, more totaling stuff.
I got very sick from a lifelong, undiagnosed illness that finally insisted it be treated properly and I needed help looking after an infant when I had to go in for emergency care that required recovery time. I reached out to my family and, because of their fears of getting sick on the plane to Yellowknife, not being able to see their physicians whenever they needed to, they couldn’t come. They didn’t come.
I was left with my mind’s jerking backward and forward through time, wracked with grief, anger, guilt, shame, and rage. Fierce, then softly roiling fury at an ancient injustice that no one fought to right. Flashbacks, epiphanies, awakenings to brutal truths long buried. They were buried to preserve harmful relationships and the masquerade of normalcy.
I couldn’t go through it alone and turned to my partner, good friends and myself, through the production of recordings to ground myself through what I was experiencing, and process the trauma as it surfaced in real time. I had to grieve the life I used to have, the death of a false self forged through survival, and to demonstrate to the world that there are mechanisms to save yourself. You don’t have to keep going back to an abuser, even if they’re family and the whole damn world wants you to forgive family, even if they almost kill you.
Around January of 2021, I started to feel disturbed that a good chunk of my friends in Alberta continued to indulge in the delusion of conspiracy as their friends and family members became very ill, disabled or died from COVID-19.
For many, living in Alberta is akin to a privileged insular bubble from the rest of the country, especially if you’re Caucasian. I knew many within the alternative natural healing community who dismissed medicine completely. I subscribed to herbalist presentations and learned how to identify numerous medicinal plants out in the wilds near Bragg Creek and the Glenmore Reservoir.
For every friend who said big Pharma was destroying lives, I would say how I have watched street cannabis consumed at 25 per cent-plus THC levels over many months of consistent, heavy use, create the perfect conditions for first break psychosis. They would look at me the same way the COVID-19 deniers look at me after I say that I had no side effects after taking both shots of the Moderna vaccine.
When I first moved to Yellowknife, I found an instant friend in a man I respected very much. I lost him — his personality, his “himness” — to this very condition 10 months later. He’s still alive, but I had to grieve him despite him still being here. I attended an online grief and loss support group for these forms of disenfranchised grief, and in the midst of the New York attendees sharing how they had lost 10 of their friends to COVID-19, the facilitator kindly redirected me to another kind of support group.
The last thing I’ve had to learn how to do is grieve the losses of the friends I thought I knew before their distrust of proactive vaccines emerged. It is a process of pre-grieving them now, were they to become gravely ill and die, or keep on infecting others and refuse to take any responsibility for exposing others to a deadly pathogen.
When they blame all of the COVID-19 deaths on the healthcare workers who can’t keep working at this pace in the hardest hit city centres, or remote places that don’t have the capacity to respond to an outbreak of TB on the best of days, I must grieve their sanity; I must grieve the trust I once held safe in our friendship.
I must continue living if they choose to kill themselves by doing nothing in advance, and instead outsourcing their will to live only when they become gravely ill and shoving it into the hands of strangers in PPE gowns holding oxygen, ventilators and if lucky, a specialized blood treatment device.
I must understand that my friends don’t know how to care for themselves so how could they understand how to properly care for me during this time? I am in the position to try and lovingly engage with them, provide them free, psychologically taxing emotional labour on my part, to help them see how much they mean to me to please get vaccinated.
I don’t love them any less; grieving what once was is essential.