Grief (non-fiction)

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:34 pm by ducky

“Uh, I’m not sure”, I told my husband. Everything had happened so fast — the scream, her still-breathing body, the sirens, the first responders — that I hadn’t actually stopped to ask myself how I felt. I took stock. “I… I’m okay — I’m actually surprised at how good I’m feeling.” Inside my brain, a facet of me was absolutely appalled that I could be so calm, so unfeeling, after witnessing a suicide attempt.

Husband and I talked for a few minutes, and I decided I was going to continue on to work as I had originally planned. Hubby had had something else he wanted to do that evening, so — given that I appeared to be surprisingly fine — I continued on to the startup where I worked.

Later, when collaborating with a colleague, I found it hard to focus with the jumper’s scream echoing through my head. I apologized for my lack of focus, telling him I’d just witnessed a suicide attempt. My colleague, a trauma survivor, insisted that I call a suicide hotline.

I resisted, since I had not committed suicide, but he was relentless (for which I am grateful).

I told the nice woman who called me back that I thought I was in good shape except I couldn’t forget the scream and I was shocked at how callous I was.

“In times of stress, it is absolutely normal for your emotions to shut down”, she told me. “It’s a survival mechanism so that you can deal with the threat.” I had not known that.


I had been watching the pandemic in China with a wary eye as we returned to British Columbia from London in mid-February 2020. I watched the United States fumble its preparation for the pandemic’s arrival, and worried about it, as if my worry could speed up the arrival of working test kits. I kept watching, and they kept fumbling. More watching, more utter lack of progress.

I remember March 11th, when Trump had a truly awful press conference. That same day, a famous actor and a professional basketball player announced that they had tested positive for COVID-19.

Things happened very fast after that. For example, several professional sports leagues quickly cancelled their seasons, and California put some social distancing requirements in place. I had a real sense that a lot of people had been waiting for the federal government to take action, but after Trump’s awful press conference, realized that there would be no leadership from above. “I guess we are not going to get guidance from the government”, I imagined them saying. “I guess we need to act on our own.”

Me, I shut down. I had no more worry left, just an aching sadness. I knew then that a bunch of people who I cared about were going to die. Probably tens of people, maybe even hundreds.

And I knew there was nothing I could do about it.

Like when I watched the pain of the woman who destroyed her body by jumping off the bridge, I am watching the country of my birth go through an agony, at least part of which it brought upon itself.

What hotline number do I call when an entire country goes off the rails? How do I grieve for people who aren’t dead yet?