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As the country starts to breathe a sigh of relief and emerges from the lockdown that is devastating our economy, people will use this opportunity to attack those who have supported the country’s efforts to re-open. They will cry out that people are dying. And they are right.
Whether the country began to re-open this month, or next month or in September, in other words, no matter when we strive to return to normal lives, people will die. Some will die from heart attacks, or pneumonia, or simply old age. And some will have contacted COVID-19. We will probably never know how the virus actually contributed to their deaths, but even now it has been implicated as the source of many deaths. And people who supported opening up will be called out for conspiring with those who are greedy, those who lack compassion and concern for other human beings.
In all fairness, some of those who are determined to assign blame will not necessarily be politically motivated; their fear, grief, and a desire to make meaning of the last few months will distort their ability to think clearly. They will feel compelled to incriminate anyone remotely connected to the disease because otherwise the thousands of deaths will have no meaning. Or so they think.
Others who find fault with the decision to open up the country will be politically motivated. Deaths that happen over the next several months will lie at the feet of anyone who is even remotely connected to the Trump administration, according to his enemies. A version of, “Bush lied, people died,” will be shouted from the rooftops. The drumbeats of outrage will resonate across the country, even the world. And you can be certain that it will be a prime 2020 election issue.
We need to anticipate these reactions and consider ways to deal with them as constructively as possible. For those who are not political, but are suffering painful grief for the lives lost and that will continue to be lost, rational arguments will likely be unsuccessful. A way to let those people know we can relate to their pain and also know that life is unpredictable, as was the virus, will be key. You will not be able to talk people out of their misery and sense of loss. But you can be a compassionate ear, a consoling voice. And plan with them ways that you both can move on.
I find discussing death with people who are determined to make them a political cause even more difficult. Maybe asking them open-ended questions: “How long would you have waited?” “What do we do if the economy collapses?” I suggest you ask these, not as rhetorical questions, but as curious inquiries about their answers. You would need to ask them sincerely, not sarcastically. If they try to dodge the questions, gently draw them back. And try to keep in mind that although they may have the worst motivations for criticizing the decision-makers, they are probably frightened, too. And that is where we all have something in common.
The last suggestion is that for those people who are religious, you can try to relate to them through their faith. This response might be the most challenging because trite, heartless comments are often made out of our discomfort regarding the topic of death. I’d be open to your thoughts regarding spiritual and religious support for those who are in pain.
We are all grieving. And we are all, to some degree, afraid.
Those reactions can be our unifying cause. We are not alone.Published in