Stages of grief: A diary of losing Bowdoin
March 27, 2020
Stage One: Denial. I arrive in one of my last classes before spring break in a huff. “West Trek is cancelled,” I complain. “All because of coronavirus. It’s all fear mongering. I refuse to take part.”
That day, I receive an email from The Atlantic with the subject line, “Why you’ll probably get coronavirus.” I delete it immediately.
The Saturday at the start of spring break, I take a bus from Portland to New York, where I plan to spend the night at my aunt’s apartment before heading home to Long Island. We hammer out the details of my trip to the city the following weekend: I’m planning to stay with her, to see family and to visit my cousin in Brooklyn. The news drones on with reports of the coronavirus growing closer, and my aunt and my mother consider stocking up on groceries. My aunt tells me I should reconsider my trip to the city, reconsider everything. I tell her to stop buying into the collective panic.
“Don’t disrespect this disease,” my aunt tells me. “You don’t know what could happen.”
“I’m not going to stop living my life,” I shoot back.
A week later, I read an email telling me to come back to campus and collect my things, my life I’ve built over the past four years. So far, in order to cope, I’ve been splitting things up like so: Tuesday, March 10, the day I cooked chickpea stew and went for a walk. Before. Wednesday, March 11, the day I woke up to hear that my senior year had been cut mercilessly short.
It felt all wrong, making the drive up on the salt-strewn roads, through the icy air. I only make this drive in the fall or spring, when Maine is blooming, when the sky is clear blue and the ferry I take from Long Island to Connecticut is smooth, not wrestling with the water, an ominous foretelling of what is to come.
Stage Two: Depression. The stages are out of order. That’s the point. The day I arrive back on campus to pack up my life is damp and gray. I open the door to my single and move robotically, packing up my things before I even realize what I’m doing. I pause to cry when I can’t pretend any longer—when I find a Fujifilm picture I took of a friend, when I find a receipt I held onto from a meal with a person I miss, when I find the letters my friends wrote to me while I was a camp counselor one summer. But there’s no time to lose, no time to fully mourn what’s lost. The one thing I feel most of all is how mercilessly I’ve been forced to uproot my life, how quickly, how unexpectedly. A door to a stage of my life that is supposed to come to a gentle close, facilitating the transition to adulthood with grace, has slammed shut.
Stage Three: Bargaining. Of my grief over losing Bowdoin and Maine, my aunt tells me to “hold onto the way it made me feel.” On a day where I don’t leave my room or open my blinds, I blindly reach for something to cling to. I convince myself I need to return to Maine, find a public service job, because losing it has shown me that I wasn’t ready to leave. I email Maine employers, in hindsight a bit desperately, and reach out to people I know in Maine asking if they have any leads. Of course, they don’t. The world is shutting down, along with any hope I had for things to be like they were before.
Stage Four: Anger. I listen to the town halls, arguing and complaining in a group chat of friends about all the reasons they can’t do this, why Bowdoin is overreacting, how they can’t make us leave.
The anger is short-lived, especially when I realize just how serious the crisis is. My mother, a nurse, still has to go to work. The rising number of infections is a ticking clock, counting down the minutes until the virus finds its way even more intimately into my life.
I remember that the virus is bigger than just me and my cut-off senior year. It’s bigger than the cancelled spring break trip. It’s healthcare workers who are ill-equipped and scared. It’s hospitals lying to their nurses and doctors in order to contain panic while putting lives at risks. It’s the elderly and the immunocompromised living in anxiety and fear. It’s selfish people buying everything off the shelf. It’s families having to grieve their loved ones in isolation, throwing grandparents into mass graves, delaying funerals indefinitely. It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than all of us.
Stage Five: Depression, again. Ever present. The sadness over the loss of Bowdoin never really leaves me, rears its head often, usually melodramatically. I tell a friend who’s returned to Bowdoin to collect her things to breathe in some Brunswick air for me, and I double over crying in my childhood bedroom.
I remember trips to Portland’s First Friday with friends, summer evenings at Damariscotta Lake, paddling Flagstaff Lake along the Bigelows. I remember lazily swinging in my hammock on the quad in the September heat, riding my bike to Simpson’s Point each May at the turn of spring.
Stage Six: Acceptance. Yet anger, depression, denial all swirl back, as the stages of grief are rarely linear. I think, dryly, that they should rename the “acceptance” stage “resignation.” Because really, what other choice do we have?
I watch my home state becomes the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, and feel my sense of community and appreciation for its leadership grow—the same way my love for Maine grew over the past four years.
Still aching over the loss, I soothe myself with dreams of reunions, my friends and I aging like wine, drunkenly stumbling on the quad in the late May sunlight; taking my future kids to Maine, writing from a window overlooking the rocky gray coastline and the sea. I dream of the opposite of social distancing, a return to normalcy and health. I hope that the precious parts of our world—the parts we so sorely miss as we are cooped up in our homes—remain unchanged. I hope the insufficiencies of our world, highlighted by this crisis, change for the better.
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Beautiful — brought tears to my eyes.
Aisha, you have a gift for writing
Aisha, I am literally such a fan of you and your column. This article resonates so deeply with so many of us </3
The major take from this article: “It’s all about me.” My feelings, my problems, my everything else under the sun. What about the impact of this pandemic on others, say those foreign students who cannot return home because of travel restrictions or the people in the Brunswick region who are out of work and under economic duress? Try thinking more about the common good and less about yourself please.
I was surprised by your harsh comment. Grief and concern are not scarce entities; we can reflect on our emotions even as we care for and worry about the community. A written reflection like this is a service both to its author and to readers who feel less alone in hearing their feelings articulated by another. In that way, and probably in others we don’t know about, Aisha is helping her community. I’m not sure why you would assume otherwise.
I really do appreciate this comment. Part of what I wanted to highlight in this piece was how selfishly I and a lot of my peers were behaving in regards to coronavirus. We only were thinking of ourselves, how it affected us, while not really thinking about the huge toll it is taking on our communities and on our world. We also didn’t take it seriously, the same way many world leaders did not, until it was too late.
I wanted to show that youthful naivete and the rude awakening to reality by framing this as a “diary,” which definitely made it come off self-centered. That is valuable feedback. Thanks for this comment and if you know of any ways to connect, serve, and support the Bowdoin/Brunswick community right now, in person or remotely, please share some.
You have once again articulately expressed what so many are feeling. And as you are missing your Bowdoin community, we are missing you and grieving your absence.
Great piece Aisha. Hope to see you again soon!