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  • The Vail Project

Social distancing: The new normal for child-loss grief.

With COVID-19 hysteria sweeping the world, I find myself deep in self reflection. Not just about the loss of our perfect Vail, but about the world we live in. Child-loss trauma and the subsequent grief and despair that comes with it, has fundamentally changed me. I no longer look at the world they way I used to, or the way others do. This is both a positive and a negative, for me and for everyone in my life. Let me explain.

First, when we lost our child, suddenly and without explanation, it forced me to evaluate what truly matters in life. In a way that people claim to do all the time by reading self-help books or by hiring life coaches or through self-reflection. I mean this in the most respectful and honest way possible when I have absolutely no idea what it means to understand the value of what you have, until you have lost it. Only people who have experienced true loss can really get it. We have all lost jobs, struggled with relationships and finances, divorce, separation from our families and our dreams...none of this is even in the same universe as holding your dead child. I don't want to sound macabre or rude or dismissive of others' life experiences, but it just isn't the same. I can say this, because I have lived through most of what life can throw at a person, and while it was all difficult, and I struggled, and at the time I wasn't sure how I would get through is lightyears away from what we have had to endure since 9/17/2019.

This filter (the child-loss filter), the one I cannot ever remove, changes the way I see the rest of the world. My perspective is so different. And that has shown up in a big way with this COVID-19 pandemic. Steve and I don't get amped up about anything these days, and that is certainly true about corona virus. If we run out of toilet paper....oh well. No school, no biggie. Social distancing? Well, that is what Steve and I have been doing for 6 months. Partially by choice, partially by necessity, and partially because of the actions of others. It has been an easy transition for us. Going out in public is still difficult, even after 6 months. It's hard to interact with strangers; we either have to pretend like Vail never existed or we have to share the whole story. No in-between. Our current friends and acquaintances have distanced themselves from us, either out of discomfort or self preservation. We have a few close friends who continue to show up, but they are few and far between. Spending time at home with the three of us has become standard operating mode. It's safe to cry, be angry, frustrated, and empty here. Only we know our pain. That is not to say that we haven't connected with other SUDC parents, because we have. And it helps, as much as anything can help, when nothing actually helps.

So forgive me when I can't tolerate the whining and complaining by people who are suffering so much with the social isolation or the lack of supplies available at the grocery store. I want to scream at the top of my lungs: GET OVER IT! But that is neither helpful nor socially acceptable. In the minds of the masses, people are suffering, and perception is everything. Now, one place people are truly suffering and will continue to do so is in the financial sense. This lockdown is going to cause a long term economic impact that none of us can fathom at this point. Millions of hardworking Americans will be out of work, the current estimates are around 20% unemployment. And that's only 1-2 weeks in. Imagine where those numbers will be in another month? Two months? I read today that the NYC transit authority is asking for a 4 billion (yes billion with a B) dollar bailout from the federal government. That is one entity in one city, one blip on the radar of companies and businesses suffering financially right now. If the federal government funds the $450 Billion dollar bailout that is currently proposed, it will help some but not all. Does anyone really think a $1000 per person is going to mitigate the financial fallout for people? If the average American is out of work for 1-2 months, a $1000 isn't going to make a lasting impact on their financial security. In Denver that won't cover the average person's rent for one month.

I say all of this to preface my next statement. Which, like almost everything I have to say these days, won't be popular. But it is true and honest and probably what a lot of people are thinking but won't say. A friend of mine posted some comments on facebook today about Polio statistics. She found sources saying that 72-99% of polio cases were completely without symptoms. Another friend commented that only 0.2% of those infected got the paralytic symptoms that we all know come with Polio infections. And more over, only 10% of the 0.2% with symptoms got paralysis that was severe enough to cause death. So we are talking about 0.0002% of those infected died from Polio. I bring this up just as an example of our society's reaction to fear. We were so afraid of a 0.0002% chance of death that we created a vaccine for Polio. Which has basically eradicated it, and that's a good thing. But do we really need a vaccine for something with a 0.0002% chance of death? Isn't that overkill? 2.6 million Americans die annually in car accidents and nobody is calling for a moratorium on driving. You have a 0.12% chance of dying in a car accident. That means that a person is 64% more likely to die in a car accident than from Polio, but we take huge efforts to prevent one and don't think twice about the other. Let's bring this conversation to the current crisis at hand. There have currently been 8273 deaths worldwide as of this morning. As of now that means we each have a 0.000001 chance of dying from corona virus. If you do the math, that means that 82,730,000 people worldwide would have to die from corona virus in order to make the odds equal that of the annual risk of dying in a car accident, in the U.S. alone. Over 82 million. I'm not saying it isn't possible, but highly unlikely. Let's take the Spanish flu form 1918 into consideration as a comparison. 500 million people worldwide were infected, the death toll is estimated between 17-50 million. That's a lot, but not nearly as many deaths as it would take make corona virus as dangerous as driving. Again, this is just perspective. Something I think we all need to keep considering every day while we hoard toilet paper and panic about not being able to buy chicken down at the Piggly Wiggly.

Every life has value. This is something that we keep hearing from those who are supporting the current lockdown we are living through. And I wholeheartedly agree. Every single life has value. Vail's life had value, even if only to her immediate family. Every life does indeed hold immeasurable value. However, what is the value of a life? How is that determined? Let's hypotheticalize for a moment (yes I know that isn't a real word, LOL). Let's say the U.S corona virus death toll exceeds the current world wide death toll. Let's say 100,000 American's die from corona virus. Which feels like a stretch, based on the current numbers coming out of China and Italy. But, let's go with it. That would be 0.0003% of the U.S. population. If we experience another huge recession and 20% of the U.S. population remains unemployed, even for only a year, and we have to spend $450 billion to bail out businesses and individuals, what is the value of those 100,000 lives? At a minimum it means that each one of those 100,000 lives was worth $4.5 million dollars. And that doesn't account for the economic fallout which will far exceed these numbers. Now, I would gladly pay $4.5 million dollars to have Vail back. I'd pay a million times that. I'd pay my own life to have hers back, no questions asked. No one understands the value of life as much as a parent who has lost their child. I am by no means saying those lives aren't worth it. And who knows how many we can save with the current policies that are put in place. That will be real test of the value of life. We may never know the number of lives saved, or even the true number of those infected, certainly not with the currently level of testing available. Maybe it's all worth it. Maybe not. Who am I to say. I just want people to keep things in perspective. I want people to take an honest look at how their lives are being affected and be realistic about the struggles they are faced with. Also, it would be great if people could stop hoarding toilet paper.

Steve, Aspen and I live in a world, where we go to sleep every night and wonder if we will all wake up. There is zero security in our world. We have to hold our breath when we check on Aspen while she sleeps and pray that she moves or breathes. This is the world we live in. And I would NEVER wish this life on anyone. A side effect of living this life is that we are completely unfazed by the current pandemic. We will happily sit at home and wait it out. We won't complain if we run out of TP, or anything else. These things aren't hardships. Real hardship is the fact that some people can't afford to feed their children while they are out of school. Real hardship is the mass loss of small businesses that employ millions of Americans and keep our economy rolling. People think things are hard now, but it has only begun. I pray that this virus and the lockdown pass quickly, that the worst of it ends soon. In the meantime, me and my family will be tucked away tightly, living the exact same life today as we have for the past 6 months. Grieving our angel Vail, focusing on our start-up company, keeping it all in perspective. I'll leave you with my recommendations for those of you who are lucky enough to be off work and and stuck at home during this social distancing period:

1. Enjoy homeschooling your kids. It's a gift, not a curse. Allow it challenge you as a parent, use the time bond with your child and develop a true understanding of their learning style and status. Maybe you will learn something new about your child and how to help them succeed.

2. Don't worry about the stuff. Toilet paper or hand sanitizer, these things are not that big of a deal. Plus, I promise you if you run out of either one of your prepper or hoarding neighbors will have some you can borrow. It's not the zombie apocalypse...yet (wink wink), so they will probably open the door when you come knocking. The stress isn't worth it.

3. Find peace in the forced isolation. Instead of fretting about how you miss your friends, bars, and activities, focus on what you do have. You have time away from the daily demands of life, no carpool, no commute. The main stressors of every day life have fallen away. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Play with your kids. Sleep in. Watch movies all day. Take long walks. Cook real meals with your family. Stay in your PJ's all day. Do calisthenics instead of going to the gym. Do yoga. Meditate. Pray. How often do we have the opportunity to put aside every day life? Instead of feeling trapped, allow yourself permission to feel liberated.

4. Say a prayer every night for those cannot self isolate. The nurses, physicians, paramedics, police officers, laborers, grocery store stockers...all the people who will continue to work to make sure we are as safe as possible. They deserve our appreciation.

5. Lastly: Love. Spread love. Speak love. Feel love. There is way too much hate and anger the world. Take it from someone who is angry. I'm angry all the time, just under the surface. I'm angry we had to bury our child. I'm angry there aren't answers. I'm angry that Aspen has to grieve her best friend. Anger is a constant, yet often ignored, companion of mine. Fill your life with love. I know we are trying to. If everyone tries, things will be better, easier, more simple. Take the time, while you have it, to spread love in any way you can. The world is in desperate need of it.

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