“The number” – the great big one that represents the Covid-19 death toll in the UK – is not my story. I just want to be clear that I’m thinking on the page because this particular number has aggravated me to the point that I have to write it out, but I am fully aware I’m in no position to comment on this as if it’s happening to me. I know it’s not.
I hate “the number” because I’ve experienced my ONE dead person become part of a bigger number. Of having something as personal as grief for my father become something huge and public that’s dragged out every year, evolve into a historic moment and then finally a casual reference that gets dropped anywhere and everywhere when I least expect it. And despite or because of this, it still feels like a fresh wound to me because its never really had the chance to heal.
Big Things like 9/11 have a way of staying in the news, long after they’ve happened. Covid will, I have no doubt, eventually evolve into a casual reference. It is certainly a Big Thing. The virus itself isn’t going anywhere fast, so we’re with news about it for awhile.
I’ve found life with private grief as public news brutal more often than not. Brutal and brutally unfair that I have to share a personal tragedy with history books, political analysis and public opinion.
And I think that is why I’ve been so angry today. Not for myself, but for such a mind-boggling number of people who will (probably) have to live through something similar. They are part of such a big number that it loses all sense of the humanity. Their dead people will probably only ever be numbers to everyone else and they will have to share. Their wounds might have to stay perpetually open.
I don’t know, it’s not my story.
What I do know is that the media’s focus on “the number” signals to me that we will all probably hear about Covid-19 until the day we die, just like we will probably hear about 9/11 until the day I die. It is a Big Thing with a big number. It will eventually get a date. A memorial ceremony perhaps. And lots more montages on the news.
And I guess that even though I’m aware that it’s not fair to project my story onto the people who are actually grieving right now, and that everyone goes through that process differently, I am still devastated to know that some of the people who have lost a loved one will acquire the strange and painful life of private grief made public. Actually, I’m upset because it will, I think, affect a staggering number of people.
Private grief reduced to a number in public. The audacity of trying to sum up a life in a two-minute news spot. And a fucking montage with sad music before a transition to happier news.
My only consolation is that sometimes it was really helpful to be one of many. There was more compassion and understanding from more people who experienced the same thing I did. We didn’t all experience it the same way, but we were able to support each other and more importantly, understand each other. Talk openly about the brutality of it all. Share tips for moving on and healing as best as possible.
And that is the paradox of private grief made public: the bad news is that you have to share. The good news is that you get to share.
I still don’t like “the number”.