Some of you may have seen this recent Instagram post by Brené Brown about the idea that grief requires witnessing. It was shared in the context of the milestone of 500,000 COVID deaths in our country, and how an added indignity of COVID is that we don’t have the normal comfort and coping mechanisms and rituals that come with grief and loss. She quotes David Kessler:

Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.

Our students, families, administrators, staff, and faculty have all experienced the loss of normalcy of the college experience. Many people have also had individual losses of family members and friends. And that grief does require witnessing.

I think about how Wake’s COVID journey began:

Our first campuswide message about COVID came on January 24, 2020. It shared that we were aware of this developing situation and were closely monitoring it.

About a month later, we made the difficult decision to bring our students at Casa Artom in Venice home, as Italy was at the epicenter of Europe’s COVID outbreak.

On March 4th, as we were about to begin spring break, we sent a message to students urging them to be cautious during travel and stay alert to COVID updates.

By March 11th, we suspended in-person classes for two weeks and announced we were going remote. Students who had gone home for spring break were encouraged to stay there. A day later, we recalled all our students studying abroad.

On March 15, non-essential employees were to begin working remotely. By March 17, any remaining students on campus (who were not approved to stay) had to go home.

And our strange year unfolded from there.

There are so many traditional milestones that we have not been able to mark in the normal ways: graduations, proms, funerals, weddings, births.

There are moments in college life that had to be different, too: classes, activities, extracurriculars, intramurals, orientation. Where and how we gathered changed. How we ate or relaxed or had fun changed. We had to connect in new ways.

While there are many things we have lost, we are not lost.

So as we arrive at these mini-milestones of when COVID really hit home for our individual experiences, please know that to all who are grieving the changes that COVID has brought: we see you, you are not alone, and we care.

We are Wake Forest.

A picture I took of Wait Chapel after we went into COVID lockdown in March 2020.

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)

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