Semantics by Alice Knox Eaton

Alice Knox Eaton teaches literature and writing at Springfield College. She keeps a blog on occasion, usually in April, at Her memoir is out at contests and a publisher.



I keep seeing articles that assert that what we are experiencing is grief.  I resist, feel growly. I don’t like being told what it is I’m feeling. And this doesn’t feel like grief.

Disorientation, foggy headedness, lethargy, mixed with gratitude that I have a steady paycheck, mixed with guilt that I kind of like having to stay at home. I have some fear when I go out into the world, shopping, confined with people, but I am comforted by articles that say the chance of getting the virus from shopping is fairly low, especially if the proper precautions are taken.

This is not grief. This is limbo.

The people living in the hot spots may certainly be experiencing grief. I won’t look away from the photos of the trucks in New York City being loaded with bodies. I won’t look away from the numbers. But I won’t claim grief for myself when others grieve deeply. I have not lost much yet.

I know grief. Grief was pure and stark when my mother died. The finality of death astounded me. The retracing of every action I took in organizing her care when she was slipping away. The enormous love she held for me, a cloud of comfort I didn’t know sustained me through every day, suddenly gone. The ways she had irritated me became irrelevant; the ways she loved me were all that mattered. And she was gone, gone, not coming back.

I remember the little smile she gave me a few days before she died, still loving me through the hard work of dying. How it filled me. How I needed her and never knew I did.

That was fifteen years ago, and the pain has subsided, though I miss hearing what she would have to say about pandemic, science, Trump. She may have seen Obama give his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, his launch into national prominence, but she cast her last ballot, absentee from the nursing home, for John Kerry that fall. She never saw the Obamas in the White House. In 2008 we had to figure out who to vote for without her, and ever since.

This was, this is, boundless, bottomless grief, losing a great love like the love of my mother for me, for all of us in her family, her love and unfailing curiosity about the world. This was loss.

I know grief may be coming, for me. People are dying. But I won’t claim grief while others have so much to grieve.

It is good to name enormous feelings and phenomena. Shell shock became survivor’s guilt became Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD became evident in more than just soldiers. It is good to name and know and identify.

But this isn’t grief. It’s a fog. It’s surviving, mixed with gratitude that I have so much—an income, walks every day in spring green, escape into stories on Netflix and in books.

It’s limbo, anxiety, waiting. Grief is on the other side. No need to rush to claim it. It will come.