Grieving another birthday lost to the pandemic

A student reflects on feelings of loss and missing out on her birthday due to the pandemic.


The twentieth year of my life is gone. 

When asked how I’ve been doing this year, my answers are generally the same: “good,” “fine,” and other mild-mannered descriptors. 

At the end of the second March in the pandemic, however, I’ve come to realize just how messed up I’ve felt this past year. This March was the lowest point of my year so far: the culmination of a year of pent-up frustration, disappointment and exhaustion.  

In what feels like waking up from a stress-induced nap, the last year’s slipped by with only blurred memories of online classes and cleaning my groceries with hand sanitizer. I’ve just turned 21, but I can’t truly acknowledge that milestone. 

This year, instead of celebrating at a bar, I found myself in my parents’ living room, wistfully hoping for next year to be better, just as I did last year. Obviously, that dream did not pan out. 

A year into the pandemic, I’m struggling to find hope for a better future.

While I couldn’t care less about the lack of celebration if it’s the safest decision to make, I can’t help but feel that these dates are two pillars marking a lost year. It doesn’t help that at this age, it’s nearly impossible to escape the mantra that these undergraduate years will be “the best of my life.”

I’ve lost time and experiences to the pandemic that I’ll never be able to get back, including my plans to study abroad this semester, the opportunity to work in a physical writer’s room and months of lost moments spent with friends before I graduate. While I tell myself these losses are small compared to the bigger losses of this crisis, my mental health has suffered.

Despite losing the last year on campus to a pandemic, I don’t feel that I have any right to grieve. I can’t help but think, “I have been so ‘lucky’ throughout this entire ordeal, I have no right to feel this unhappy.” No friends or relatives of mine died of COVID-19, I haven’t caught the virus myself and I managed to get the highest GPA of my college career thus far in the fall, yet I’m less satisfied than ever with my life, too busy wrestling with what I didn’t realize was grief until recently. 

The more I don’t allow myself to process this grief, the worse it becomes, fueling the lows I continue to experience as no real relief from social distancing comes a year after the crisis started. 

Losing my birthday celebration is a small part of a bigger series of losses, some that I probably won’t process fully for quite some time, but acknowledging even small losses is one step in the right direction. 

As I head into April a year older, I’m acknowledging and releasing the disappointment I’ve clung to amid all this uncertainty. After all, there are far worse ways to spend a birthday than sharing a bottle of wine with my mom. 

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