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Death and Dying, Life and Living, and COVID-19


I recently led a gather-in for a leaders’ class in Queens, New York, USA. At the time, that part of New York City had the largest number of cases and deaths from COVID-19. Neighborhood hospitals were overrun, and poor people, immigrants, and people of color were especially hard hit with both the health and the economic impacts of the pandemic. My heart goes out to any of you who have lost loved ones, neighbors, friends, relatives, and members of your other communities.


In addition to counseling many people, I shared the following points that I have found useful to remember during these times, beyond staying close and keeping discharging:


  • Now is a good time to remember what we love about life, to notice (positive and good) opportunities presented by this crisis, and to think about the good things we hope will result from it.
  • It’s good to be alive, to remember that we are alive, and to notice the preciousness of life—beyond the daily “stuff of life” that can preoccupy us. Being alive is completely different from not being alive.
  • Capitalism devalues all life by prioritizing profits. Each oppression includes a devaluing of the lives of the people being targeted by the oppression. Every life has value, every life is equally precious. No one should ever have to choose who has a better shot at [a better chance for] life than someone else.
  • We need to discharge enough to continue to stay smart about ourselves and others. Some of us have unhelpful patterned preoccupations with our own survival; others have patterned, unthinking pulls to self-sacrifice; and many people have both.
  • Let it be hard and keep looking. As this drags on, we can become numb or hardened without realizing it. As Co-Counselors, we understand (theoretically) that this situation is restimulating our early hurts, but we don’t always recognize that we’re trying to function on top of feeling scared or sad or mad or isolated. Then we wonder why life has become more difficult. We need to work on the early hurts directly to make sustainable progress out of our distresses, but we can’t jump over what things are like for us now. Pay attention to the larger picture, to what is going on for you—and in your sessions, let it be hard.
  • I have found it helpful to keep crying until I can feel outraged—about the unnecessary deaths, about the playing out [acting out] of oppression at every turn, about the outrageous responses to the pandemic and more—not complaining but screaming with outrage, aiming beyond helplessness and despair.
  • As a Jew, this entire situation holds many particular restimulations for me. I was born in the United States in 1950, and my early life was spent around Jews who were still restimulated from the mass death of the Holocaust. Also, this is the closest I have personally been to death on this scale. Many other groups also have histories that can lead to particular restimulations right now.
  • Now is a good time to learn how to fight for our lives and to work on wanting to live, in case we are ever in a situation in which having done some of that might make the difference between living and dying. The middle of a personal health crisis is not the best time to start figuring these things out.
  • Fear of death is completely different from death—fear of death is simply an old fear, a recording that can be discharged. We can face death. We can also choose our point of view and decide where we want to put our mind at any time. We can do this when we are dying, even if it takes effort. We can think about being loved and keep people close in our minds, even if our loved ones are not able to be with us.
  • Always remember that discharge has a big positive impact on the ability of the body to stay healthy and to heal.

My article “Death and Dying, Life and Living” gives a good overview of RC insights into many related topics. It can be found at <https://www.rc.org/publication/present_time/pt137/pt137_011_jk>.


Joan Karp


Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA


Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
list for RC Community members

(Present Time 200, July 2020)


Last modified: 2020-07-21 02:45:32+00