Reflections on Our First Anniversary of the Pandemic
Written by: Carolyn V. Coarsey. Ph.D.
March 17, 2021
The intention of the Foundation’s series awareness@work is to shed light on the growth of consciousness in business and industry, occurring throughout the globe. Whether one person (customer, employee, family member) or a group of people are experiencing trauma, many organizations are initiating changes in how they support others in times of distress.
Awareness of how distressed people's needs are best met is rising dramatically with the evolution of Care and Special Assistance Teams. Once cautioned against approaching a distressed survivor due to liability concerns, many companies today encourage employees to contact them without fear, expressing sorrow, and thereby showing genuine compassion toward the impacted individual.
This month’s article looks back over the past twelve months at how the pandemic changed all of our lives forever.
In the United States and many parts of the world, March marks the first anniversary of when the pandemic became real to us. This time last year, many US leaders declared an official emergency for their state, and life for everyone changed instantly. Global leaders took necessary steps to address the crisis in their part of the world. One year ago, we began to live with masks, hand-sanitizers, social distancing, and enduring unpredictability.
Most tragic of all, many experienced losses of loved ones where family members were not with them when they drew their last breath, nor were they allowed to attend a funeral where their larger social circle could pay their respects. Jobs were lost by many, as businesses shut down due to mandates. Since the Foundation membership includes every industry—we saw many colleagues face unemployment for the first time in their adult lives. And there is no accounting for how long it will take the transportation and tourism businesses, and other industries to rebound. Many businesses will not reopen.
The first anniversary of the crash was a benchmark for me. I realized that a year had come and gone, and now it was time for me to move forward with my life.
-Mother whose son died in an airline crash
In the Foundation’s case study research, survivors have taught us the importance of marking the first anniversary of life-changing events. The mother quoted above felt that the first anniversary was a benchmark. She now wanted to do more than cope—she wanted to begin making choices that would shape her life as she moved forward, mourning her son while simultaneously embracing the two sons and her husband, who were also grieving and needed her.
Anniversaries provide us a chance to look back over the months and see how far we’ve come. While the pandemic left us feeling vulnerable and grasping for stability, pausing to give ourselves credit for living with so much uncertainty for an entire year is encouraging and gives us the strength to go the rest of the journey. When we reach a point where we can stop and look back, naming lessons we learned about our ability to cope. This act alone helps restore the sense of control the trauma took from us.
Post-Traumatic Growth is the positive psychological change that some individuals experience after a life crisis or traumatic event. Post-Traumatic Growth doesn't deny deep distress but instead posits that adversity can unintentionally yield changes in understanding oneself, others, and the world. 
I believe the Coronavirus presents the entire world with an opportunity to experience Post-Traumatic Growth—which is all about learning from tragedy. This past week, the Aviem and Foundation leadership teams decided to take a few moments and reflect on this anniversary. Because we know that life events shape who we become as individuals and collectively, each team member chose one or two words that best described their biggest lesson(s) learned from the pandemic. We discussed these individual learning points at our weekly team meeting.This proved to be a great team-building exercise. In the following paragraphs, I will share highlights from our discussion.
Awareness and Thoughtfulness
Becoming aware of self and others in the context of safety—in both the emotional and physical environmentswas discussed by one team member. For the first time, many of us realized that we could cause harm to someone we knew and loved, a stranger in a grocery store aisle or any place where we encountered another person, if we dropped our awareness. We armed ourselves with hand-sanitizer, masks, and constant hand-washing. These along with social distancing were our only weapons for fighting the faceless threat that could prove fatal, and did for some.
One person felt that she learned a lesson in thoughtfulness. Coping with the pandemic required each of us to become conscious of our potential threat to others. Social engagement with family and friends involved planning and forethought. Because of the pandemic, mixing ones’ children with grandparents and older relatives, and potentially high-risk individuals did not happen for many during holidays, graduations, and family events. The disappointment of being unable to celebrate a special occasion with others became tolerable as the death toll rose throughout the world.
One team member learned that she could live with unpredictability. She said that she could never remember a time in her life where there was such unpredictability. Always in the past, whatever the problem or crisis, there was someone, somewhere in the world, who could "fix it" and make the threat go away. But not with the Coronavirus. Subsequently, she learned that she could cope with a constantly changing environment, at work and home, and function quite well.
Team members discovered personal strengths they had not realized before.
Our clients and members needed help with projects that had not been part of our job descriptions and contracts before. Our leadership team showed great agility as they quickly shifted daily routines and designed processes and procedures that met the client’s needs. We provided much-needed services for our members, which also provided paid work for many furloughed employees of other Foundation corporate members.
Our team named flexibility as necessary in lessons learned. Determined to ride out the storm meant being flexible with clients, each other, and the world at large. Traditional working moms and dads juggled school closures and virtual classes for their children while joining their own internet meetings with peers and clients daily. Household noises from children playing, dogs barking, doorbells ringing announcing much-needed home deliveries generally frowned upon during virtual business meetings became acceptable. Our definition of flexibility expanded to meet the challenges created by unprecedented numbers of people working from home.
Finding other ways to conduct training that typically required travel is another example of significant changes the pandemic brought about. Ideal ways of delivering class content were no longer the top priority. Adaptability became vital in the way we approached our work. With severe travel restrictions in place, we found ourselves unable to hold international educational meetings worldwide. By mid-2020, we began holding webinars where team members continued to learn best practices in multi-industry responses. January 2021, we started holding classes over the internet rather than post-pone training while waiting for the opportunity to travel again.
The above summarizes a few of the lessons we discussed as a team, as we looked over the past years. I close with one point presented by a team member that resonated with all of us, and perhaps it will for those who read this. She talked about small parts of her routine that the pandemic interrupted—like going for ice cream with her son whenever she chose. As geographic borders closed and local retail shops, restaurants, exercise gyms, and other places we routinely visit shut us out, the reality of the freedoms and privileges we take for granted loomed large in many of our minds.
I learned to be grateful for those with who I share my life, and I will never take those I love for granted again.
- a man whose parents died in an airline crash
Listening to our team sharing thoughts about lessons learned on the pandemic's first anniversary, I remembered another truth survivors have taught me over the years. When asked to name the essential life-lesson gained from the loss of precious family members, the number one answer appears in the above quote from a man whose parents perished in a fatal air disaster.
After his parents died, he honored them by fulfilling his mother's greatest wish for him. A confirmed bachelor during her lifetime, he openly admitted the resentment he bore toward her for wanting grandchildren. Within a few months after she died, he married his long-term girlfriend and began a family the same year. He no longer takes anyone he loves for granted. His parents’ deaths had taught him that life on earth is finite.
Whether it is the sharing of ice cream with one's child or participating in face-to-face training or meeting with colleagues, one great lesson for us all pertained to taking so much of life for granted.
In closing, from all of us at Aviem International and the Foundation, we want to express our gratitude to you for allowing us into your life on any level. We also send our sincerest condolences to all who lost loved-ones in this unthinkable time in history. We will never take for granted the opportunity to see you in person at an upcoming meeting or training class—we look forward to it!
 Search Post-Traumatic Growth on the internet to read more about the origins of PTG. This particular definition comes from the Psychology Today site available online.
For more about the Foundation and our programs, please contact Cheri Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at fafonline.org.