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A Relationship's End: Going Through Grief Separate From The Pandemic


Since March, we've talked to so many of you who have lost something to the coronavirus pandemic, something as simple as seeing classmates every day in real life.


ZARA LINNEMAN: My friends keep me sane. I miss seeing them, and I miss giving all of them hugs every day. And it's just been really hard. And, like, we can try and connect virtually, but it's really - it's not the same.

MARTIN: A milestone, like attending your daughter's wedding.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I want to dance at my daughter's wedding.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I don't get to make a speech.

Not going to do that today. I have been thinking of all kinds of really maudlin things to say. Can't do any of that.

MARTIN: Or maybe a loved one died because of COVID-19.


PARIS THOMAS: She loved working with the kids. This is the kind of person my baby was - the caring soul that she had, you know, just a loving person.

MARTIN: But there was other loss, too - the kind that happens without a pandemic, universal experiences. What does it feel like when the rest of the world is going through this other, bigger trauma? We're going to explore that question this week. And we start with 48-year-old Joel McLemore. This year brought the official end to his 17-year-long marriage.


JOEL MCLEMORE: We met online kind of back when people didn't really do that (laughter). It was still kind of a weird thing.


MCLEMORE: We talked well together. I liked her sense of humor. I think she liked mine. We were both kind of snarky and laughing at things we saw on the Internet. We had a lot of the same taste in music and literature and just connected well and just really enjoyed her company.


MCLEMORE: We had some tough times. You know, there was - I went back to school. That's how I got into accounting. And then the recession hit right after I got my first job. And so I had some rough years there. So I think a lot of times, we were in crisis mode. But, you know, when you reach a certain age, I think you start thinking about, you know, am I OK with things going on like this forever? And we kind of decided, you know, we really aren't. I mean, it wasn't really working for us. You know, we weren't getting what we needed from it.

MARTIN: After the couple separated at the end of 2019, Joel applied for a job as an accountant for the Indian Health Service in Portland, Ore. He got the job, and he moved there in April.

So how are you doing?

MCLEMORE: It's been like this long pause, almost, in my life, it seems like and like I'm still trying to get kind of an equilibrium on how things are going to be here. I've been working from home the entire time. And I'm doing, I think, OK, considering everything. I've met a few people online locally and have - I was dating for a while, just really more to meet people.


MCLEMORE: And I realize it was probably a little too early for me to date. I wasn't ready. I hadn't - I don't think I'd moved on yet.

MARTIN: Are you noticing the loss in different parts of your life? I mean, she wasn't obviously just your romantic partner. But to have been married for that long, she was an integral part of your day to day, right?

MCLEMORE: Yeah, it's - you feel like there's this common language in shorthand that you had together and little things that - you know, inside jokes and things like that, little expressions that - and those will kind of come up every so often. I'll think that, and I would think, oh, I would have said that. And, of course, now it's, you know, not there. It's sort of like you're the last speaker of this language, you know, that no one knows anymore.

MARTIN: Is it too much to call it a grief?

MCLEMORE: No, I think it's grief. I did try some therapy briefly. And I think it is. I mean, I've grieved before when my father-in-law - when he passed away, we grieved for quite a while for that and other losses I have. I mean, it feels the same to me. We're still - I mean, we still stay in touch. And we still talk pretty regularly. I hope we'll always be part of each other's lives in some way or another. And it's not just the relationship, but just really, that whole life I had a year ago - none of that is the same.

MARTIN: I wonder if it's been strange to go through this personal loss that is so separate from the grief and loss that the broader culture, the society is going through with the pandemic. Have you thought about that?

MCLEMORE: Yeah, I do a lot. In some ways, I think it's maybe been a little easier for me to adapt to being here just because no one seems to be on an even keel right now. I feel like we're all kind of going through this together. And I think it's helping to be a little more mindful and to think of others a little more because it is so obvious that everyone is going through things right now.

MARTIN: We're approaching a new year, which feels bigger, doesn't it? It feels more significant...

MCLEMORE: It feels like there's pressure.

MARTIN: ...Even though it's just a - pressure - right. There's a lot of pressure on 2021.


MARTIN: But how are you thinking about it?

MCLEMORE: I feel cautiously optimistic. I'm hoping to kind of get - maybe to do a little more work, maybe get started in therapy again, possibly with the new year, to just kind of keep doing creative things, keep trying to connect with people. And...

MARTIN: What specifically? What are you making?

MCLEMORE: There is a musician, Nick Cave.


MCLEMORE: I'm a big fan of his. He has a streaming YouTube channel. Occasionally, he would say, oh, you know, I'd like to see people create cover videos of my songs. And so I've done a couple of those. And they've been posted onto the channel.

MARTIN: Why do you love Nick Cave's music?

MCLEMORE: Oh, I just - there's so many different phases to it. I think his career has gone on so long. And his new music is more about grief and loss and adjusting.


NICK CAVE: I am beside you...

MARTIN: Joel McLemore, thank you so much for talking with us.

MCLEMORE: Thank you.

MARTIN: All good things in 2021 to you.

MCLEMORE: That's right. You too.

MARTIN: Thank you.


CAVE: (Singing) I am... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.