After multiple weeks of discourse surrounding COVID-19 and Yale’s policies on such, I feel as if there is probably not much more to be said on the topic. Even as I write this, I wonder if it’s a redundant exercise. Or even if it’s too personal of an experience to share with so many people who do not know me at all. However, I feel somewhat internally compelled to offer up my own perspective since it is one that is — hopefully — not common amongst my peers. 

Two weeks before I first sat among some of you in lectures and classes for the fall semester, my mom died from COVID-19. 

It’s really difficult for me to explain in words what hell these past six months have been for me. She was my best friend, the person I talked to about everything and the one person on the planet who I felt understood me completely. I’ve felt lost, profoundly angry at the world, confused and absolutely at my lowest in the time since then. I am still on the endless journey of making sense of my current reality. If there is one thing I have learned it is that this type of pain is chronic. It never goes away. It’s with me from the time I wake up in the morning to the very last second I close my eyes before bed — sometimes even bleeding into my dreams. It touches every aspect of my life, both here at Yale and at home in Ohio.

When I decided to follow through on my plans to return for the fall semester, I underestimated how all-consuming grief is. I didn’t think about how hard it is to focus when I pass the last place I ever saw and hugged my mom on my walk to the Anthropology building each day. Or how little I’ll feel like celebrating when something exciting happens because I can’t text my mom to tell her about it. I found myself performing rather than actually being myself, trying to project that I was fine and dealing with the trauma well and not crying by myself on Cross Campus many nights of the week. And while I am happy to tell you that through both the help of Yale Mental Health and Counseling and the simple passage of time I feel more of a dull ache than a stabbing pain, I would be a liar to say that my Yale experience is not tainted by these haunted memories and feelings of loss. I mourn the college experience I will never have in a similar way to my peers who have thankfully not lost anyone to COVID-19. I wish more than anything in the world for our years here at Yale to be ones forged in both tradition and community and not marked by tragedy and pain. 

This is not to condemn those who criticize Yale’s policy or handling of the pandemic. I not only understand your grief — I share in it. I also criticize many of the decisions made by Yale’s administration in my time here. However, I think the point that is missing is that you can still grieve these lost college experiences and also understand that sometimes things just simply can’t be as they were exactly promised or how you expected.

Please just remember that we are all grieving something in one way or another. We all have pain, some of which is not always visible to each other. So let us be kind to ourselves and one another and understand that sometimes things are just way bigger than we are. 

Holly Sexton is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at