Teacora Sherrill no longer sees the pandemic in terms of numbers.
It’s hard to escape them – the number of hospitalizations, the number of cases in your state, the over-500,000 virus-caused deaths in America. They’re in television reports, headlines and daily conversations.
As they grow and shrink, people have used them as a way of measuring our failures and successes as a nation.
But for Sherrill, it’s impossible not to see her Aunt Renae Byrd, who passed from COVID-19 in September, in each digit.
“I wasn’t seeing numbers anymore, I was seeing people,” said Sherrill. “Once it hits home for you, you can’t just look at it as numbers anymore. You have to equate it to human beings.”
Belmont graduate Sherrill knows she is one of the many who has lost someone amid the pandemic — and that the deep pain she feels in the loss of her aunt is pain felt everywhere.
The year has been full of loss — of people, of connection and of opportunities.
As the anniversary of when the coronavirus first sent waves through the country passes by, Belmont students reflect on what they lost in a year of isolation.
When Sherrill’s aunt began to have a cough, the possibility of it being the coronavirus never crossed Sherrill’s mind.
It didn’t seem possible for someone as lively as Byrd. Pregnant with her first child, Byrd was excited to greet her baby boy, said Sherrill.
“She really took pride in enjoying life,” said Sherrill. “She was definitely a light that our family needed that we probably didn’t think was possible to have.”
So when the diagnosis of COVID-19 came, Sherrill didn’t want to believe it possibly could be the end.
“I got so used to hearing about COVID-19, it became background noise. I still knew it was going on, I still knew it was serious, I still knew I had to protect myself and others,” said Sherrill. “But it wasn’t until my aunt got it that I couldn’t just view it as background noise anymore.”
“It had come to the forefront, the TV was all the way up and I could not turn that volume down anymore.”
When Byrd was hospitalized in Florida, Sherrill was still imagining a day where she would talk to her aunt again.
But two days into her final semester of Belmont, Sherrill lost her 32-year-old aunt to the virus.
“There’s no comparing this to anything,” said Sherrill. “It’s a whole new level of loneliness.”
Unexpectedly, she had lost someone who shared her ambition, who accepted her with open arms and who poured love into her family.
But COVID-19 took more than someone she loved — it took her opportunity to grieve the loss as well.
“I did not have the time to grieve. I couldn’t afford to,” said Sherrill.
“It’s like your brain has so many other things to think about that you can’t focus on one. I feel like, for me, COVID-19 has just made the grieving process take more time and feel more incomplete. I don’t feel like I got it out of my system. I don’t feel like I’m at peace with it. I feel stuck.”
While Broadway flooded with maskless partygoers and conspiracy theories calling the virus a hoax inundated social media, Sherrill was slowly coming to terms with the very real loss of her aunt.
“It baffles my mind that while so many are hurting right now and going through tough times, you’re just walking around like you’re above it all,” said Sherrill. “Because it hasn’t hit you yet.”
Although the virus hit her family with shattering grief, Sherrill is thankful that her nephew survived.
After an emergency cesarean section, baby Isaac entered into the world as his mother left it.
“My little cousin is never going to know his mother. He’s never going to be able to see her smiling in the morning and loving up on him,” said Sherrill. “And as much as you can keep someone’s memory alive and tell him all about her, he’s never going to experience that firsthand.”
When Kelby Horne first visited campus, she was drawn in by the students huddled together on the lawn, sitting in close community with one another.
She pictured her college experience in the same way.
But, the reality at Belmont has looked much different for Horne.
She is one of Belmont’s class of 2024 — the freshmen whose first year is defined by masked interactions, no visitation and digitized friendships.
“I definitely didn’t picture this,” said Horne.
The theatre performance major has found it a lot harder to connect with others outside her major and even harder to retain friendships over Zoom.
Horne finds it particularly difficult to find a safe space to interact with the friends she has made.
“Having our friends over during visitation hours to watch movies in our dorm with us — that’s something that we’re like, ‘Oh, wish we could do that.’ But we can’t,” said Horne.
“It’s just the availability of space to be with the friends I have made — it makes it harder to hang out with them.”
And, although Horne has never experienced campus without COVID-19 protocols, she wishes for the ways she hears things used to be like.
“I was told about all the concerts and live music and getting to experience that on campus,” she said. “That was something I was really looking forward to moving to Nashville.”
When senior songwriting major Sarah Morrey first left for spring break in March 2020, she looked forward to coming back to Belmont.
She had plans: a work party, some meetings and, eventually, walking across the stage at Belmont’s graduation.
But instead the entirety of Morrey’s senior year was moved to an online world of Zoom calls and discussion boards.
“So many things happened in my life and my journey at Belmont that I could have never foreseen coming,” said Morrey. “There are a lot of things to grieve in this time of all these things that we missed out on.”
In Belmont’s changed landscape, Morrey misses little things about the Belmont community. She longs to go to a basketball game, pass a guitar around in class and see live music performances.
“I’ve dreamed of going to Belmont since I was 11. Growing up, I always thought I’d have this picture-perfect time at my picture-perfect dream school,” said Morrey.
But COVID-19 has altered those images. Because Morrey is graduating early, a third of her college experience has been virtual.
“It does hit different because I’m already having a shortened time at the school and so having this added on, I only had two years of normalcy at Belmont,” said Morrey.
Overall, Morrey loved her experience at Belmont — which makes parting with it over Zoom all the more hard.
“I wish I could’ve had my senior year without all this.”
This article written by Kendall Crawford.