Song 02 - Through the Window. Click to explore themes and stories relating to this song.

2020 completely upended our rituals around death and grieving.

Stories and Remembrances


It would be impossible to create a picture of our collective human experience of the year 2020 without acknowledging the enormous loss of life at the center of it. The week in which we’re releasing this song — the last week of February, 2021 — the United States crossed a somber threshold — over 500,000 known deaths from covid-19. 
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I remember trying to imagine, at the beginning of the pandemic, the number of lives we were in danger of losing if the virus was allowed to spread uncontrollably. I recall feeling it like a sucker punch to the gut when I had the realization, “We could lose a half a million people.” And here we are. 

That is a devastating number.
500,000 human people …
… who were living and loving and being loved just a year ago 
… now just … gone.

But I have to admit … this week’s news didn’t hit me like the sucker punch I’d imagined it to be a little less than a year ago. I wondered why; and I believe that — like a lot of folks — in being bombarded with bad news after bad news, and by steeling myself against the enormity of the trauma and stress of this time, I have become somewhat inured to the full weight of the devastating reality of death. 

It’s not that I don’t feel it. It’s just that I think I’ve instinctively learned to buffer myself from the sharpest edges and the biggest blows, as a survival mechanism. And I recognize that the ability to offer myself that buffer is a privilege … because I — by some stroke of luck — did not lose anyone very close to me last year. 

But of course, that’s not the case for many, many — way too many — people.

In our story collecting, we heard from dozens of people who did lose close loved ones in 2020 — sisters, fathers, partners, children, cousins, best friends. And these folks didn’t, and don’t, have the privilege of allowing the devastation of death to recede into the background of an otherwise hard year. 

For them, the unimaginable chaos of the world around them is what receded into the background,
as their most consequential experience in 2020 came blazing to the front: 
the opening up of a permanent empty space,
where a person they love used to be.

And it wasn’t just covid-19 deaths. People shared about the illness and loss of loved ones from other causes in 2020 — the realities of which were made more difficult and more painful because they happened in the context of a pandemic-altered world:

… not being able to comfort their loved ones as they received care in a healthcare facility
… unsatisfying attempts at being present with them on video calls, or through ground floor windows
… accepting that it would be a healthcare provider, not a family member or friend, by their side as they took their last breaths
… being unable to bury them, or to have a service to honor their memory, or to participate in any of the traditional rituals that help us grieve. 

So we offer “Through the Window” —
to honor the personal and intimate details of loss that people experienced in 2020, 
to acknowledge the perpetual nature and ongoing process of grief,
and … to remember. 

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Permission came too late to get inside
You slipped away, a stranger by your side
We came back the next day to collect your things
I’ll keep them safe for you — your shoes, your rings
I’ll keep them safe for you
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I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to you
If we had known that that was the very last time
You, through the window, and I
Was trying to make you smile

I play that last scene over in my mind
Like being stuck on both pause and rewind
The world is chaos but that’s second to
This empty space that still belongs to you
This empty space for you

I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to you
If we had known that that was the very last time
You, through the window, and I
Was trying to make you smile

words and music by Shannon Curtis
published by Shannon K (ASCAP)
all rights reserved; lyrics reprinted by permission

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If you have a story to share about your experience around death and grieving in 2020, please send it to Jamie at jamie@misfitstars.com.

  • anonymous
    Someone extremely close to me died suddenly, in Canada, this past summer, and I was stuck here on this side of the border. Had Covid not been a factor, I would have travelled home to Canada to be with the family and helped in all the ways I could (not only with grief, but also… Continue reading anonymous
  • jeanette g.
    Witnessing a live-streaming funeral felt like we were ghosts. We could see our loved ones grieving, but they could not see or talk to those watching through the livestream. It was like a taste of being gone, as the camera was on the ceiling and we were looking down at the coffin and the rest… Continue reading jeanette g.
  • lisa s.
    Grieving in a pandemic is twice as hard. You can’t hang out with friends or go places to distract you. A walk in the woods only made me feel more alone.
  • adrian b.
    I lost my closest aunt and uncle this past year. Neither was directly Covid related unless perhaps the stress of living through these times was a contributing factor. They were both in their 60s. Nothing prepared us for it, no warning. They just dropped dead and then we got the shocked and devastated phone call.… Continue reading adrian b.
  • shelia b.
    In the book Alice through the Looking Glass, Alice finds herself on a chess board with the White and Red Queens; they explain to her that she must run as fast as she can if she wishes to stay in the same place and twice as fast if she expects to go anywhere … since… Continue reading shelia b.
  • michawn s.
    For the past year, the pandemic itself hasn’t affected me other than working from home and isolation from people. Which in and of itself is different and hard. But while I knew people who got sick no one close to me has died in the past year. Except for one person. Her name was Mary… Continue reading michawn s.
  • misty b.
    In February of 2020 my husband was admitted to the hospital. By the second week of March we were fighting to even get into the hospital to see him. The lockdowns had just started here in Iowa. We were told he would need to be placed on hospice and we had to move him to… Continue reading misty b.
  • heidi n.
    A very good friend suffered heart failure in September of last year. She was in a medically induced coma for two weeks and then her husband (also one of my closest friends) decided to let her go. What was tough was that I couldn’t escape the situation even at work because my boss (also a… Continue reading heidi n.
  • james h.
    We lost my wife’s older sister Kim just before Thanksgiving after a long battle with cancer. It is incredibly difficult to heal and gain closure being separated by the pandemic. Kim had a place above the village that she hiked to often in spring, summer, and fall, and would snowshoe to in the winter. We… Continue reading james h.
  • laura r.
    Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had my related existential crisis in 2019, I was still processing my grief and experiencing post-traumatic growth when the pandemic hit. So it was interesting to stand by and watch the rest of the world take the red pill and slowly wake up to their mortality a… Continue reading laura r.
  • kitty s.
    In the fall, my dear friend Martha Bixler died. Not sure of the cause – it was not COVID. I had known her since 1962. I think I met her when I was turning pages for a harpsichordist who was playing for a small group that Martha was also in. I was probably the worst… Continue reading kitty s.
  • tim r.
    My friend Heather and I lost our AMAZING high school choir / music teacher. She was as much a nurturer as a brilliant conveyer of musical skills. She changed lives with every project she put forth – from musicals to jazz competitions. I loved her as a teacher – but, moreover, with the advent of… Continue reading tim r.
  • sara s.
    We’ve all intersected with grief this year, whether it’s been due to the collective loss of lives, of people we know closely, people we’ve admired from afar, or friends and relatives of people we know. We’ve grieved our daily routines, our many impromptu adventures and meetings, or just the space to do everything or nothing.… Continue reading sara s.
  • anonymous
    I lost my wife at the end of July and my son in the beginning of November. My wife’s birthday was Feb 26th and my son’s was Feb 27th. She would have been 70, he 35. I don’t have words. 💔
  • anonymous
    In April of last year my stepson died from a drug overdose. Right in the middle of the pandemic. At that time, the state of Texas had a rule about no gatherings of over ten people. No one was having funerals. My stepson’s mother, my husband’s ex-wife, was in charge. She wouldn’t listen to reason… Continue reading anonymous
  • bonnie r.
    My baby boy died during COVID-19.  Patches was my 24 ½-year-old baby boy – a 98 gram feathered boy. I call him my baby boy – he was my child.  He was my service animal.  He was my day.  He was my night.  He was absolutely everything to me.  I told my parents – what… Continue reading bonnie r.
  • sasha k.
    I lost a career mentor this year, Len Hawley. The world lost him. Cancer. I had no idea he was sick until too late. He held very high-ranking government positions but always made me feel important, smart, reminding me just with the way he’d clap me on the back at think tank events and asking… Continue reading sasha k.
  • nina s.
    My dad died a week ago today – February 23, 2021. Had he passed any sooner, we would not have been able to be with him. As it was, only two at a time in the room. My aunt (his sister) and my children never got to say goodbye. The nurses mercifully looked the other way… Continue reading nina s.
  • teresa p.
    My greatest 2020 loss was my cousin Tanja, who succumbed to a rare cancer – ocular melanoma – in May, at age 64. We grew up together from birth. She was a wise, beautiful woman inside and out, incredibly optimistic. She defied the early prognosis by surviving a full 5 years from the metastasis to… Continue reading teresa p.