Lasts and Firsts

As we struggle to adjust to “the new normal” that is life in the world of COVID-19, I’m reminded that today is unique. We only get it once.

Denise, my wife of 32 years and a professor in The OSU Division of Dental Hygiene, posted the following on her Facebook page. As I feel it accurately captures the feelings of so many people, I’m printing it here with her permission:

My heart is aching for my senior (Brian ND’20) and my seniors (in dental hygiene at OSU) for all of “the lasts” they will never get to experience. These last few weeks of college are filled with celebrations of life-long friendships made and of many, many years of hard work, tears and dedication to their futures. It is finally time for them to relax and appreciate all that they have done. These are the last few weeks of being unencumbered (as an adult) and it has been taken away without that closure. They will miss the celebrations and that euphoria of a well-deserved “I did it!” with their friends. They can’t stroll across their campuses, look around and appreciate all that they have experienced and all of the growth they have made these past four years. I remember those last few weeks myself and I remember Caitlin and Mike getting that celebration and closure. If you also have a senior in college – I feel your sadness and disappointment for these kids. . .welcome to adulthood.

These lasts that have been lost apply to high school students who will never get to have prom, or the chance to sing and dance in their high school musical. The athletes who will never get to experience the glory of the last time they put on the uniform, whether for March Madness or high school softball or track. There are weddings that will not happen, or at least the reception may be delayed. Family reunions postponed. Births will happen (can’t stop that!), but virtual baptisms and grandparents in quarantine may keep loved ones from holding the little ones. Vacations not taken. Holidays not celebrated. Green beer never tasted!

We also are experiencing many “firsts.” Not all of them positive. This is the first time many people have ever been laid off or unemployed. The first time that businesses have closed. I never thought I would see the day that bars, restaurants, and dental offices would be shut down. It’s the first time that many people are working from home!

We can rail at the unfairness of it all. We curse an unseen enemy. Officials state that we are at war with the virus, but it is tough to conceptualize being “at war” with something we can’t see, smell, or touch. How do we know we are winning? How does the virus surrender? Home used to be a safe space from the stresses of work. Now work has invaded home and recreating that refuge may be challenging.

It’s natural to be afraid and want to go back to what we know and the way things used to be. I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll look in the rearview mirror and see “the old way” as antiquated and almost bizarre.

Creating new “firsts” takes courage. Throughout history, people have responded to threats with activity. The destruction of the status quo was met with a terrible resolve and determination to make a difference.

We’re seeing that now as the country and the world bands together to support each other. One of my favorite encouraging signs were the videos coming out of Italy, one showing opera singer Maurizio Marchini serenading quarantined Florence each night, and another recording families coming out on their balconies and singing together across the alley. On one hand, the professional singer was giving of his talents to the enjoyment and happiness of others. The bad neighborhood karaoke was the shared hope of a group of strangers, choosing to sing and defy the attempts by the virus to divide people and keep them isolated. The worse the voices, the louder they sang! That’s resolve in the face of adversity!

It is important to grieve the loss of the “lasts.” That is a real source of sadness and we need to deal with the grief of lost opportunity. It’s ok to be angry at the virus for what it has taken from us. But, as we move beyond that, it’s beneficial to embrace the “firsts” and accept the challenge to make them matter.

It’s a new world. Hug your family and friends. Count your blessings and look for new opportunities. Today will only be here once. We need to revel in the day and make the most of it!

Dr. Messina may be reached at