How the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our sense of mortality

It crossed Allison Hope's mind that she might not be around to see her child grow up.

(CNN)It was well past midnight, but I couldn't see the time because a steady stream of tears blurred my vision. I sat in a slumped zombie posture at the computer, too exhausted from months of lockdown to be productive, but too anxious to sleep.

I spent nights like these ferociously typing poorly-crafted love notes to my toddler, who I woefully reflected was too young to remember me if I wound up another victim to this once-in-a-century plague.
Before the pandemic, it crossed my mind that I might not be around to see my child grow up or get to publish my best-seller, but it was a muted pang in the back of my consciousness that I could easily bat away.
    Most people live past their 30s in the United States, I reasoned. I had no reason to believe I wouldn't be old and gray and begging for quality time for my adult child who had better things to do than hang with me.
      But since Covid-19, I've watched people around me -- friends, family and perfect strangers my own age whose stories are told in obituaries -- drop dead from this contagion. A sharp sense of existential dread has taken up residence in my psyche. That vague inevitability that I assumed would happen in the distant future smashed me over the head like an anvil in an old cartoon.
        I could easily die sooner than later. My mortality was, for the first time, in center focus.

        Covid brought death into sharper focus

          For many, Covid-19 was the rude awakening that death was not a long-distance relationship so much as a close neighbor.
          "We are in a moment that, as tragic and horrific as it is, is one of a few moments in American history where we are confronted with mass amounts of death and forced to reflect on our own mortality," said Gary Laderman, a professor of American religious history and cultures at Emory University, who teaches a popular class on death and dying.
          Laderman, who recently published "Don't Think About Death: A Memoir on Mortality," has seen a tangible uptick in interest in his class since the pandemic hit, with more than 300 students enrolled.
          Covid-19 has also created a "younger generation with awareness of mortality," Laderman said. "It is profound and deep and really stirring at some existential core that isn't usual at that age."
          Many younger and generally healthy people I know did not give serious thought to our own sense of mortality -- until Covid-19 hit. The pandemic has brought into starker focus the fact that that a full and long life is not necessarily a guaranteed thing.

          Not everyone grasps their own mortality

          Not everyone has advantaged the pandemic to grapple with the realities of death and dying, though.
          "As a death doula, I was hopeful that Covid would make death a more approachable topic. I wouldn't say that things have changed as much as I had hoped. In some ways we just run further and further, faster and faster from it," said Jane Whitlock, a Minneapolis-based end-of-life doula who works with people who are dying and their families.
          Whitlock has observed more people filling out advance directive medical forms, which spell out a person's wishes on whether doctors should try to resuscitate or keep a person alive if they're near death.