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The upending of our lives has been hard to process. So much has changed so quickly, with new limits suggested or required on where we go, what we do, who we see, and how many people with whom we can associate at one time.

It's been gratifying to see how many people are doing their best to follow the guidelines, and frustrating to see how many are not.

But coping with the coronavirus will take an entirely different form when the deaths begin to mount. And they will. As a nation, we've been much more like Italy than South Korea in  the official reaction to the pandemic. Which means our casualties will also more likely reflect Italy, where morgues and crematoriums are over-loaded, where funerals cannot be held because of restrictions on gatherings, where families cannot leave their homes to mourn loved ones because they themselves are quarantined, where several hundred people now die each day.

We feel the angst here, but the human toll has yet to hit us. And when it does, it will exact a price.

This is not like other similarly severe threats that challenge us, an attack like 9/11, a natural disaster like superstorm Sandy. All of these types of trials shake us profoundly and test our character and our spirit, individually and as a community. Many of us remember the awful surrealness of that sunny September morning in 2001, and the shock we felt after experiencing nature's awesome fury 11 years later.

The coronavirus is different. It's invisible, its immediate impacts will be with us for a longer time, it will get even worse before it gets better and it's affecting the entire country, never mind the whole world. 

It's easy to say we need to prepare ourselves to deal with it mentally and spiritually, much more difficult to do. A rising death count will lead to feelings of powerlessness in adults, and confusion in children, who often hear scraps of news but seldom are given the whole picture.

For the older among us, we need to keep perspective. We'll get through this, as awful as it might seem at times. Hopefully, we can focus on the sacrifices we're all being asked to make to stop the viral spread, and allow ourselves the satisfaction of knowing we're contributing to something larger than ourselves. Hopefully, we can grieve for those who lose their lives while celebrating those we all help to save.

And, hopefully, we can reassure our children, many of whom won't understand why so many are dying. We need to tell them that the rest of us are doing everything we can to keep them healthy and safe. We need to give them information, not ignore or hide what's going on; they do better when they have facts that answer their questions. We need to demystify the coronavirus for them. We need to tell them that it usually doesn't hurt kids, or even moms and dads, but that we don't want to give it to someone else accidentally, and that they, too, can be part of the fight against it by practicing good hygiene and keeping distance from others.

And when it's over, we can't simply go back to life as it was. We need to remember the anxiety we feel today, the steps we took to weather the crisis, and the fact that we were stronger when we acted together.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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