Saturday, June 27, 2020

Calendar Pages

I was talking to a good friend yesterday, whose young husband died suddenly a few years ago. I wanted to know how the new rhythms of the pandemic were affecting her family. How had they coped during the complete shutdown? "I mean, grief is already so isolating," I said.

Her reply landed deep inside me, because I recognized my own experience there. "It's been okay. In a way I feel as if the rest of the world has been catching up to where I've been for a while. That they are getting a taste of grief."

She didn't mean the many, many families whose loved ones have died from this brutal illness, a number that is unfortunately climbing by the day because our country does not have a well-coordinated plan on how to address Covid-19.

The "taste" she was referring to was the swift wiping clean of the calendar pages. When everything shut-down in mid-March, people took a sharpie and drew through weddings, work trips, school days, and social events and had to surrender to the uncertainty of when and if things would ever return to "normal."

People struggled to find a daily routine and felt rudderless when the rhythms they'd always known of work and school and even identity were upended. Jobs they thought they could count on disappeared, and they were separated physically from the ones they loved. The world outside their doors felt confusing and even dangerous.

And so it is with grief. Grievers know the stark Before/After well. They know the disorienting feeling of having a plan for how things were going to be, how one's life would look, then being left with the uncertainty of how to move forward when life turns upside down.

I remember my sister scrambling to find a new wall calendar for us right after Jack died, because the one on our kitchen door scrawled with things like, "Jack/Margaret dentist", "Boy Scouts", and "baseball practice", in all its normalcy, belied the shattered state of the family inside that door. It wounded us us with the could-have-beens. Each plan cut us to the bone.

Grief requires an adaptability and flexibility that is not innate or comfortable, right at a time when you are feeling ill-equipped to exhibit either. It requires a letting go of the expectation of how things were going to be, when your instinct is to clench your fists and try to hold on with all you've got. We deny and resist our pain as much as we can, but at some point we have to face it.  The longer we resist, the longer it lasts.

Grief is messy.

As is life in a pandemic.

It's important and even healthy to acknowledge our losses. To say, "I hate this! This is terrible! I wish it were another way!"

But when we continue to cling to the way things were, or the way we wanted them to be-- whether we are doing it because life is "unfair", or even in the name of "personal freedom" we can spew our grief, or our germs, on others.

Both are harmful; one can be deadly.


Theresa said...

so true Anna. xoxo

PinkieB said...

I really bristled at people saying they were "grieving" on social media when the shutdowns began. I understand what they are trying to say, and it's horrible, but they don't even realize how much worse it could be. Thank you for this post. Very thoughtful, and I will share with my widow friends. <3

Kinithia said...

My daughter (a year older than your girl!) ordered a new planner because the old one was filled with trips and events, and her long awaited and dreamed about study abroad in Paris. She couldn’t bear to see the crossed off boxes anymore. It was so difficult to watch her mourn the loss of the plans she had made, It did help her to know she has many years ahead to do all those things and her time would come.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I am just now reading your post from yesterday. There are two thoughts that came immediately to mind regarding calendars.

Yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of my sister's death by suicide. I can clearly remember just a few days after she died, I saw the calendar of one of her sons hanging in his room. He had marked the calendar to say "MOM KILLED HERSELF" in magic marker and circled the date. He never changed the page to July. Since that time, I have always dreaded the calendar/year shifting to June. It has been a hard month for me since her death. It is also the month we lost my dad several years before her death. But for me, June has been the month that I relive having to tell my mother my sister was dead, having to travel to her home to id her before the police moved her, and having to tell her three sons she was dead. Her 5 year old was so excited to learn his Mommy was in Heaven. He knew that was an amazing place. I believe she is there too and I mostly concentrate on happy memories. But June on the calendar reverberates still.

My husband died last month, just six months after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He loved calendars. We have calendars all over the house and I teased him about the ritual of changing them on the first of each month. For the last few weeks of his life, he could not get out of bed. So on May 1, I took each calendar to him in his hospital bed, one at a time, so he could change it himself. It was just one of the small rituals that kept some normalcy in our lives. He was so grateful for that opportunity and I smile thinking of it.

Earlier this week, my last living sister said "June was always hard, now May is going to be as bad." Another sister died of breast cancer in May 10 years ago.

On June 1, our calendars had to be changed for the first time since my husband's death. It was just one more task he enjoyed doing that is left to me. What I am also left with are calendars of past years that represent the many years we had together. I wouldn't trade a minute of any day of them, and I will try to focus on that as the calendar pages unfold in the days and weeks ahead. I am so blessed to have had the love of my life for 17 years and to know he is in God's hands, and every day is a day to celebrate that!

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the entire world does not have a "well-coordinated plan" to handle the coronavirus. Thankfully, those of us in the United States were fortunate to benefit from strong prevention of the spread of the disease unlike other countries that did not react swiftly and aggressively. The coronavirus is still a harsh reality, but thank goodness we were put on pause at the beginning. I never would want to imagine the increased number of families who would have experienced the grief of losing loved ones to COVID if our country did not have as strong a plan as it enacted. Stay well, everyone, and please wear your masks! Love to all of you.

Tara said...

As always, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this. We had a whiteboard calendar at the time of my child's death and I remember being equal parts horrified and relieved that someone had taken it upon themselves to erase it, so we weren't staring at all the unfulfilled plans.

Viewing the pandemic from our place of grief has been so interesting. Our child had only been gone for about six months when the shutdown started and it was the most "normal" our family had felt since he died. He passed away after a long battle with cancer, so the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic felt more familiar to us than the absolute shock of living in grief. It's also been interesting watching the rest of the world having to worry about whether they can rely on the people around them to be thoughtful about not spreading germs, or if having to fulfill mundane, everyday needs will expose them to something potentially devastating.

Unknown said...

Thank-you so much for this post as well as the reflections of your many other posts. I love the way your words teach and comfort, and I love the way your words help to bring into focus the important things we need to think about, bring to the surface, and to share with others. Again, Thank-you.

In these past few months the phrase, "This is not our home" has become a comfort to me. It seems to be more of a reality, in a good way.

(Hebrews 13:14-16) For this world is not our home, we are looking forward to our everlasting home in Heaven. With Jesus' help we will continually offer our sacrifice of praise to God by telling others of the glory of His name. Don't forget to do good and to share what you have with those in need, for such sacrifices are pleasing to Him.

Anna Banana said...

It's important to remember there are all sorts of grief and ways we each experience it. Indeed losing a loved one is the worst kind, but it's a sad thing to try to police what others should and should not grieve about. Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

loved this post. beautifully written. the " normal" has always felt out of joint to me, despite the fact that I have not grieved the loss of a close relative for a couple of decades. the pandemic -- which I very much wish would stop cutting people's lives down and wreaking devastation far and wide -- is, in another sense, a relief. of course I don't want people to get hurt, but I'm just referring to the dramatic change in routine. I wish I wasn't this way, but routine has always felt oppressive to me. anyway, my 96 year old grandfather just died (I'm not sad, we weren't close and he was mean), but it was fun to memorialize him here anyway:

condolences to the woman whose husband died last month, the woman whose son has been gone for less than a year and all the people on this page -- and everywhere -- who carry the ten ton weight of grief. I feel we are entering a time when we will all be able to have more solidarity with one another around grief, and not feel so lonely and isolated in grief. just as it was for most of human history. (modernity has not been easy despite the fabulous treats it has offered.)

Susan (Between Naps On The said...

I agree with Anonymous, he/she said it well. So thankful to be living here in the U.S. where we handled this so much better from the beginning than other countries did. We will all get through this together, Anna.

Anonymous said...

"But when we continue to cling to the way things were, or the way we wanted them to be-- whether we are doing it because life is "unfair", or even in the name of "personal freedom" we can spew our grief... on others." Guilty as charged - spewing is the right word for what I have been doing since my loved one passed away two months ago - thank you so much for shedding your light on that.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anna, you don’t know me but, I stumbled upon your blog shortly after the loss of your beloved Jack. Your story had a profound affect on me and I thought about Jack and inexplicably grieved for him as if he was someone I had known (not to compare what I felt to the grief you, your family or those who did actually know him felt in any way shape or form). I remember reading one of your blog posts and you writing about how you did not want people to forget him. For some reason, I just felt compelled to let you know that I have not forgotten about him. I think of him often and of you and your family. I wish you and your family love and peace. With love, Sharon