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.