My friends were waiting for me at a little old cafe, one where the floors slant and it smells of old wood. I was almost in a fit of rage by the time I sat down. My friends’ welcome was warm, “Hey girl! How are you?”
I grumbled, “I’m crabby. Sorry. The potholes are huge and the street parking impossible. Sorry I am so late.”
The explanation came out of my mouth, ridiculous and confusing. Potholes to swallow a child this time of year in Minnesota are expected. Street parking in this neighborhood is usually non-existent. They know I’ll be a customary ten minutes late. Embarrassment and red cheeks flushed my pale, winter face. Why was I so flustered with my friends, whom I have known for almost two decades?
Nothing lightened my spirits that spring day two years ago. Not a morning with friends, or shopping. Snuggling my oldest for a nap left me wanting more sleep. My favorite local brew created more sadness when the bottle was empty. Guilt settled in after trying to eat my feelings. Even my favorite double dark, chocolate chip cookie from the bakery couldn’t soften my frown – only my hips.
Too restless to read and escape the present moment. More guilt settled in when I wasn’t playing outside with my sons. We went for a walk around the block, in the sun. Supper was prepared for me, a delicious meal I didn’t lift a finger for.
Frustration was setting in. My rage and mood was getting worse. I couldn’t put a finger on it. Why couldn’t I just be grateful and enjoy the beautiful day?
Every year, my therapist reviews with me how feelings of grief spike when the weather changes. It signals time moving forward without (insert your loss). For me, the loss is my late husband Adam who passed away in 2016. The brain’s response to a new season is fascinating. Different smells and longer days. New advertisements showing up everywhere we look for the next season upon us. All triggering memories tucked away from seasons past.
These same familiar feelings washed over me on a recent, sunny Saturday. 2020: the year of the global Covid-19 pandemic. It was 13 days into being sheltered at home. Frustration settling in during this time of uncertainty and fear. I started to wonder when there would be a good day again.
From past experience, I knew to be gentle on myself. There would eventually be a shift in my mindset. Not knowing when happiness and excitement for the day would return triggered so much past trauma for me.
Being sad makes us uncomfortable. It is from facing fear and anxiety, feelings of sadness and anger that I have learned we grow from. Growth happens when we accomplish something new, never done on our own.
Right now though, we are all in this together worldwide. Across the country we are told to stay home, shelter in place. We are teaching our children from home under the guidance of their teachers through e-learning. Our calendars are empty, everything postponed until we don’t know when.
It is okay to feel sad. To feel mad. To feel betrayed. To feel (insert any feeling you have right now.) Grief is grief, and right now we are all grieving someone, something, and universally the fear of the unknown. Sit with each other on the phone or video chat. Ask if they want to talk about their sadness and if they don’t, talk about mundane things. Maybe, just maybe they have some good news to share.
It takes someone with a thick skin to love a grieving person, whether it is a family member or friend. Right now we all need some thick skin to empathize with each other, regardless of the loss. There is no right or wrong when coping with personal loss or a global pandemic, which runs layers and layers deep.
This is all new territory for the world. For some of us, we have experienced a deep personal loss of a spouse or child and it has shaped how we cope. I used to think my kryptonite was the abundance of anxiety over something happening to my late husband when he traveled for work. Turns out, no amount of anxiety will prevent anything from maybe happening. I know worry won’t stop my family from being diagnosed with the coronavirus either.
I would love to share a trick to sleep through the night and not lose sleep over the unknown. Instead, my anxiety pops up during odd times of the day like the Whack-A-Mole game. No matter how hard we try, we cannot ignore it during this unprecedented time.
But it doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom either. Lessons learned caring for my husband through cancer are proving invaluable. Break each day into sections – very small, manageable sections.
Currently, morning is the best time in our house. Anything productive happens during these hours. Lunch and rest time I mentally check out for awhile. Late afternoon I am the most tired and find it the hardest time to keep the kids out of the pantry and from fighting. Soon we are finding a (another) meal to cook for suppertime, then there is the l-o-n-g hour between supper and getting ready for bed. Next, I am told not to sing the annoying clean up song before we start our bedtime routine. Pandemic days have meant a lot of family movie time before lights out. Snuggles and relaxing with each other is calming to me.
Writing down a few things I accomplished out of the normal in my planner helps me stay optimistic, seeing all that we did in one day. On day 14 of shelter in place with my family, I had a good day. Day 15 was a great day. I totally killed the first day of e-learning and my new exercise goal. Then day 16 started and everyone was a bit off, despite the sunshine. Fighting, crying, melting down over anything and everything. We were backsliding.
So we had to take that Tuesday one hour at a time. A lot of hugs and restarts to our day. Learning to work through this uncertain time with grace is all we can really ask of ourselves.
Please, be gentle with yourself. Know you gave the best you have today.