beautiful things

What My Grief Gremlin Taught Me About Pandemics

 

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

March may be the worst. Historically, the turning pages of the longest month ever continue to bring bad news to my doorstep. Four years ago, we lost my dad unexpectedly smack dab in the middle of the month. On that day, a grief gremlin took up permanent residence in my front pocket. She waves her ugly wings and tattered feathers on anniversaries, the start of football season, or when I see a man over 60 in Starbucks. She also flaps and flitters in the middle of a pandemic.

Bad news comes in threes, they say, and in 2016, our three rounded out with two more job losses before April.

All of our supposed-to-be doings came to a screeching halt. To cope, we gathered around the worn kitchen table in the home I grew up in and stared. Our eyes glazed over at blank walls then would drift to the floor. I’d make note of the raspberry color of my shoes and watch the puddles of tears dribbling onto the mesh just below my ankles. I’d lift my head and smear the remainder of tears on my t-shirt sleeves.

Grief is a powerful force – she takes what you once knew and shreds what was to bits.

Two weeks ago, life all around the United States came to the same screeching halt. We packed up our desks and set up spaces at home. We went to work remotely and just when the desk was looking beautiful, we found out the dream job we just landed crumbled into dust.

People are dying and communities are slowing. All of our supposed-to-be doings have come to a halt. It’s March and people are hurting again.

In our homes and at hospitals, we sit staring at walls. At screens. At puddles of tears dribbling down our faces and onto tile floors. Tears smear on sleeves. We can’t gather around the kitchen table because we aren’t allowed to be together. We can’t hug or touch or greet.

The pain is broadcast on the news, captured in memes, and thrown angrily at others in tweets and mad dashes to grab the last package of toilet paper off the shelves.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from the loss of a parent and how, if I let them, the lessons grief continues to massage into my heart can serve me during a global pandemic.

Writing to you from the same basement where I heard the news my dad had left us, I hug myself and realize grief can be a teacher in times of duress. My gremlin has taught me how to cope with the squeezing, the panic, the uncertainty, and the pain.

Here are her three lessons that prepared me for a pandemic:

1. I was never in control – I’m not now. I can choose my responses. 

Elizabeth Gilbert recently posted on her Instagram this quote, “You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control. You never had control, all you had was anxiety.”

After experiencing unexpected loss, my anxiety came into sharp focus. It hasn’t eased in four years. I’ve accepted the anxious little bug living – roommates with gremlin – in my front pocket as she accompanies me everywhere I go. I worry about getting texts, not getting texts, and the ten pm phone calls. I worry about hospitals, and diagnoses, and imagined accidents.

I worry about who will go next, and where I will be, and if I said I love you enough because you just never know.

This week, we’ve all been reminded we just never know. With all that never knowing comes immense anxiety. Bank accounts are examined. Rice is rationed. YouTube distracts.

As humans, we think we have a say in how things are going to work. I realized in my mid-twenties, this is a lie. We have influence. We have preference. We have choice. We don’t have much control.

This truth has allowed me to live more deeply and experience the ordinary in a richer way. Seizing the day doesn’t take away the anxiety. Believing I have a choice in how to respond to the things outside of my control changes my perspective. I don’t have control of global markets, government relief, or the small company I wanted my husband to work at indefinitely. I do get to choose to stay home, to connect with loved ones, and to weep in the basement.

2. Find Comfort

The best advice I got when I lost my dad was, “Find comfort.” Surround yourself with things that bring delight, warmth, light, and tenderness into your space. Make a list of at least five things you can draw upon when the unknown feels too much. My pile has ground coffee beans, a white blanket, my mom’s number on speed dial, knowing where my dog is, and sweatshirt of my husband’s.

What’s in your pile?

Be careful of what you consume. You know yourself. Moderate unhealthy substances and be wary of who and what messaging you are letting into your space. Now is the time to be diligent about boundaries, turning off the news, and asking for help.

Self-medication isn’t always negative. What positive things can you allow to bring you comfort right now?

3. It’s going to be ok. 

I share those five words with immense empathy. It never feels ok when we lose something or someone we love. My life will never be capital O-K, because my dad will not be a part of it in the way I had hoped. But my family is doing ok in the way we’ve adapted. We hurt, relationships are still strained, things are far from perfect. And yet, we’re still here.

When we come out of this pandemic, which I believe will happen, things will not be capital O-K. Lives are being drastically altered. Grief is seeping in and taking up residence in thousands of heart pockets. Our hopes have changed permanent shape. We will have to adapt. Our resilient spirits will get to choose to lift their chins and answer the question, “How can I make what I have lowercase o-k enough?” You need not push the gremlin away.

Weep, release the tension in your hands, stare at walls. Yes.

And wait and see what is yet to unfold.

What we make with the things that remain can be beautiful.

Day 13 & 14 – 52 Good Things

I skipped yesterday so here we are – day 14.

How did today go for you?

Here are a few more good things – even still.

87. People taking the llamas for a walk (submitted by Cathy H)

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88. Homemade hamburger buns

89. Bike rides

90. Cutting up old t-shirts for crafts

91. Cubes of ice dancing in gin

92. Recipes on the internet

93. Support from family members

94. A full bottle of ketchup

95. Sleeping in

What simple, beautiful things did you encounter? Let’s keep this list going for as long as we need to.

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.

Day 11 – 52 Good Things

I know how hard it is to stay grounded in a chaotic world. For over six years, I’ve written about my search for beautiful things in a world that aches and groans. Hundreds of readers have trusted my posts to whisper into their hurts, search for the good, and find simple things to delight in when things aren’t going as perfectly as they could.

We live in the challenging dichotomy of good and bad. Of catastrophe and regrowth. Of pain and beauty.

Babies are born, flowers bloom, and magic exists in a bowl of pasta. People die, jobs are lost, families are estranged.

In my writing, I honor the mystery that God allows both the dark and the light to exist.

This week, we got news Dylan lost his job. We know we are privileged and we have back ups. Not everyone does. We know we have family. Not everyone does.

There are hundreds of worthy causes to donate to right now and asking for help is hard. If you have read my blog over the years, gotten encouragement from my words, or want to support a friend, please consider throwing a few dollars in the new tip jar available on here.

Stay safe. Stay searching for the good. We’re going to get through this by looking for beautiful things.

And now on to continue the list:

68.  This video – even when she smells the lilies (submitted by Christine C.)

 

69. This artist who is designing hugs you can send in the mail

70. People who offer to grow you plants

71. Prayers

72. Sleeping until 8

73. Positive attitudes

74. Teriyaki marinade

75.  Seeing a hawk in my backyard

76. This blog post on purpose during a pandemic by Zach Mercurio

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.

Day 10 – 52 Good Things

How did today go for you?

Here are a few more good things. I can’t wait to see what good you’ve got happening in your homes, on your screens, and in your connections. Even STILL.

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.


58. Singing Happy Birthday in the Street

59. Video Chats from Living Rooms

60. Soft boiled eggs

61. Having other people in your boat

62. Online Art Therapy

63. Drawing your own boundaries

64. Words of support

65. Watching three year olds throw snow balls from six feet away

66. Which Paul Rudd is older? (submitted by Annie H)

67. Bad Lip Reading (submitted by Annie H)

Day 9 – 52 Good Things

How did today go for you? Here are a few good things on people’s minds:

52. A sweet four year old who came up behind me on his bike while I was walking and really needed to explain that he tried to let me know he was behind me but I must not have heard him. Polite and adorable! (submitted by Christine C)

53. Homemade, fresh, hot from the oven, melt in your mouth butter biscuits

54. YOGI tea with these reminders printed on the teabag: Appreciate yourself and honor your soul and live by your inner knowledge and strength

55. I’m a teacher out of school for the rest of this year and I am excited knowing there’s a Zoom meeting tomorrow and I get to see and talk to some of the children from my class.

56. The Overstory by Richard Powers

(53-56 submitted by Suzanne M)

57. Mailing letters to my grandparents with words of hope and love (submitted by Beth U)


As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.

Spray and Wipe

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Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

I made a choice today at 4:45 pm to go to the grocery store. I heard Denver was closing things (don’t know if this is true because I’ve been avoiding the news) and I knew I had to buy groceries for my mom and grandma.

Had to – two strong words. Chose to. Wanted to.

There are plenty of capable people making choices of whether or not to walk into public all day, all over the world. We are scared and unsure and wringing our hands.

I did not HAVE to. I chose too. My fear of running out motivated me out of my home office and into the parking lot. I brought Dylan with me.

Before entering the store, a man about my age stood in front of the carts. Wearing blue gloves and holding a flowing blanket of Clorox-like wipes, he sprayed cart after cart and wiped down other people’s invisible germs.

While we waited for our ominous cart to be cleaned, I got emotional.

I paused and said, “Thank you.”

I waited and hoped he looked me in the eye.

“You matter and what you are doing here is making a big difference. Thank you.”

His eyes dipped down onto the next cart and he started again to spray and wipe. Spray and wipe. I’m guessing he did not choose to be in that role. I’m guessing he has to.

He made the biggest difference in my health all day.

We went into the store. Wandered the aisles and picked a few items that were left on the almost bare shelves.

I brought our selections home and washed my hands. Then, I wiped everything with Clorox wipes.

Then, I sprayed the trunk of my car and wiped down the steering wheel.

Then, I drove twenty miles and delivered another bag of basics to my grandmothers house.

We are all doing the best we can. People deserve to be seen.

Say thank you to the checkers. Say thank you to the people being brave.

Wash your hands. Spray and wipe.

Cry a little.

We’ll get through this with beautiful things.

Day 8 – 52 Good Things

How did today go for you?

I spent the morning swirling as we received more news of postponed jobs.

In a meeting, my coworker posed the question, “How are you getting wound up in negative possibilities?”

Gulp.

I am so. darn. good. at. that.

At the start of the year, I challenged myself to use my imagination for more positive things. I didn’t know of the coming epidemic and I forgot about my resolution as I swam in the dark sea of what ifs.

So, after deep breaths and mental silence, I’m at it again. Focusing and remembering on the good things that make us laugh and bring us sustenance. Trying to imagine big, beautiful possibilities.

This practice can change minute by minute.

50. This t-shirt on Amazon had me laughing out loud

51. I made sourdough bread from salt and flour and water and it’s beautiful and that’s enough.

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May we remember to go back to the basics.

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.