pandemic

All Matters of Perspective

An email came through this morning from the public library. Like receiving a note from an old friend, I smiled when the familiar subject line showed up in my inbox.

“Reminder from the Poudre River Library District” – the note sat for just a minute and then I sighed. Remember the library? The travel guide book I had checked out at the beginning of March is due tomorrow. I wanted to get tips about traveling to Canada.

I haven’t gone to the library in months. I won’t be going to Canada – not this year. The time has come to return the book filled with notes on wonderful other places to its shelves.

Instead, last night I sat cross-legged with my laptop nestled in the tiny pocket of skin and carpet and scrolled Overdrive for new Kindle picks. Maybe this static place of scenery – aka my living room – will be where I stay to travel to different places as I read from home this year. I picked out three new titles and clicked download.

The reminders of the life we wish we could live tend to linger. Grief taught me this. The moments where the ache of what could have been needs tending. The holes need breathing into.

I remember, a few months after Dad died, I was texting a friend who also lost her dad and I said, “How do you ever get through this?”

“You don’t.” She said. “For awhile, you walk around the gaping hole, present in everything you do. Then, after a bit, a beautiful rug covers the hole, and the gap changes shape and size, and you walk around it more easily. But you know, no matter what covers it, that hole is still there.”

rug

The pandemic is stealing time from us, it’s stealing people and travel, and places we once loved. We need to honor the gaping.

We also need to nestle in and we get to choose how we tend to the holes presented to us.

Last night, on our walk around the neighborhood, we approached the last two houses on the block and was greeted by one of our youngest neighbors. A little boy with floppy brown hair stood up against the white porch railing. Wearing miniature rain boots, he swirled his legs deep in the grass and kept talking to the older gentleman leaning across his porch, leaving six feet of space.

As we got closer, the little boy looked to the street and exclaimed, “John! They have a dog, just like you!”

The old man raised his eyes to us and winked from behind his spectacles.

“Hi!” waved the little boy. “I like your dog!”

“Thanks!” I replied with a smile. “Our dog kinda looks like the dog on your shirt.”

The little boy paused, looked down, and quickly retorted, “Yeah, well that’s not a dog. That’s a tiger.”

“Oh,” I said, still smiling. “He looked like a dog to me.”

Nothing like being corrected by a three year old.

We kept walking and the two kept their conversation going.

Grief and loss.

Hurting and hope.

Wishing and acceptance.

Travel and exploring from home.

Dog and tiger.

All matters of perspective.

Beautiful things to me.

 

Was It Risky? Yes.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Anxiety seems to be a best friend to me these days. I’m swatting at my fears while sipping on homemade coffee, still here, working from home.

The glow of the computer screen fails to make up for my missing companionship, as I haven’t seen friends in close to 100 days. Almost a third of the year.

I don’t know how long we’ll be here, nor, I realize, do I have much control over the comings and goings of others who want to be out buying coffee from shops and swallowing down cocktails on outdoor patios.

The anxious ones are hurting here in this pandemic space.

This weekend, we drove down to spend time with my in-laws, a few of the people we’ve marked allowable in our pods of hopefully healthy people we love.

We have to have some connection. Father’s Day had arrived and while I woke with sadness in my chest, I needed to get my blood moving in different ways. Mix up the places we sit, the sidewalks we walk on, the conversations we’re having – variety is a great distractor.

Dylan locked our bikes to the roof of the car and the dog jumped in the back, panting heavily, as she always does when we transport her from here to there.

I’ve felt heavy for months. Laying on the ground helps. So do fresh flowers, and sourdough cookies, and sticking my hands in the dirt. I was hoping a drive may lighten the weight I seem to take on from the perceived painful energy of others.

As we drove, I looked west to the mountains and counted the snow capped peaks. Counted the cars in line for drive-up Covid tests. Counted the number of deep breaths I could take to let the grief and fear move through my tired body.

As the hour passed, we pulled up to the familiar intersection near the house, and a man about my brother’s age sat resting at the stop light. His back was arched, his face down, and he held a sign that said, “Can’t you just spare a dollar?” This man was someones loved one at some point. How long has he sat, ignored, unseen, unsure?

I pulled out my wallet and counted again, pulling crumpled bills from my purse that hasn’t been properly used in months.

I handed the cash to Dylan and said, “If you’re willing to risk it, we should give this guy cash. You can wash your hands when we get there.”

He rolled down the window, and we handed the man a few bucks. I didn’t make eye contact. I just wanted to help.

If I feel heavy, he may too.

We drove another block and scrubbed our hands clean, right after walking in the door.

It’s risky out there. Being human just is. One risk after the other.

Loving one another. Witnessing pain. Having hard conversations. Going grocery shopping. Driving in cars. Breathing in air of joggers who we don’t know if they are healthy. Facing the truth.

It’s all so risky.

And if we can choose to show up, over and over again, with our aching backs and light in our eyes, and hope in just a few dollars, our fears can be alleviated by miniature efforts to step into the truth.

It’s risky, yes. And beautiful too.

So we’re washing hands and weeping and hoping and praying and pleading. And still driving, and counting, and wondering how to apply the balm we all need to our wondering and waiting hearts. How can we find beauty in this risky space, too?

 

This is it.

I was doing my best to stay back from the people in front of me as my face covering kept slipping. My efforts to create the six-feet distance seemed silly as others swarmed around me in the busy store. Like a salmon unsure of how to swim upstream, I tentatively wrapped my little fins around me wondering if this big ol’ river was safe. As I followed my husband through the aisles, I looked ahead and watched a man pause.

As he stood still, I did too, waiting to move forward as I kept my space.

This man removed his mask, sneezed, and then put the face covering back on.

I was furious.

“You wear the mask to stop the sneeze!” I thought to myself “Ohhhhh my Gosh!”

I wanted to pull my hair, to yell at him, to shriek what the heck he was missing! I felt my muscles tense and my annoyance rise. I’ve never hated being around people more. 

I stood still longer, silently praying thanks for my own face mask and wondering how long it takes for germs to disperse before I walked through his invisible, fearful cloud of possible germs. 

I continued forward and was uncomfortable for the next twenty minutes we spent in Home Depot. Get in, get our supplies, get out.

I know I can’t be the only one worried in public places and at the same time, by the looks of things, there are thousands of people not worrying as much as me.

Our neighbors are gathering and stores are busy and friends are posting pictures of time spent on the lake. I’m still sitting, writing from my couch, wondering what dials will have to turn for me to feel safe again out in the world. I miss my mom and want a hug and wonder when my brother will be able to go back to work. This isn’t fun.

We drove back home and washed our hands and wiped down the cans of paint we purchased with off-brand, lemon-scented cleaner because Clorox wipes are still nowhere to be found.

Later in the evening, I turned on an old favorite movie, About Time. The main character Tim has the gift of being able to travel back in time and can re-live any day he chooses. There are consequences of the re-dos but mostly, his gift gives him the ability to live less anxiously, be more present, and delight in the extraordinary ordinary things around him. The things we worry about are easier to face if we know the outcomes don’t cause us pain.

I kept thinking while watching the movie, if I went back to today two weeks from now and stood in that same concrete, box store would I be kinder to the man who sneezed if I knew I wasn’t infected. I would have gone down a different aisle. I would have pulled Dylan closer and slowed my breathing. Or would I have chosen to avoid that store all together?

What would I do differently if I knew now what I’ll know in two weeks? The exercise is exhausting, isn’t it?

Here’s what I know now.

This is it.

We don’t get a do over. I don’t get to go back.

I may have to spend much of my thirty second year in my house, wondering, waiting, worrying.

When they say it is safe again, I’ll wander out and get emotional about sitting in a public park and plan vacations and toast champagne at weddings and still, new anxieties will present themselves. The world will give me something else to be scared of.

Moving through things doesn’t erase fears – the process of arriving on the other side means I’ll place my anxious claws into something else. Worrying and wondering just wastes my time today.

This is it.

How can I live differently here in these pandemic days while I wait?

I asked my friend to pray for me – may I have compassion for the people who aren’t taking this as seriously as I am. Compassion for myself and my family. May I be at peace. May I use my creative energy to invest in the things I love to do, even while home. May I honor the outbursts and fits and tears coming from the stress of this global melt down.

Our world is changed and my little world, here on the big blue couch with the sun streaming in, still offers a chance for peace. I may be missing out, but this won’t be forever.

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The sun is up. The garden is being watered. The coffee is hot. Books begging to be read beckon. I’m breathing.

This is my life, here and now.

As Tim says, “We’re all traveling through time together every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.”

What a beautiful thing.

We aren’t doing enough.

I dreamt with him last night.

swingWe were at an amusement park and I was strapped in to one of those large swings for adults. The yellow bucket seat was cold on my legs and my sleeping self felt afraid of the lacking worn-nylon restraint. I could only see out, and down over the rolling hills and green grass, but I knew he was sitting in the swing behind me.

When the ride ended and we landed, we sat on a bench with people from all stages of my life. He handed me a white McDonald’s bag, the yellow arches pronounced on the front.

“Sorry I had to go” he said.

I woke with an adrenaline rush of sadness and a soft smile and I said to myself, “I bet that bag was full of burgers.”

Dad doesn’t come to me in dreams all that often. It’s a tortuous balance of comfort and despair upon waking. These glimpses of him spun in a storytelling of bizarre memories, recollections, and persistent reminders of the anxieties of where we are currently, living without him.

I keep thinking, as a nation, as a globe, we aren’t doing enough for new grievers. Our president isn’t saying sorry; no empathy drips from his lips. The online communities I’m a part of are trying –  touching on our triggers and sharing reluctant welcomes to the clubs none of us wanted to be a part of in the first place. While online tributes teach us how to facilitate a virtual funeral, few leaders are acknowledging emotional pain. Few news outlets are telling stories of the encounters, the painful goodbyes from screens, or sharing the connection between personalities and preferences of actual humans who make the numbers tick up, up, up.

All over the globe, thousands are taking their steps into the first weeks and months of mourning. Milestones are met without. We’re being reminded of the pervasiveness of loss daily, and still, very few are saying, “I’m so sorry you’re here. That our lack of response led to this painful unraveling and gaping whole you now live with.”

We aren’t doing enough to create space, to hold space, to allow such dark feelings, questions, and unfathomable realities.

Instead we are fighting on Twitter, and bickering about masks, and continuing to hope for less restriction and more connection.

I continue to pray, please not me, and still desire to help. I don’t have profound wisdom and my dad did not communicate anything wise to me about our current situation.

He just gave me a bag of supposed burgers in my semi-concious state. None of us are really sure what to do.

This week, I went to Starbucks for the first time in eight weeks. The drive-thru felt beautiful and as the signature green straw plunged into my plastic cup full of coveted vanilla latte, I sighed with gratitude. And then I washed my hands.

We are still here, in this pandemic, hoping, and wondering, and still being ourselves.

Part of myself, my journey, my searching, my purpose, is to help people in pain.

I can point fingers and blame and say the grand “THEY” aren’t doing enough.

And I can turn, once again, to where I have control. From my kitchen table, I choose to still use words to share pain, and hope, and comfort, and acceptance for the dark places in people’s lives.

I’m so sorry we’re here. That people are dying by the thousands and our culture doesn’t know how to talk about grief. That you’re here and you’re hurting and that this year will forever be one that changed your life.

Perhaps soon, your people will come to you in your dreams.

Until then, I recommend the drive-thru. Starbucks or McDonalds. What gives you comfort in cups, in memories, in connection. You’re feeling now and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Day 51 – 52 Good Things

So close to 52. I didn’t think we’d get here and I’m rather surprised the amount of energy it takes to make a mental list of good things still surrounding us. But I continue searching and invite you to join me as we stay home and stay safe.

I’m called again, in whispers, to remember the choices we make when things seem the bleakest are opportunities for our wondering souls. What we focus on, while not ignoring painful realities, makes or breaks our spirits.

In conversations with friends and co-workers and texts and Instagram conversations, I’m reminded to look for the good.

181. Seeds for plant starts

182. Fingernails covered in dirt

183. An evening breeze through an open window

184. Aleve for back pain

185. Grocery delivery

185. Peanut M&Ms

186. Cacio e Pepe

187. Signs of support (contributed by Christine C)

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188. WhatsApp

189. Letters to children read via Instagram

What good and beautiful things are you seeing in your life these days? Please send them to me at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com

 

Real

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I sent a text pleading today. Standing on the fading back porch, I typed with tears in my eyes.

“I already lost a parent, I don’t want to lose you too.”

The black letters clicked as my fingers pressed into the digital screen.

My thumbs seemed numb, typing heavily as emotion welled in my chest.

I could have picked up the phone, but hiding behind typing and screens felt safer.

Grief slipped between my sentences as I passed my Covid anxiety from my gut to the pocket where his cell phone lingered.

Crying in the kitchen, Dylan hugged me this afternoon and I whimpered, “I just don’t want to lose anyone else.”

On Instagram, and blogs, and videos across the world grief experts are sharing comfort, perspective, and expertise for those new to loss. Coping mechanisms creep up in posts and in video chats and healthy ways to channel our triggers seem to zip in the spaces connecting us on the internet. As someone who writes extensively about my experience with life after loss, I’ve been wondering and waiting for epiphanies to come.

What wisdom can I share to help the newly bereaved? The same lessons apply to the panicked, the hurting, the newly unemployed? What responsibility do I have as an “influencer” who is using personal pain to help guide others?

I’ve stayed quiet because I don’t have much.

I return to the basics and I encourage myself and others to find comfort.

Soothe yourself with warm blankets and cups of tea. Splurge for the brand-name tissues as you wipe your eyes. Light a candle. Nourish yourself. Take a slow walk around your neighborhood. Wear a mask.

And today, when my own imagined panic crept in like fog moving over the mountains, I let the wave consume me. I felt the overflow of emotion leak up out from my chest and onto the laminate floor.

My grief wounds drip fresh with the fear of loss not yet real.

I imagine thousands around the world are feeling the same.

Rather than whisper antidotes and remedies, tonight I give permission.

I’m not an influencer. I’m a human living an experience of life after loss. I finger my scars and I breathe deeply and remember I am human, prone to loss and intense experiences in an aching world.

I give myself beautiful permission to live in this uncomfortable, seemingly horrible space.

I give you permission to ask for a hug. To send pleading text messages and grace for the tears sure to fall. I welcome the beauty found in the permission to accept a warm embrace, even if the arms wrapped around your shoulders are your own.

Pandemic life is scary and hard. The fog licks our fingers and faces and leaves a chill in our bones.

Give yourself the beautiful permission to feel all of this. To weep in the kitchen. To send the texts and express your love and ask for what you need.

At the end of the day, I only want to influence real.

Real is beautiful.

This is not ok.

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Photo by Katsia Jazwinska on Unsplash

I remember standing at the high kitchen counter. My back was facing the big sliding door as the sun started to set and I was leaning against the worn wicker chair. My tear streamed face was turned down and I was looking at my fingers. 

“It’s going to be ok,” I kept saying to no one in particular.

My dad had died earlier that day and we had gathered in the kitchen as family started to show up.

“It’s going to be ok.”

At the time, my brain was spouting words of comfort while stuck in a spinning cycle of thoughts. I hadn’t gotten to the What-the-actual-F*** part yet. I was just trying to soothe the immediate blow.

There have been millions of posts about the world right now. Memes swish in cyberspace and hearts are broken on Facebook and with every It’s-going-to-be-ok sentiment exists a person leaning against chairs in the midst of confusion and swirling thoughts.

If you’re paying attention, your brain and your body are trying to self-soothe.

I don’t remember anyone responding to my five word phrase that day. No one was acknowledging my need to make things ok.

This was not ok. Someone I loved had died.

All over the world, people have died and their losses are broadcast on the news, turned into cautionary tales, used to make other folks terrified. Shame creeps in as the media lurks and warns and flashes as we silently pray, “Please not my people.”

In his book, Joe Biden estimates that for every person we lose, six people are intimately grieving that loss. The US lost over 20,000 people this month. Multiply that by six and realize the number of folks now plunged into grief. Add on the ones who already lost someone and the number of those impacted grows substantially. We’re triggered, we’re sad, we’re wondering and I’m hoping, staying the heck home.

This is not ok.

I’ve been at home for a month now. I know people who have gotten sick and my heart aches when I see posts of people who have died. No one is untouched by this experience.

I flashback to the kitchen and the white wicker bar stool and I whisper to my younger self, “No, this isn’t ok.”

I wish someone had said that to me.

This isn’t ok.

I’ve learned, in the last four years, when we call out the truth of our horrible experiences they lose the tight grips on our hearts and our worried brains.

There’s no going back.

I’m more compassionate to myself. I’m less tolerant of the things our world tells us are important. My molecules have rearranged and my perspectives have softened. I’m quicker to anger at injustice and ache for connection. Scars of loneliness get special attention and I type into the void with calm fingers wishing people could listen – all of our not-ok-ness is valid. We deserve a place to put our not ok stories.

This is not ok.

Let us weep and rest and extend grace to others as we make new choices from what remains. We will stand and move out of the rubble of the worlds we once knew. Donate money. Throw things safely.

Call out the not-ok-ness. I promise these four words are beautiful things.

 

 

 

Day 17 – 52 Good Things

And the list continues.

104. Mousse made in a blender

105. Old movies

106. Baby photos

107. Melted cheese

108. Jon Krasinski’s Good Things segments

109. Phone calls

110. Offers of help

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.

 

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 2 – 52 Good Things

How did today go for you? Something about 5 pm marks another day in the books.

Like when I was in college, I felt better if I made it to 3 pm.

I know you’ve got hours to go and weeks to unfold.

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.

Sending love and light

6. This Guinness ad

7. Free yoga and barre workouts until April 1st with Down Dog

8. Fill up a growler or buy a t-shirt at local breweries (submitted by Katie M)

9. Cancel your personal care appointments and pay the stylist or teachers anyway (submitted by Katie M)

10. These penguins at the Shedd Aquarium

11. Get outside. (Photos submitted by Beth U)