pandemic

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)