Today my kid was supposed to be in NYC, celebrating her birthday with a few of her buddies. A dear friend was supposed to be heading to Hawaii to take her grandkids on a long-awaited vacation and we had been looking forward to showing my parents Washington DC at the end of the month. Another friend’s son is getting married in April, they’ve been planning the wedding for almost a year. And two close friends have kids who are graduating college in May or June, and for all we know, that’s on hold.
It can almost seem bearable to socially distance, to have life interrupted when there is nothing special planned. But when you have an event; whether as small as a dinner party with friends or as large as a wedding, you might have feelings ranging from slight disappointment to crushing sadness to see it canceled.
A few years ago I met a woman who is now a good friend, and for me she’s been a walking lesson in grief. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She smiles, she jokes, and her energy is a beautiful luminescence, but until meeting her, I had never been able to hear intimate stories of grief, with the specific language she uses. Her husband was diagnosed with a cancer that tore through his body in a matter of months, leaving her to raise their young child alone, picking up the pieces of her shattered life. One night a group of us were talking about the days after the 2016 election and for all of us, there was a feeling that something had died after Trump won. The something was specific to each of us, but we behaved the same. Waking up thinking it was a day like any other before “the event” and then realizing that no, it wasn’t. Feeling an undue amounts of anger, or aggression. Replaying how things were supposed to be in our head. Yes, she nodded, that’s grief. Over the years, she has turned her experience into a business/social mission to help the bereaved and I’m grateful for her guidance.
I remembered this conversation when I spoke to my friend who was so sad to cancel her vacation with her grandkids. She had so many ideas, plans and desires wrapped into this trip and it’s not going to happen. “You’re grieving!” I told her, “It’s okay to feel sadness, because it’s a loss.” Fortunately for her, the grandkids live close, so she can see them as much as she’s able–with social distancing and all.
Things are going to get worse before they get better. I’m not one to give false promises. We are going to know people who are going to lose their jobs, who are going to get sick, who are going to die. Maybe from the virus, or maybe because their hospital was overrun with virus patients and couldn’t treat a heart attack or massive stroke. It’s going to be horrible and there will be a lot of anger, sadness and yes, grief.
I’m also not one to share platitudes, because I believe no amount of positive thinking stops cancer, child abuse or poverty and telling someone to reside there, just leaves the afflicted feeling like shit. But I do write fiction and I believe in a satisfying ending. Maybe not an ending that the main character wants at the beginning of the story, but the one that she can live with, that she had to live through to grow into who she is. These endings may break hearts, but in doing that they remind us of our humanity, which may be all we have when things fall apart.
But I believe that nature is still on our side. As much as I am an avowed city girl, who would rather dine at a café in the heart of Paris, than reside in nature, I’m not immune to the buds on trees, the daffodils boldly growing out of snowy ground, and the first warm breeze and I remember that you can cancel all sorts of shit, but as Tom Waits says, “You can never hold back spring.”