A Hairbrush Named Grief

One night when I was a kid, I was watching The Dukes of Hazzard with my mom and sister. A tangled mop of Yorkshire Terrier was burrowed into each of our laps. My sister and I were sitting in our matching brownish orange flannel nightgowns that my aunt had made, on our brownish orange couch, that sat on our brownish orange shag carpet, wrapped in our brownish orange afghans. My mom was in the brownish orange recliner to our right. Most of my memories from the late 70’s come with an amber shellac glaze.

Just as Boss Hogg and Rosco were chasing Bo and Luke Duke to the Hazzard County line, we saw a dark figure flapping over our heads. It was a bat, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise. We lived in the woods. All sorts of things happen in the woods that don’t happen anywhere else. I’m not talking Deliverance, but I am saying I’ve seen some things. Like  a mouse shot through the eye with a BB Gun, dropping dead next to our toaster. And a possum that was shot 10 times from our goat turd covered porch, run hissing and growling from under the rusted car that lived in our front yard (I’m pretty sure it flipped us the bird as it ran unscathed into the woods). And a woman in waffle stomper boots and a nightgown, wading through a foggy swamp in the pre-dawn hours, as she ran coyotes from her chicken house, with a .22 shotgun. I’ve also seen a spider the size of my palm build a web over my bed in the night, and I’ve seen carpenter ants as fat as my pinkie, decimate the center beam supporting the log barn (that doubled as my bedroom…..) Even so, we grabbed each other and screamed “BAT!” as if we’d never seen anything like it. The dogs yipped, my sister and I hid under our afghans, and my mom picked up the closest thing she could find and flung it through the air like an abuela throwing her chancla. She was known for that. And also for being a damn good shot. My sister and I both had the knots on our heads to prove it. What her hand grabbed this time was a hairbrush. Not one of those flimsy ones that came 3 to a pack at Rite-Aid. It was the heavy kind, with a big flat head and a thick plastic handle that made a hollow whoosh-snap, whoosh-snap as it clawed it’s way through our hair. All I remember next, is seeing it tumbling like a Ninja’s Nunchuck—and when it hit it’s mark, that bat dropped like a rock and landed on the ground. Not dead, just stunned, as the three of us towered over it with wide eyes, tangled hair, and a yapping Yorkie tucked under each of our arms.

If this were a present day story, I’d probably have to lie and say that we wrapped it in cashmere and took turns breast feeding it back to health. But this was thirty some years ago in rural Oregon, so nope. That’s not what we did. We toed it into a dust pan with the frayed end of a BiMart slipper and flung it into the woods. I still remember it’s eyes, blinking up in stupefied desperation, as if it would have given it’s left fang for even the slightest connection between it’s body and it’s brain.

Fast forward to 2020. The year that has used absolutely no lube. We’re less than a month into this so-called “new reality” of financial ruin, unemployment, hoarding, food rationing, long lines to satisfy basic needs, supply shortages, sheltering in place, a medical community in crisis, desperate pleas for PPE and ventilators and standard supplies—and guess what? I’m not nearly as ok as my Facebook persona likes to pretend I am. This morning I made peanut butter cookies for breakfast. As I was standing at the kitchen island, stirring the batter with a smile on my face, not even those who know me best would have guessed the fantasy that was playing through my mind—of throwing the entire bowl through our glass slider just to watch it shatter. 

(Smile. Click. Post. Aren’t I doing GREAT?) 

(Funny Meme! Laughing Sideways Emoji! Shrug Emoji! Heart Emoji!)

Liar Emoji.

So here’s what’s really been going on.

-I’ve lost the ability to focus. I can read the same lines in a book—even one I like—over and over, and not even remember if I’m reading sci-fi or a biography. 

-I have questionable priorities. I mean, not in a teenager sort of way where I’d ditch my car on the side of the road to get in with the cute stranger who waved to me at the light. But in the way where I desperately need to pay some bills, but then I really need to make 4 dozen cookies and bake 10 loaves of banana bread too. 

-I don’t like the things I normally like. And not because everything has been shut down and the things I normally like aren’t available. There’s still plenty to do, like walking and talking and reading and movies and painting and gardening. The list is practically endless, but thinking about doing any of them leaves me feeling dull. Like when you sleep on your arm and cut off circulation. Even though it still looks like your arm, it doesn’t feel like your arm at all.

-I’m having trouble making decisions. Homeland? Tiger King? Maybe just another nap….

-I can’t stay on task. Folding a single load of laundry can take hours and the plants I bought to try to get myself out in the garden are now dead on the front porch.

-My physical activity is a quarter of what it used to be, but I’m more fatigued than ever. Just walking from one room to the other feels like trudging uphill. Through molasses. Carrying a baby elephant. In a backpack. Wearing Old Navy flip flops.

-I cycle from dark humored laughter, to angry outbursts, to apologetic tears several times a day. Up, down and around. Up, down and around. As emotionally unstable as a sobbing Bachelorette who has just been sent home with nothing to show but a wicked hangover and some tan lines.

-I have the hygiene of a 12 year old boy who’s mother insists that he at least shower and brush his teeth every few days. Me: “I don’t wanna take a shower!” Also Me: “Ok, fine then don’t blame me if you end up smelling like the monkey cages at the zoo!” Me Three: “Gahhhh. Like it really even matters since no one is going to see me for another million billion years. Gahhhhh!”

-Nothing sounds good to eat. Everything sounds good to drink. When someone asks what’s for dinner, the bubble above my head says “Your choice! Whiskey or gin?”. 

Then I read an article on grief. The same one that’s been circulating the internet for the last couple of weeks. Most of you have probably read it by now, and have decided what it means for you. Which is kind of the point, right? Even though we’re all in the middle of the same shit storm, we’re not all getting splattered the same way. An ER Doctor in New York City, is having a very different experience than a laid off bartender in a Portland, Oregon suburb. So with that in mind this is the conclusion that I’ve drawn for myself: I’m like that stupefied bat that’s been smacked out of the air. And the hairbrush is named Grief.

Except the hits we’ve all taken haven’t come just once. They’ve come Repeatedly. Relentlessly. Day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. We haven’t had the luxury of being chucked into the woods to shake it off. Or to sit out in the cool night air to rub our aching heads and focus our beady eyes on an escape. Because the “new normal” everyone keeps talking about hasn’t stayed the norm long enough to even deserve the label. It’s a moving target that’s become impossible to acceptbecause even as I’m writing, it’s still changing speed and direction at an alarmingly unsustainable pace. 

A little over a month ago now, at the end of February, I took a last minute trip to Chicago. The morning I left, a friendly TSA agent asked why I was headed to Chicago. I told him I was going to have a beer with one of my very closest friends. He laughed like I was kidding, so I laughed like I was kidding too. But I wasn’t. My New World Order since turning 50 has been all about people and relationships, not the stupid, status-y McShit I’ve wasted most of my life pursuing so that other people can feel ok about what I have. I’ve been selling my McShit for months, and unless it comes with a gate number and a bag of stale pretzels, I’m really not interested in buying. Now good memories with the people I love are the only treasures worth collecting, because they’re the only ones that last. So when my friend Michelle had said “Hey, you should come try this beer at our local taproom.” I said “Ok, how about the 27th?”, and booked a flight the next day.

Just like that. How ridiculously luxurious does that sound now?       

We had an epic time, playing Beanboozled in wigs while we laughed and gagged and made horrific videos that no one but us will ever see;  and driving to Wisconsin to see a concert; and making best friends for the night with the people we met in an un-socially distanced elevator, then spending the rest of the night at a pub down the street, dancing with total strangers and drinking watery beer from a boot at the Miller Brewery; and having a house party that ended in bad karaoke around the kitchen island until long into the night. Then the day before I left we stumbled through downtown Chicago, from pub to pub, laughing and talking and eating and drinking and never washing our hands once. Not even after we were served dishwater gray grapefruit juice from a dive bar named Rossi’s, by a shady looking bartender with black fingernails and brown teeth.

Which is gross.

Really, really gross. 

But oh what a gift at that moment in time to feel stupidly, wonderfully safe.

When I left Chicago on March 2nd, I said “See you in San Francisco next month!” We had tickets to see The Eagles on April 12th. Even though it was only last month, I’ve already forgotten what it was like to make plans for the future, as if I actually have a choice.

The flight on the way home from Chicago was very different than the one there only four days before. The airport was full of covered faces, with wide eyes peeking suspiciously over surgical masks. The televisions were tallying death counts. Coughs and sneezes were given the chicken eye and a scowl. The on board food and beverage service was reduced to one obligatory pass. The seats felt too small. The air felt too stale. Other passengers felt too close.

And I still wasn’t worried at all.

I’d been a paramedic in Portland through the H1N1 Swine Flu scare. There was no vaccine, and only and the most important of the important—like an NBA player maybe, would have been given Tamiflu. So yes, we were concerned. But as it turned out, the alarm bells rang, the media said “BOO!”, we all freaked out—and then before we knew it, life went back to normal.

I assumed Covid-19, a seemingly weak virus with a much lower death rate would end exactly the same way.

And I was wrong.

For all of the reasons it took me too long to understand.

I was wrong. Wrong. WRONG.

That first week of March, the cancellation of music festivals and sporting events felt like a massive overkill. Shutting down schools and businesses seemed ridiculous. I made lots of jokes and off-hand, ignorant comments that compared us to terrified animals being run off a cliff.

Did the world NOT understand that I was seeing THE EAGLES on April 12th……IN SAN FRANCISCO?

Even as misery and death spread across Europe, I still spent several more days trying to convince myself that it wouldn’t be the same here; that if we could all just shut up and pretended that this microscopic terrorist wasn’t real, that it would magically disappear. The virus of Self was still proving every bit as virulent as Covid-19.

Then one morning my husband, Eric, came home from work. He’s a fire medic with Portland and had worked through H1N1 too. I’d just found out that San Francisco was shutting down, which meant that my concert was in danger of being canceled as well. I started to rant the second he walked thought the door. “Did The Eagles not have an album named “When Hell Freezes Over? WELL WHEN HELL FREEZES OVER I’LL BE MISSING THIS TRIP!” Eric isn’t a panic guy. He’s a not-panic guy. But he didn’t smile or laugh at my (mostly…kind of…sort of) joke. Then with a look of concern that I don’t often see, he shared the predictions he’d just received the day before, from the same physicians I’ve trusted myself for over 20 years.

They took my breath away.

It’s not that I couldn’t see the exponential rise of death and illness in Italy myself. I can do math. The wild cards we didn’t anticipate were the extended hospital times for the severely ill and Covid-19’s rate of transmission. It was a sneaky little bastard, that was being unknowingly spread by asymptomatic people over days and weeks. I was sucker punched with reality; kicked in the shins with a long overdue helping of “it’s not all about you”. I had no choice but to acknowledge that the threat was real, and that life as we all knew it would be changing in ways that none of us could have predicted.

Not long after that, the hoarding began; of the toilet paper, the cleaning supplies, the medical supplies, the food. Even the shelves of Whole Foods were bare. Especially the hot dogs and frozen pizza. Apparently even the health freaks didn’t want their last meal on Earth to be Garbonzo Beans and Kale.

At one point I’d been searching for flour for days. As I stared at another empty shelf, in another ransacked store, a woman walked by and said “It’s just as well. Studies have shown, white flour really isn’t our friend”. The bubble above my head screamed “shut up. Shut Up. SHUT UP!”.  I smiled at her weakly and cried in my car instead.

A few days later, I took a list of 12 items to the grocery store. After going to 6 different places, I only came back with 4 of them. It was almost 3, but I found a lone can of tomato paste wedged in the back of an empty shelf. As I tried to pull it out, I remembered what the old me (the one I was 2 weeks before…or is it 10 years ago?) used to say: “I only buy organics with  ‘BPA Free Lining’ printed on the can”

I heard the Universe cackle at that. “Not anymore you don’t Princess. Is that a pout I see? If you want something to cry about, I’ll GIVE you something to cry about…..

No, Mr Universe Sir……I don’t want anything else to cry about. Thank you so very much for my dented can of Hunts…..

The following week, the restrictions on gatherings began. First it was was limited to the hundreds. Then the tens. Then came the order to stay at home. I was over the silly stuff by then, like wasted plane tickets and concerts. And who needed flour? Or eggs? Or cheese? Or produce? Or toilet paper? Or hot dogs and pizza? Or cleaning supplies? Or cold medicine? But when the little neighborhood pub I’ve been a bartender at for over a year was forced to shut its doors, the walls literally started to close in.

Within the first few days of isolation, I’d made a list of all of the ways I could make the best of this time at home. I’d paint the trim that’s been a chalky primer white for the last 8 years. I’d train for a half marathon. I’d organize. I’d file pictures. I’d learn Swedish. I’d plant flowers. I’d landscape, I’d……..sit for hours on end doing absolutely nothing in a comatose depression?

Nope. That one definitely wasn’t on my list. But considering how quickly the entire world changed in a matter of days and weeks, it all makes sense to me now. 

No Trips, No Adventure, Loss of Recreational Escape: WHACK 

Hoarding, Selfishness, Panic, Fear, Loss of Faith in Humanity: WHACK

No Job, No Money, Loss of Purpose and Financial Security: WHACK     

No Physical Contact, Isolation, Confinement, Loss of Basic Freedoms: WHACK

Then combine all of those consecutive thumps with the fear of what’s to come: Social Collapse, Economic Collapse, Public Safety and Healthcare Collapse, Illness, Death, Fear that that we’ll never be the same again, Fear that we’ll have learned nothing and will be the same again. Roll all of that together with the day to day battles of difficult relationships, and illness, and raising children, and managing marriages, and everything else that didn’t suddenly disappear when we all got sent to our rooms, and this was the end result: a feeling of stunned paralysis, that left me completely incapable of even recognizing grief, let alone trying to process it.

Looking back, I can see the stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Depression that I’ve been bouncing back and forth between for weeks. The part that’s missing thoughthe magical voodoo that gives grief it’s power to heal, is Acceptance.

I hate Acceptance.

Mostly because that’s where the real work begins. The other four are easy for me. To do them well, black and white thinking isn’t only allowed, it’s a vital ingredient to the Catastrophe Soup I’ve been simmering in for weeksand if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s think in extremes. I can believe anything I want in the extremes: that all of my problems would go away if I could just go to the gym, or to work, or take a trip, or get my kids out of the house, or buy Clorox Wipes, or go on a hike. And I can blame anyone I want too: the government, political parties, foreigners, people who think dogs, cats and bats are a tasty snack.  Which feels pretty good at first. I like to make shitty situations pay for their sins. I’m kind of resentful like that. But then bit by bit, it hurts. Like eating a tiny sliver of cake, a little here and a little there, all day long. That initial rush of pleasure starts to dull by the second or third bite—then the thing that used to feel so good, suddenly makes me want to puke. But here’s the part that’s easy to forget about Acceptance: it isn’t asking us to say that the bad thing is ok. It isn’t telling us to give it a pass. It’s asking us to take the reality of what’s happening (the fear, the loss, the anger, the sadness), and weave it back together with an equally valid truth—that there are still some good things available too. 

As far as surprise house guests go, grief is easily one of the least considerate. No wonder we all dislike it so much. It shows up at the most inconvenient times, and no matter how often we stretch or yawn, or turn off the lights or hint that it’s time to go, it just sits there like a lump until we let it have it’s say. Or until we allow it to prove that it gives us the power to heal our broken pieces, instead of being shameful and pathetic and weak.

Last year I went to a live presentation where two writers discussed their work. One had lost her entire family to addiction. The other was Jewish, and had spent a large part of her life being the target of prejudice and hatred. But neither of them had written books about their own trauma. They’d written books about other people’s traumaone in defense of the native Hawaiians who had lost their land, the other as a fictional Rwandan girl who had survived The Genocide. Both had been criticized harshly for being privileged white women, telling stories that weren’t theirs to tell. Someone in the audience asked why they didn’t write about their own experiences dealing with addiction and hatred and bigotry and loss. Both had the same reaction. They shrugged their shoulders in that off-handed “I dunno” way that a Jr High kid does when they’re asked what they learned in school. Then they deflected. They made light. They insulted other writers who actually had been brave enough to tell their stories out loud, and said they didn’t want to be “that person”. You know, the kind who “whines about their life”. No, they just whined about someone else’s life, which strangely enough, was a mirror image of their own. It’s brilliant really, to load our own story into another person’s wheelbarrow and dump it wherever we want. Anything to keep from being “that person”. Not even backlash and anger was enough to deter them from using someone else’s story to purge their grief about their own. And look, I’m not judging. I’ve made a career out of that kind of deflection and projection myself. I’d run a bad call on the ambulance and bury it in a Carne Asada from El Burrito Loco and some dreadfully dark humor, followed by an equally dark beer. For whatever reason, we don’t see grief as normal, or natural. We see it as pitiful and pathetic. Something “those people” do. Never mind that it’s what our minds and bodies where literally built for. But then again, it’s not like the generations before us could teach what they weren’t taught themselves. Grief isn’t what they were told it is, any more than it’s what they told us it is.

It’s not setting up house in Victimhood so everyone can pat our hand and say “there, there dear” and feel sorry for us the rest of our lives. It’s not plastering an Instagram smile on our faces and posting our latest batch of Covid Cookies and pretending everything is “AMAZING!”. It’s not hiding what we really feel in Control Issues and Outbursts and Netflix and Booze and Drugs and Blame and Obsession and Drama and Performance and pretending that it’s strength instead of weakness. 

It is being allowed to feel a feeling. Name a feeling. Acknowledge what it makes us want to say or do. It is being curious enough to investigate our impulses before actually carrying them through. It is sitting with our imaginary visions of saying goodbye to our family members as they’re taken through the doors of the ICU, wondering if we’ll ever see them again; or of living in our car after we’ve lost our jobs; or of society collapsing with our apocalypse outfit being an old pair of sweats instead of the bad-ass leather body suit and the spiky platinum mohawk we’ve always dreamed we would have; or of being forced to hunt squirrels for food, and then realizing we don’t know how to hunt so we end up eating grass instead; or of having the neighborhood taken over by a sleeper cell of Right Wing Preppers who have been waiting the last 20 years for this very moment to become the Kings and Queens of the Zombies AMEN.

Take me Rona….take me now…..

As uncomfortable as it can be, it’s the process of naming the feelings (sadness, anger, fear, etc), that give them the power to stay fluid and mobile, instead of growing so big and sticky that they get lodged on their way through. The real act of “letting go” is more than a Disney Princess Song. It’s a practice. One that takes the strength and the humility to look the strong and silent lie in the face, and give our bodies and our minds the release they need to thrive. No one I know who makes fun of another person’s feelings is strong. They’re uncomfortable. They’re intimidated. Being able to deal with our feelings before they deal with us is what makes us strong. We become victims when we fight it, or bury it, or deny it, because we give it permission to narrate our story, instead of demanding to use our own voice. We become victims when it gets hidden under layer after layer of “problems” that are nothing but a solution to the real problems we can’t face. And here’s what I mean by that: if we have Anxiety and we eat too much to sooth it, then the problem isn’t the food, it’s the solution to the real problem, which is Anxiety. But even deeper than that, is the aversion to the discomfort of investigating why we’re anxious in the first place. That’s where the real stories come out, and where the real battles are waged, which is what makes it way easier, and far more socially acceptable to just call the problem ice cream instead.

Years ago I was taught the concept of Integration. Thinking about it now, as I’m wading my way through this new (not)normal, it’s like a kissing cousin of Acceptance, that goes something like this: When bad things happen, we usually protect ourselves in one of two ways. We either bury our heads in a glittered turd of denial and try to convince ourselves and others that it doesn’t stink, or we go full on Eeyore and end up like those heinous people on the internet who can turn puppy kisses into abuse. Integration is the healing process of taking both of those separate but protective beliefs and patching up the holes between them with logic and truth. If a life event, or person, or experience hurts us deeply, one story is about the pain. The other is about the growth, or the learning, or the opportunity. Tolkein calls this, the Eucatastrophe: “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears”. I imagine it like the Get Along Shirt that some parents used to make their kids wear when they were fighting, back in the day. It was really just an oversized T-shirt from their dad’s drawer. Both kid’s heads were shoved through the neck opening, and their bodies were crammed together inside, with one arm through each sleeve. Tied together that way, they couldn’t eat Fruit Loops or watch Scooby Doo without coordinating movements and discussing which way to go. Worse yet, until they stopped fighting and came to an agreement, they’d be stuck together that way all day. Integration is kind of like that. There is no release until each story can be reconciled in a truthful, meaningful way. At the same time, it’s not a competition for importance. If your treasured Magnolia tree is blown down by a freak storm, it’s ok to mourn what you’ve lost while still being thankful for the flowers that have grown where the sun now shines. And it’s also ok to say that given a choice, you’d take your damn tree over those flowers in a second. By not being forced to pick one reality over the other, and by weaving them into the same truth, we can put a name to the sadness, and to the thankfulness, and to the regretwhich is what lets authentic grief flow freely towards Acceptance, and then ultimately into Release.

This may be a good place to stop and say out loud that even apart from a Global Pandemic, I haven’t been ok. Now I’m just less ok than I was before. Which makes me unique how? It doesn’t. I’m just another slob trying to navigate the wild and winding whitewater river of family, and kids, and a future, and a purpose, and faith and relationships and finances and everything else with an already leaky raftonly to have this damn virus come along and swipe an oar out of my hand.

This may also be a good place to stop and say to myself, “PSSSST! This is no time to sit comatose and stare. You’re ankle deep in water with one oar and there’s a Class 5 around the bend. NOW BAIL DUMMY! BAIL!”

Bail Bucket #1

When I feel overwhelmed with fear: Take a step back and acknowledge the things I can’t change, like other people, and the economy, the selfish choices others are making like flooding the beaches on Spring Break, or hoarding medical supplies that the hospitals desperately need, and counter it with the things I can control: My own thoughts, my own reactions, my own responses. Also ask: Who can I reach out to? What can I be grateful for? Where can I find beauty? Where can I create beauty? Then take a conscious step to do it.

 

BAIL BUCKET #2

When I start to feel out of control or disoriented: Stop and name 3 things that haven’t changed. The lights that still work. The photo wall with the pictures of the people I love and the places I’ve been. The refrigerator that’s still full. Our health. The neighborhood kids who still play in the cul-de-sac until the last bit of sun disappears behind the trees. The dog who sits on my lap every morning, and thumps his tail, and paws my face for snacks. If he still believes the world is safe, then I can believe it too.

 

BAIL BUCKET #3

When I feel like I can’t move: Commit to doing one thing every day,  no matter how long it takes me to finish it. The other day it was going on a jog. I put my shoes by the door at 11am. I put my running clothes on at 12pm. I made my playlist at 1pm. I went for a jog at 2pm. It took me four hours to get out the door, but I did it. And instead of berating myself for taking so long and for feeling this way, I said “Yeah, I’d feel this way if I were you too. Oh wait….I AM you. Well done today. Well done.”

 

BAIL BUCKET #4

When I feel hopeless and full of despair: Make a conscious effort to detach from news and social media. Counter each negative thought with 3 positives. Not in that Cult-of-Positivity kind of way that people who can’t deal with reality use to avoid the truth. Or in that self-righteous kind of way that shames those who are struggling into “counting their blessings”, or “just being thankful for what they have”. But in a clear eyed, honest way. Here are a few I can name right now: I’m thankful for the job I’ve had for the last year, with an amazing boss who treats us like real people; And for a my co-workers, who truly love and support each other: And that my family is healthy; And for the people who are now in my tribe; And for the ones who aren’t in my tribe anymore; And for a deep connection with the entire world. For the first time ever in my life, we really are “all in this together”; And for the empathy and compassion and the beauty of everyone reaching out to support each other; And for telling people we love them and appreciate them more often; And for realizing that not being able to have the brand I want from the store isn’t deprivation, it’s an opportunity to give thanks for the privilege I’ve been able to enjoy for my entire life; And for the opportunity to acknowledge that even our tragedy is done in luxury, and to be thankful for that as well; And for seeing the farmers who grow our food, and immigrants who harvest it, and the truckers who transport it, and the grocery store employees who stock it, and that all of the other unsung heroes in our life-giving supply chain, are finally getting the recognition they’ve always deserved; And that for the first time in over a year, I’m writing again. It’s taken me three years and a Pandemic to realize why I began this blog in the first place. It’s Integration. It’s Acceptance. It’s Grief. We don’t write our story by willing our feelings to go away. We write our story by weaving the good with the bad and letting it live peacefully in our presence, as a fully accepted whole. Then we get to live it. Not as trauma puppets on a string, but for real. And when it comes to our one an only life, that’s a really beautiful thing. 

 

BAIL BUCKET #5

When I feel sad and angry and emotionally unstable: Resist the urge punish myself with the bullshitty bullshit of “You Have No Right to Feel Bad Because Other People Have It Worse” comparisons we’ve been force fed every day for weeks.

“Your great grandparents survived The Great Depression by splitting a shriveled brown potato 6 ways.”

“Just be glad your kids are home with you instead of dodging bullets in the jungles of Vietnam!”

“I have to go to work at a hospital. Or grocery store. Or as an Amazon driver. Or a bus driver. And you want to have feelings about staying at home?”

Well guess what? No one knows what another person is going through at home. Maybe they’re dealing with an abusive family member, or with financial ruin, or with a drug addicted, mentally ill child who can’t get help, or with their own mental illness that isolation only magnifies. It’s not like the struggles we had before magically disappeared when Boss Rona hit the streets. If anything they’ve been magnified, and we have nowhere left to escape. 

So could our situation be worse? Yes. Much, much worse.

Could it also be better. Yep, it could be that too.

But just because others may have it worse, doesn’t forfeit the right to grieve our own situation, in our own way. I’ve realized for myself that it isn’t so much what I’ve lost that needs to be grieved. It’s what that loss indicates: that the entire world has changed in a very ominous way that makes it much less safe, not just for me but for all of us. And that countless people are suffering. And dying. And not a single person—not the richest, or the most beautiful, or the most talented, or the most influential has the power to make it go away.

In my experience (and like most people who spend any length of time on this spinning rock, I’ve had my share), grief isn’t one and done. Since slapping myself out of my grief whacked stupor, I’ve found myself needing to process some form of it daily, after every new feeling of heartbreak, or disappointment, or fear. 

If I’m being honest, I think my biggest fear is that once I start to grieve, I may lose control. Or that it may never stop. So sometimes I try to fool myself into thinking I’ve “let it go” when I’ve just put some lipstick on it and colored it’s hair and given it a different name. Extreme Makeover: Trauma Edition.

Even with so much resistance to Grief, I still believe we were meant for it. That we have tear ducts for a purpose. That we have voices that can mourn from the depths of our soul for a reason. That we have hands that know how to make fists, and knees that know when to bend. That the body knows what to do when our hearts and minds don’t. We just need to be strong enough, and wise enough and brave enough to let it happen. 

Feel it. Name it. Move it.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Without shame. As many times as needed.

Last Sunday was a beautifully sunny day in the Pacific Northwest. After several weeks of gray skies and rain, everyone wanted out. I was supposed to meet my friend Mary for a walk, but we ended up 6 feet apart on her front porch, singing and dancing to Dolly, and Jimmy Buffet, and Pink Martini, and John Prine (RIP), and Cris Williamson for two hours straight.  We may have broken a rule or two when we held hands and sang “Waterfall”; it’s not easy to sing “Sometimes it takes a rainy day, just to let you know, that everything is gonna bealright”, without reaching out. We used hand sani right after. I promise.

The neighborhood was full of bicyclists and walkers and runners, some who gave us big eyed weirdo looks and others who smiled and raised a peace sign on their way by. Either one was fine, because it was a celebration of friendship, and laughter, and the sun that was shining, and being thankful for being healthy and alive. It was also a gateway to tears. For reasons that had nothing to do with a virus, she had pain and I had pain, so we cried together too.                                           

It was a beautiful day that wasn’t all beautiful.                                 

It was a painful day that wasn’t all painful.                                       

It was a healing day, that left me full and empty, all at the same time.

Full of solace, connection, belonging and love. Empty of sadness, despair and depression; because without even knowing it until this very moment, Grief had set me free.

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