Last night, I was down in our basement organizing, which is what I often do for fun these days. One thing I've been meaning to do for weeks now is unpack the big duffel bag with a pillow, blanket and toiletries: Max was supposed to do a school sleepover, but it prudently got cancelled just before his school shut down. As I took the items out of the bag, a wave of sadness washed over me. Max has always loved these sleepovers, which happen just once a year. And he had to miss it.
These moments of sadness hit me all the time, including seismic ones when when I hear the death toll in our country reported on the nightly news and know that it's growing to soar, when I read about the death of yet another grandparent in my Facebook circle (it started happening last week, and has become a terrible trend), when I find out that a friend has gotten the virus and is suffering. But the loss of our everyday life and experiences also gets to me, and at first, I felt guilty about that.
I mean, our family and loved ones are doing OK. We are holed up with enough supplies, we have neighbors who help each other out, we have a backyard where we can hang, we are not yet stir crazy (well, mostly), virtual learning is going well, Max is doing Zoom speech therapy and music therapy. How can I get upset about missing out on stuff when people are dying in droves? How can I get upset when so many people are stuck inside and struggling—with a lack of work, cancer, abusive partners, their psychological and emotional well-being. How can I possibly feel bad that we didn't get to do spring break in Mexico? That my daughter's lacrosse season will not happen? That our little guy is missing out on playdates?
I've had to remind myself, as I well know from raising a child with disabilities, that the heartache I feel does not need to be relative. Your reality is your own, and you have every right to be sad about the small stuff—or grieve it. As grief expert David Kessler put it in this Harvard Business article, "....we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed."
I call my mom, who's home alone in her apartment; Facetime my sister; Zoom with other family and friends; do virtual meetings with my colleagues from our attic; wave at neighbors as I keep my distance from the other side of the street; and I grieve the lost of human connection.
I come upon the flyer on my desk at home reminding me about the girl scout camping event; the stickers the piano teacher usually gives Ben sitting on the piano rack, unused; the bathing suit he has been wearing to swim class, where he was just getting comfortable in the water; the email about the birthday party that got cancelled; and I grieve the loss of a chunk of their childhood.
I think about my friend's children who are missing out on their senior year of high school, their graduations, their bar and bat mitzvahs, their first year of college and their semesters abroad, and I grieve for the loss of those irreplaceable experiences.
I read the notes in my town's Facebook group from local businesses asking people to order from them or buy gift cards to support them, and I grieve for their struggles and how our community will change because of the businesses that will not survive this pandemic.
I look at the library books I got right before it closed, the grocery bags sitting on my front porch where the delivery person left them and our car sitting idly in the driveway and I grieve the loss of the freedom of going out and doing stuff.
I watch the kids communicating with their teachers on a screen and I see the train zooming by down the road, likely empty, the one I usually take to and from work and I think about all the complaining we'd do about the train's erratic schedule and how I ache to be that train, going to my office. And I grieve the loss of our routines.
I look at the stretch of forsythia bushes blooming on our street, and think about how glad I usually am to see them. And I am glad—their yellowness is sunshine for my soul, as are the daffodils in the backyard. But I also think that the last time I saw them coming in, I could never have imagined what would happen to this world, and I grieve the lost of our innocence.
I see the #AloneTogether ads on TV, with music that sounds a little sinister to me, and I know full well that staying home is what every one of us needs to do right now, and yet, I grieve the loss of life as we know it.
And so, I grieve. You grieve. Together, we grieve about everything happening to people around the country, to the ones we love and to us. We grieve because our normal is gone and we don't know when it will return or what form our new normal will be.
I don't sit around feeling sad all day—who has the time?! I find joy in hugging my children and when Ben and I say "Love makes you warm!" like we always do. I take comfort in Dave, sweet Dave, and in the familiarity of routines, like making our beds in the morning (there's an actual study that found you'll be more productive all day long) and reading to Ben at bedtime. I get satisfaction from my work and my writing. I take pleasure in family fun, like a basement sleepover or a weeknight BBQ. In the evening, once the kids are asleep, I try to relax and watch something on Netflix, although inevitably I end up on CNN.
Last night, a man was on who had lost his husband to Covid-19, an emergency room doctor who worked not far from where I live. This poor guy cried so hard he could barely speak. I sat on our couch, grieving with him. Surely the whole country did.
Then I shuffled off to arrange my children's schoolwork for the next day and print worksheets. My eyes fell on their backpacks, lying empty in a basket. And I grieved some more.