A recollection of grief in pandemic time
Savoring a latte in a coffee shop for the first time in years, I feel nervous, and not in that excited way when good change is coming, but rather in a doom spiral way of knowing that the next covid variant is already knocking on the door.
I must dig in to these rare moments. The smell of hot coffee when I strolled through the door, appreciation for the barista’s lovely foam art, and the pleasant chatter of friends and neighbors at the tables around me.
Everyone in this room has shared in loss. Loss can be small, like keys falling through a hole in a jacket pocket, or accidentally killing a favorite plant. Loss can also be monumental, such as losing a parent or a life partner. No one has been spared, in life or in this pandemic, and yet here we all are, enjoying the company of others, unmasked, inside a café, on a cloudy Seattle Sunday.
Over a decade ago I lost my father Harlan, to cancer. I was a daddy’s girl. When I was a little thing, I’d feign falling asleep in the backseat of our wood-paneled station wagon so my dad would pick me up and carry me to bed. Whenever we walked outside at night, he’d pause, take a moment, look up, and point out the Big and Little Dipper (Ursa Major and Minor as I now know.) He gave me my love of the outdoors, of camping and hiking, of lighting fires with wet wood on cold nights in the Rocky Mountains. I can still see him mowing the lawn in summer in his 1970’s coach shorts with his black trouser socks pulled up to his knees. Watching him die was heart wrenching and life-shattering. That kind of grief never goes away, but I know he loved me, and the memories I have of him will always outshine the sorrow and longing I feel at his being gone.
Longing for him has brought me closer to others, as loss often does. My best friend Monica and I shared in our grief when she lost her mother to cancer shortly after we met. It was hard to listen to her processing her feelings, but I learned to be a pillar for her. We laughed, cried, and shared stories about our parents, talked each other through the rough patches. Solace can be found in sharing your experiences of grief with others. No one is alone.
The last time I saw my Scottish father-in-law, Allan, he plied me with my favorite scotch, beat me mercilessly at cribbage, took lots of naps sitting upright on the couch, and hugged me every chance he got. Allan recently passed away at the age of 87. It was sudden, though not wholly unexpected. His wake was held at the Carnoustie Golf Club, Allan’s home away from home for over fifty years. Surrounded by tartan carpet, I received hug after hug from drink wielding relatives and friends of Allan, many of whom I’d never met. I enjoyed listening as everyone shared funny and sweet stories, laughing through tears, munching on cold cut sandwiches. It wasn’t an overwhelming grief, having only known him for the last years of his life, but I could recognize the depths of emotion in my mother-in-law Jenny while we gripped hands during the funeral service. I can’t pretend to know how she was feeling, having lost a partner with whom she’d shared her life.
My partner Jon and I had a terrific life with Vincent, a bear rug of a German Shepherd with a long tail and big brown eyes. For years, Vincent greeted me bedside first thing every morning, and he had a funny habit of laying in the middle of the room, so we always had to step over him. This year, in a steep and unforeseen decline, Vincent lost the use of his hind legs. Despite and because of our love for him, Jon and I decided to have him put down in our home. Losing Vincent was like having a gaping hole break open in our life, but our devotion didn’t end there. We recently adopted Peabody, a big derpy Texas sized Boston Terrier with a squishy face. Loss is funny that way, it wrenches your heart open, but it can make space for more love if you let it.
Loss approaches me differently every day - in memory, connection, friendship, sacrifice, and love. I try to be mindful of this when I’m out in the world, how each of us is wrestling with our own collections of grief, particularly during this time of covid. I do my best to recognize the kindness I can bring to any situation – opening the door for someone, smiling, saying hello, talking to the dog in a funny voice. We are all in this one life together.
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Musings on business, womanhood, consulting, and things I find interesting.