View from the Shoe

What’s Old — is New Again.

2020 was one hell of a year. But, if you’re waiting for a sparkly new one to start, well, you might have to wait awhile.

Image by iStock Photos

An unrelenting pandemic. Shocking violence in the US Capitol. Devastating forest fires. Desert locusts. Murder hornets and the craziest, scariest year of politics anyone has ever witnessed. No wonder we’re jonesing for whatever will stop our brains from melting, even better something to ground our souls. It doesn’t seem to matter what the calendar says. From everything we see and read, 2021 looks a lot like the same stuff, different day.

With COVID-19 still raging across the nation, especially after holidays where masks and mandates were often ignored, the virus isn’t even close to being controlled. The early days of 2021 make clear the real loss of jobs, businesses and savings, as well as the scope of food insecurity in our land of plenty. In the face of all the grief, loss and disillusionment, we badly need to find the flip side – and hope it’s a whole lot better.

“The world is on a bumpy journey to a new destination – and a new normal.” Mohamed El-Erian

In a country where a pandemic is still a runaway train, every day is a challenge. Vaccines are here, but hardly everywhere. Oh, sure they’re rolling out but more like a stagecoach than an Acela. In fact, even after you get the mighty jab, you’ll still need distance, masks and hygiene to complete the COVID puzzle. To people who have hissy fits over mask wearing, get the heck over it – now. We all want our lives back. But, living ‘normal-ish’ again will take a lot longer if we continue to set virus forest fires by still living large instead of adhering to pandemic mandates. It’s more than time we understand the simple fact that what hurts one, hurts all. If we don’t, a spanking new, COVID free year will be a long time coming.

So, what do we do in the meantime? When everything seems bleak, even the smallest positivity seems a heavy lift. It’s weird to feel torn between yearning for family hug marathons and being Pollyanna-resigned to the nest of my house but, there you go. What would a positive reset look like? And what could we do to help it along? We could start with thinking out of the box —and outside of ourselves. Nengajo might be a cool first step. Say what? Cousin to our Christmas cards, this nifty Japanese thank-you custom is a nice way to show gratitude. Sent to friends and family at the beginning of a new year, these colorful notes express our appreciation for all they’ve done to look out for us with kindness or help during the shitshow year we just put to bed.

“What the new year brings to you may depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” Vern McClellan

Continue reading “What’s Old — is New Again.”
View from the Shoe

2020. Bye, Felicia.

As years go, you know you sucked, right? Unfortunately, 2020, you also left a lot of leftover road, so I suspect you won’t be in the rear view mirror any time soon.

Image by Shutterstock

I doubt that there’s anyone who isn’t damn happy to wave the past year goodbye. We don’t need to doomscroll to remember just how awful it actually was. Yet, looking back in history, as years go, 2020 wasn’t even the worst — and COVID-19 isn’t the first pandemic to sweep the globe. It’s just the newest. This world has survived the Black Death, Spanish Flu, world wars and, as we step lightly into 2021, new strains of the virus are finding their way to unsuspecting victims. Yes, the vaccine troops have arrived to wage medicinal war on the pandemic, but it’s far from V-Day for the Virus, so the jury will be out for awhile on 2021.

“A new chapter. A new verse. Or the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” Alex Morritt

Now, I certainly didn’t mean to puncture the New Year bubble; just take it down a peg. If we open the door to nuovo anno with our eyes wide open, we are more likely to accept what comes without sticker shock, then recalibrate expectations. 2020 forced us to tweak our lives and ways of thinking in a dizzying kaleidoscope of ways, many of which will make us better, and more resilient, pandemic or not. Travel, work, holidays, even the most mundane of things, turned life on its head, forcing us to sink or swim. Most of us who could – swam. We took a good look at our priorities, and realized, unsurprisingly, that the lack of concerts and in-theater movies were a whole lot less important than giant hugs from our loved ones. We adjusted Zoom screens for work at home, and discovered hobbies we never knew we had a yen for. Who knew homemade sourdough bread would be a ‘thing’? A self-identified extrovert, even I discovered I was way more than okay with being quietly nested. I mean, who knew?

Nothing raises anxiety levels more than a worldwide pandemic that’s deadly enough to kill more than 350,000 people. New cases, new deaths every day brought depression, paranoia, grief, and exhaustion. And each of us reacted in different ways. Some of us rebelled, defied or ignored what was clearly happening all around us or we went with the flow, armed with a good dose of inner strength and outer compassion. We reverted to unhappy factory default settings, becoming the whiny, irritable, poor-me worst in the toolbox. Yet some, even in just as tough situations, strove every day toward positivity, generosity and optimism. Some suffered from depression, homelessness and hunger while too many struggled just to survive the virus, grief, loss of jobs and income. Though traumatic situations are never invited, when they crudely insinuate themselves into our lives we still can choose how to meet them.

“Year’s end is neither the end nor the beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience instills in us” Hal Borland

Continue reading “2020. Bye, Felicia.”
Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

. . . and every day. When you have a seriously elfed up year, that’s pretty much how you roll.

Image by iSTOCK photo

There’s no way to candy cane sugarcoat this. If you were hoping for a ‘ho ho ho’ holiday, you’ll have to wait a year. Though hopefully we each found our share of happy moments, the year itself was an epic suck. Of course, we’ve all had a few-less than merry Christmases. In fact, many have seen some pretty tough entire years. But this one was definitely uncharted territory full of mask mandates, scary death tolls and toilet paper wars. One thing is sure, the year was certainly one for the books — and the holidays are its last chapter.

Will this be the year that creepily cheerful Elf-on-the-Shelf goes on strike? Who could blame him if he did? No matter how the halls are decked with sanitizer, the double-jointed imp might take a pass, leaving tired parents to explain why the obsequious little tattletale never showed. Then again, they might be a tad relieved that the little sucker decided to snooze the season out. Traditions die hard but, but given the year, if a sprite does show, I suspect it will be Chuckie.

No one ever promised a holly, jolly sugarplum world. Even the most glittering of holiday trees hide their share of crawly things among the branches — just to keep you on your toes. Somewhere, along life’s highway, Christmas carols hit a sour note, and our innocent beliefs in magical reindeers and sleighs go the way of childhood. This year, though, you have a hall pass from DIY’ing the perfect holiday. It’s just not that kind of year.

“There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain and I’ll be happy Christmas once again” The Eagles

I have a pretty good idea about holidays that somehow aren’t all that. When my husband died a few years ago, two months before Christmas, it topped my list of terrible, no good, very bad times. This year, thanks to COVID-19, many will suffer their own heartbreaking holiday. To those who lost loved ones, every year thereafter will be Christmas 2.0. There’s no way to sidestep life-changing grief; no magic wand to erase a pandemic. But, I suspect those grieving loss this year from that pandemic would be the first to say, give every precaution your best shot. Giving up a holiday group hug for one year, skipping the major feast and trading in mistletoe for a mask, don’t seem like the biggest ask. Compared with a deadly viral alternative, missing one Norman Rockwell holiday seems like a piece of cake. Okay, maybe not fruitcake because that’s too easy, but you get the message.

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Holiday Madness

Oh, QUARANtree, Oh, QUARANtree . . .

istockphoto.com

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” Charlie Brown Christmas

I had some badass Christmas trees. In fact, one year my husband and I somehow dragged home a colossal 9 1/2 foot Frasier Fir, which was definitely a back-breaker but the best tree ever. The next year everything changed. When my guy died a few months before Christmas, it was hard to find merry anywhere. So I did the only thing I could do – I adapted. I made things manageable. I kept the most priceless traditions, launched some new and pitched the rest. First up – downsize all my supersize expectations – including the tree. A few things, however, were non-negotiable, and none more important than my eclectic collection of well-loved ornaments.

“Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room.” Nora Roberts

Seriously, how could I part with Pinocchio from my Florence honeymoon, or the sequined, glitzy chatzkas lovingly made by my once grade school nuggets? And that lumpy stuffed star made in the blizzardy winter my BFF and I were heavily pregnant? Mended often, it still has a place near the shabby toy soldier from my childhood tree. Pictures of every kid and grand are absolute musts. That San Francisco trolley from the first travel review work trip I took solo after my husband left the building? Yes and yes. After all, trees may be small or artificial; emotions not so much.

This year, the Christmas tree is a wee bit more Charlie Brown. It happens. But, as life-changing events go, it doesn’t make the cut. In a crazy year like 2020, Christmas tree size is the least of your problems. COVID-19 is centerpiece of everything we do and think. Washing hands, staying socially distant and wearing a mask is the only way we can unwrap a healthier new year.

“Christmas is a box of tree ornaments that have become part of the family.” Charles Schultz

Continue reading “Oh, QUARANtree, Oh, QUARANtree . . .”
Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Turkey Day

. . . or not. The thankfulness menu is up to you.

Image by iStock

COVID is taking a big bite out of Thanksgiving this year. With cases surging across the country, even the turkeys are rethinking where to go. Trying to adhere to medical experts about how to handle Thanksgiving may not be easy but then, what is? Deciding to ditch a family holiday isn’t the most appetizing but it’s the most practical and loving in a time of pandemic. With facts spread on the table,  my family peeps decided to celebrate within our own nest of people, those we live with all year long. Good plan. Of course, for me, and others widowed or single, a family bubble is a pod of one. I’m not saying suddenly-solo life is desperately lonely or stark, at least when you become used to it – or resigned, as the case may be. But, at times like these, when ‘who you co-habit with’ dictates your holiday place settings, it’s definitely a lot less inviting. (On the bright side,  there are a lot less dishes to wash.)

Having become a sudden widow 5 years ago, I’m not a stranger to ‘home alone’. It was a gradual trip from shock and sadness to the ‘it is what it is’ mode today. Reluctantly, I became nearly comfortable in my very altered nest. Then the pandemic hit. Then, along with the rest of the world, everything became a giant fruit basket upset; a shitstorm of confusing resets and restarts. For those who felt the crushing loss of loved ones from COVID this year, it was a one-two punch. Alloted no traditional grieving time to adapt or adjust to a world beset by death and fear, those left behind sit where thanks and hope are hard to find.

Time, however, if not a healer, does allow us to adapt. It paves the twisted walk through the most traumatic of life experiences. But it offers no instruction book on how to battle an invisible, voracious predator. We bumbled through rules and remedies, written, rescinded and re-written every day. We saw medicine and politics clash in spectacularly wanting ways. People became deathly sick and many, many families saw loved ones leave, who never came back. With more than a quarter million people dead from this epidemic, families will have a glaringly empty holiday chair that we, who’ve lost our own loved ones, know too well.

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” Mary Oliver

2020 was a wildfire (yep, we had them, too) and holidays didn’t fare well at all. Easter passed us by; ditto Mother’s Day. Thanksgiving, and most likely Christmas/Hanukkah, will join the year’s hit parade of ‘things that didn’t go as planned’ – or at all. The famous Norman Rockwell painting of family gathered around the big roasted bird isn’t on the menu this year. For most, this is a one-off holiday. Some feel secure that holidays will soon be returned intact, as normal as the proverbial apple pie. To others, those whose lives have been eternally altered, this year begins one of endless ‘new normals’ where things may never look the same.

The deadly losses this year makes ol’ Turkey Day seem like a nothing burger. Those desperately missing their ‘person’ wouldn’t question or argue what guidelines they need to obey to keep their loved one alive and safe. Remembering not being able to see or say goodbye to someone who might have been their world, would give world to save them. So here’s a thought: stuff the self-pity and pass the gratitude. If your family bubble comprises 2, 4 or 7, be thankful even with a nixed holiday invite list, you still have someone to talk to, laugh with and share the damn pumpkin pie, every day. This Turkey Day an anomaly but if we continue to test the limits, it maybe become the norm. Our choices matter.

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Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

Out of Touch . . . Totally.

Welcome to the pandemic version of ‘home alone’, a place where stillness has a roaring sound, and touch is a thing of the past. We are embracing a new normal – without the embrace.

Photo by rawpixel

As SNL’s Roseann Rosannadanna used to say, “It’s always something”.  Sometimes, that ‘something’, creeps up so sneakily you don’t even notice it until it pokes you on the shoulder. You might have thought it was in the rear view, then, bam — whiplash. Like your very own Pennywise, the shapeshifting clown, it feeds on what gets to you most. It gets under your skin because it’s there that this particular taunting creature, called ‘loss of touch’, lives. 

Yep, loss of touch is a thing. Humans need to be touched. When our arms and cheeks are stroked, nerve cells release boatloads of happy-making endorphins. Simple cuddling can slow the heart rate, and speed up digestion, helping our immune system to be its best self. We instinctively look to hold hands when we’re frightened. We put our arms around each other to comfort; kiss one another to show affection. We need touch to feel safe, anchored — and seen. But, those of us who live alone are on our own – literally. In a time of grief, of quarantine, we go without touch of another human for weeks and months. Stuck in the middle of today’s epidemic ‘touch starvation’, mental health professionals see depression, insomnia and anxiety issues in unprecedented numbers.

Why talk about skin hunger now, when it’s dwarfed by people dying in shocking numbers from a worldwide pandemic, and fear pulses beneath every face mask? Even with an epidemic raging across the globe, we are each quarantined in our own small worlds. Our thoughts, emotions, and feelings still live and grow there. Most have partners, kids that share their quarantine and touch may not be an issue. But domestic violence also finds fertile ground in quarantine and loneliness, anxiety and depression make no distinction between households. Whatever was lacking, lost or thought to be quieted, now has a loud voice and things like absence of touch takes on new life.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch. Leo Buscaglia

When I was first widowed, disjointed emotion and grief were in strong competition. My thoughts centered on coping with the worst trauma of my life. Sudden loss of the person you thought you’d go through time can do that. I assumed nothing, from that point on, that life could throw at me could be worse. In fact, I was pretend badass enough that not even a scary car accident a year later could knock me over. But, when the fog cleared, I realized the elephant in the room was a spouse’s touch I’d no longer feel. Funny how simple neck massages and hand holding can kneecap you. But loss of intimate touch, the kind that says ‘You’re mine. I have your back. I love you” leaves a lasting mark.

To any grieving person, distance is not a new concept. In fact, it’s probably the hardest consequence of loss. The distance of sound, touch and connection gets only wider between us and the person no longer in our world. When we were younger, in the midst of busy lives and busy households raising kids, we barely gave ‘touch’ a thought. We had plenty of it, whether we wanted it or not. Yes, I do remember those times I thought “Puleeese stop poking me” to kids or dogs anxious for attention. Back then, our tapped-out selves yearned for the utopia of sublime peace; maybe even an undisturbed month — alone. I get it. I lived it.

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Politics and other awkward stuff

The Pandemic that Ate the World 2.0

Once we’ve dialed back the epidemic, what will we bring to the world it left behind?

Photo by Branimir Balogović on Unsplash

What is ‘the good life’? Everyone defines it differently. For me, it’s pretty much every day I’m alive, can see friends, squeeze grands, talk to my kids and my wonky belly feels decent. The good life isn’t always exciting, but if we’re fortunate, we’re living the one that feels good to us. That life can seem boring, hectic, or aggravating, depending on the day and our frame of mind. Our kids drive us nuts, ditto the spouse. Jobs seem like an endless Lucy and the Chocolate Factory conveyor belt. We dream of taking that great trip that doesn’t materialize, of having more money, more time, and more of well, life. Still it’s our life and it fits us.

Just when we thought we were in control of that life, the coronavirus arrived and shook everything up like a vengeful snowglobe. Fear replaced anticipation, excitement with anxiety. Homeschooling replaced lockers and classrooms. We Netflix binged instead of going out to movies meetings, baseball practices, lunche  — or visits in with grandma.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. . .” Ecclesiastes

This, indeed, has been a hell of a ‘season’. An epidemic from across the sea, rolled in like a tsunami, leaving a deadly season in its wake. Social distancing became the new lexicon as we desperately worked to thwart the virus’ deadly rampage by our separateness. Yet, no matter where we stand in the collective narrative of this deadly virus, we all are connected in the fight to survive it — and what happens after. That’s where yin yang comes in.

Yin yang, the symbol of crisis/opportunity, is what we’ve experienced after wars, wildfires, monster earthquakes and yes, pandemics. Incredible crises have sparked incredible heroism, sacrifice and generosity. They also create opportunities for growth and change. We can either travel through hellish journeys, bitching all the way, or find our moments, however small or elusive, for positive growth.  We can get swallowed up in the sadness of a world gone incognito or use these uncertain times to evolve. We can lament our vitally changed individual worlds or discover, with gratitude, new ways to navigate them. When we look in the rear view mirror after this difficult time, we’ll also hopefully find that:

Technology can be an uber good thing. When social distancing separated us from friends, relatives and colleagues, technology enabled us to stay connected. We Zoomed our way into face to face chats with other isolated family and friends, discovering new channels of being together. We telecommuted, realizing we can be just as productive virtually. In turn, we decreased traffic, improved air quality, while increasing precious family time. Win win.

We trust science; politicians not so much. Desperate for information on COVID-19, our ears opened to everyone who had some. But we quickly discovered that political gain and re-election hopes can overshadow actual facts from medical professionals. Whether it’s climate change or pandemics, trust the experts.

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Grief is Grief

An Epidemic of Grief

Grief comes in an assortment of sizes, tailored to fit each type of loss. When you feel like the entire world has changed, grief can’t be far behind.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

It’s been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. I don’t know about your taxes, but if you’re reading this, I’m thankful, at least, the grim reaper is AWOL. Death drops by with nonchalant regularity, taking with him parents, friends, siblings and spouses. In fact, I can include one or more of each in my list of losses. But these are different days, first in lifetimes days when illness and death seem only a sneeze or cough away. And the perfectly fit the MO of a brutal, worldwide pandemic we have come to know as COVID-19.

Worries about, and results of, this coronavirus epidemic have touched nearly everyone around the globe. With each generation, the world becomes smaller, enabling shared experience as well as shared disease from countries oceans away. Since the virus arrived at our shores, we’ve watched death rates climb with frightening velocity each day. Sure, we lived through SARS, Swine Flu, and Ebola but nothing has struck fear in our collective hearts since the flu of 1917. Some infected become merely carriers; some present with mild symptoms. The unlucky others feel the savagery of the disease — and many, too many, die of it.

And that’s where death’s natural partner, grief comes in. Grief is the way we process trauma, death, and losses of all sizes and flavors. It can devastate us enough in normal times, but in the era of COVID-19, grief can be unnaturally derailed. Where do we put grief, when loved ones die alone? How do we express it, when the people death leaves behind are dumped into socially distanced shock and loss?

Mourning rituals are critical to healthy grief and healing yet, uniquely absent in a pandemic. Instead, overloaded funeral homes greet no grieving families. Masses, wakes and shivas are non-existent. In their place, awkward digital groupings are becoming common as family gathers on Zoom to mourn. The basic comfort of connective touch is absent, making grief as grim and devastating as can be.

Losing my husband in a blink of an eye one night was obviously an unparalleled shock. Yet, many have endured similar experiences; mine was not an anomaly. But, to lose a loved one without warning, in a lonely COVID-19 cocoon of masks and humming ventilators, is incomprehensible.  My heart breaks for every single one whose grief is quarantined, without the ability to offer last words or touch. Long ago, when my 19 year old brother died of leukemia, half the town turned out to grieve with our family. My parents deaths, 12 years apart, saw their friends gather to grieve, and when friends died, I shared my grief along with others they loved. These are not those times; this is fear and grief on steroids.

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