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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Copy that., Politics and other awkward stuff, View from the Shoe

The SILENT SPRING of a Pandemic

The world, as we know it, will change. So will we.

Photo by Claire Mueller, UnSplash

Change is pretty much innate to living. No matter how evolved and enlightened we think we are, nothing is more intrinsic to nature and humanity than change. From hurricanes and earthquakes to fires and pandemics, nature can transform our world in a nanosecond. We can try to control it but nature will always tell us who’s boss. The current pandemic is deadly proof that when humanity and nature collide, things will change and not in a good way.  Hello, COVID-19.

Scheduling a big family reunion? Nada. An out of town vaca? Nope. Planning dinner with friends? Well, dining out – is out. Those quick little errands will have to wait, too, maybe for quite awhile. Being ‘up close and personal’ has become a little too personal – and risky. (And no one misses hugging more than an Italian girl!) We’ve entered a Rod Serling universe and we can’t just change the channel. Social distancing has become a thing, the ONLY thing that can help slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Will it eliminate risk? No, but it’s critical to lessening the upward curve, a curve that can lead to worst case scenarios.

We change jobs, houses and hairstyles but changes that create sudden empty shelves and streets, one that mandates social isolation? No, there’s nothing ‘normal’ about this kind of change. Our connected society is suddenly off balance. Schools, parks, stores, and jobs are shut down. Stocks have been in free fall. Healthcare workers are begging for beds, supplies, and critical equipment. Why wouldn’t we be upset, anxious as hell and complain about all we take for granted being put on hold? But, if we can be resilient enough to manage a few weeks sheltering in place to care for ourselves and one another, we will do more than just wade through a pandemic. We will have learned, like the Velveteen Rabbit, to be ‘real’.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about ‘first world problems’, and while being in isolation certainly isn’t a walk in the park, for most it’s hardly ‘worst case scenario’ either. We can feel depressed and anxious when we look at our daily lives and barely recognize them. Other than missing hugging and smooching my kids, grands and friends like crazy, I may be luckier than most. Working remotely for many years was a type of training wheels for living in place. And often, after my husband’s procedures, we hunkered down for an isolated recuperation. That’s not to say, I’m also spoiled with the ability to hop in my car and run to the library, post office, and grocery when the mood or need hits. Those times will come again and when they do, I’ll consider them with different eyes.

An avid reader of the WW2 period, (go figure) helps me put a little perspective to these current times. There is little comparison to the rationing, blackouts and terrifying bomb shelter life people endured during those long years. The spirit of community, embracing uncertainty and the greater good shown in that era is an enduring example of how people ramp up in times of crisis. With fear and sacrifice as constant companions, people kept living each day, as best they possibly could. What their ‘can do’ spirit, resilience and sense of gratitude accomplished earned them the title ‘the Greatest Generation’. We’ve only experienced a drastically changed lifestyle for less than two weeks. What will future generations say about us?

When COVID-19 eventually lessens its stranglehold, the country will slowly return to a new normal. But, in some areas, the more things change the more they remain the same. The wealthiest 5%, remain at the head of the line, to be saved once again with bailouts, while the other 80% will struggle exponentially from job loss, and financial difficulties. Some will still have no healthcare, live from paycheck to paycheck, often in abject poverty. Those people will see complaints about missing happy hours, gym time or trips to the mall as alien as those of another planet. In a country divided by affluence and lack of it, political party, race and gender, this pandemic is proof illness does not discriminate; only the way we treat it.

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