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.”
Holiday Madness

Oh, QUARANtree, Oh, QUARANtree . . .

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“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.

Continue reading “The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Turkey Day”
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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Copy that., Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

MARCH On.

For some, March is a springboard to a blooming new season. For others it’s a slippery slide into grief or depression.

March was always the stuff of angry lions — and I’m not talking about the weather. The month’s windy grayness matched somber memories of my brother, whose birthday and death day at 19 forever book-ended it with shrouded memories. That is, until the year a kooky March wind blew in the guy who would become my husband. That year, March saw a first date in the restaurant that became ‘ours’ for every important celebration. One year later, that month saw a courthouse wedding, totally off script, but when the cancer dragon rudely inserts itself and you need new health insurance, you ad lib. But, since we were crazy romantics, a few weeks later, we also squeezed in both church wedding and casually cool reception, complete with rubber ducks swimming in a margarita fountain. Go figure.

With happier new markers in place, I was able to feng shui the month with brighter bookends. Yes, far too soon Death did come again to end this happily ever after but at least it picked a different month. This is not about how the story ended, however. It’s about things can be revised, with new defaults. If we allow ourselves, we can often see clearly how much a month can really hold, how everything can change according to how we view it and how we embrace it. Time can be inhabited with both good — and painful memories; love and loss, joy and tears. Happy times are no less happy when they are joined by the sad. As both lion and lamb, they can inhabit the same space and, while they are polar opposites, they are part of the same equation.

March is a month of expectation. Emily Dickinson

The flip side of joy is pain. That’s life’s eternal dichotomy. No one complains when the pendulum swings the fun way, when life seems perfect and all in our little world is balanced on its axis, spinning merrily along. But when it hands us things that really suck, things we are helpless to change, whoa! Yet, that IS life; the conundrum of all things good and bad. Like a seasonal temperature inversion, a peaceful, balmy day can morph into a hair wrecking windy storm in a nanosecond. And just as quickly the sea calms, the weighty fog lifts and, if we pay attention, we just might see the big picture with stunning clarity. We find our aha moments.

Continue reading “MARCH On.”