“Maybe it’s grief”, his therapist tells him, when he explains his range of emotions since finding out about his mother’s terminal illness. I almost laugh a little when he tells me this story. His mother is dying.
Of course it’s grief.
The life we had a year ago, the easiness we enjoyed, the routine and the normal and lack of fear, has died a thousand times. Sometimes daily, sometimes hourly. The tiny ways we work to rebuild normalcy, to find new dreams and goals, have been forged in a raging, hurried fire, and then broken again and again.
We told ourselves it would be a few weeks, we held onto hope that things would go back to normal – and when school stayed virtual, when travel fell to zero, and unemployment ticked higher and higher, in lockstep with cases – that hope started to die. I’m sad and scared and disappointed. “It’s just new and unknown,” I tell myself, as I soldier on, as we all did.
We live at a frantic pace for months. Despite the theory that people are at home resting and enjoying the slower life, we are not. I am juggling multiple jobs in an effort to keep things normal, but of course there is nothing normal about anything. My husband’s job goes from a well-oiled machine to daily panicked chaos. The kids do online school and then flounder. I’m reminded of the death of the security we thought we had each time I clock in to the third job. I cry in the bathroom during my break and tell myself I’m stupid for it. “I’m just anxious and tired, that’s all,” I whisper, as I dab at my eyes and go back to work.
I leave that job for a corporate contract, transitioning again to a new role, new hours, new processes. It means early mornings and nine hours of a desk and a high level of stress. But it also means a real paycheck and I can’t pass that up. It means taking phone calls in the evening on the way to my daughter’s dance classes and waking at 2 am with racing thoughts of what is left to do on all of the projects. But it means a real paycheck and I can’t pass that up. “It’s just stress and change,” I think in the darkness, as my heart races.
At every turn, I hope this is the new normal, that we’ve found the new routine and that we will all settle in. But there is no new normal – just constant change. Our kids are in and out of quarantine, we work through disappointment at missed holidays and friends. Church is sometimes online and sometimes in person and we feel disconnected from our communities. I’ve lost my support group and it is easy to drift apart, easier than normal – even for me – to isolate. The corporate contract runs me ragged and when it ends I feel like I can breathe again. And then cry that everything is changing again. “It’s just overwhelming,” I rationalize.
I talk to my therapist and she helps me navigate, but so many things change between sessions that I feel like it is a losing game of whack-a-mole.
The emotions hit me in waves. I alternate between fear and sadness, denial and anger.
Days pass where I am almost numb, almost forgetting what life was like before. I find things to laugh about and enjoy the smiles of my children.
I’m knocked sideways by the strap of a swimsuit top hanging in my closet, a swimsuit bought for a vacation we weren’t able to take, one of several planned and abandoned, and the back of my throat gets tight and acidic. I sit on the floor of the bathroom, seething.
Yesterday, I run into my coach from the gym. The gym that was family and community, routine and the privilege of taking care of myself, both mentally and physically. The gym that closed down temporarily in March. The gym that we haven’t returned to, due to the new pace of life. We chat briefly and I tell him that we miss being there – which is absolute truth. And I tell him that we’ll be back. Which feels like an absolute lie. I want it to be true, but in that moment I don’t believe that life will ever go back to being that easy, that relaxed, that gentle.
I drive home from this tiny encounter, and as I turn onto the highway I find myself crying; sad and frustrated that eleven months out I’m still sidelined by this vast array of emotions.
The life we had a year ago, the easiness we enjoyed, the routine and the normal and lack of fear, has died a thousand times. Sometimes daily, sometimes hourly. Other good things have grown in its place, to be sure. There have been moments of laughter and joy. But regardless, that life from a year ago has died.
And as I angrily wipe my tears, it hits me.
Maybe it’s grief.
I almost laugh a little.
Of course it’s grief.