#Coronaversary. What have you learned one year later?

When was your last “normal” day?

What were you doing when the world turned upside down?

For me that was Friday, March 13th 2020.

Like toppling dominoes, one cancellation piled atop another. Our public school went remote. Our synagogue cancelled Sabbath services. Our town library closed. My gym and dance studio closed. An up-coming business trip was cancelled. My private students cancelled their lessons. My daughter came home from college (thinking it would be a few weeks).

Oh, and my son’s engagement party was planned for that weekend. 

I’m glad I didn’t know how long the doom would last. How many lives would be lost.

There is hope now. But our world is different. You are different. Hopefully, you’ve gained some things amidst all the losses. 

***

I learned the primacy of relationships over work and ambition. 

I learned that absence makes the heart grow fonder and stronger.

I learned how much I miss my grandchildren.

I learned that children are better mask-adapters than adults. 

I learned it’s okay to sit in the car and cry.

I learned to surrender to uncertainty.

I learned to expect plans to change. 

I learned how to teach lessons over Zoom. 

I learned we can build bridges with words.

I learned words I wish I didn’t have to utter: lockdown, social-distancing, aerosols, quarantine, asymptomatic, fomites, super-spreader…

I learned that family members can hold vastly different beliefs from me. 

I learned that when things are looking really bad, look toward the heavens. 

I learned just how wise my young adult children have become.

I learned that writing can sustain me.

I learned what I can and cannot live without.

I learned just how lucky I am. ~

What do you miss right now?

Our_Town

My friend told me she feels guilty about her sadness at missing her oldest son’s high school graduation when so many people have lost their lives to Corona virus.

I told her there is nothing to feel guilty about. There is no yardstick for grief. Yes, it can always be worse, yet why don’t we feel better when someone says this?

We are all experiencing loss right now of every magnitude.

We have lost our physical communities.

We have lost trust in our leaders.

We have lost milestone celebrations.

We have lost the freedom to travel freely.

We have lost the chance to attend that special concert.

We have lost our spot on the beach.

We have lost the ability to kiss our grandchildren.

Gig & Rivkah Pesach 2016

And much more.

Some losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic aren’t apparent at first. They hit us as our child’s birthday approaches.  The hit us as we flip the calendar: Cape Cod trip. 

These losses may seem small but they add up. They loom large in our heart.

Before the pandemic, I tried keeping a gratitude journal as espoused by so many self-help gurus. My entries tended toward big things: family, friends, health, work, and home. It was hard to think of the small things.

That is, until they are gone.

Here’s one thing I missed early on: my morning writing space at the library.  This sunny glass room with a view. Free to use—just sign up. 

LIbrary Spot

Why didn’t this appear in my gratitude journal? 

Because I couldn’t fathom losing it.  

I have a good imagination. Over-active sometimes.  I write fiction, after all.  Yet, I never imagined that in March 2020 a world-wide pandemic would close my special writing space in Boston.

Often, we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Trite but true.

I am confident that I’ll have this writing space back in the near future.

But you only get one high school graduation.

tOkDg1jXSneSiHVJBWNbrg_thumb_3189

Acknowledge your losses. Grieve them, no matter how small. Find comfort. Think of something to look forward to. Make a list of what you still have.

Rosmarie Heusser's Comments - Peace for the Soul

I

And remember, it’s okay to miss the small stuff.  Manicures and malls. Coffee shops and handshakes. Smiles from strangers. 

So go ahead, tell me what you miss, big and small. 

No yardsticks here.

Version 2 (1)

Art Can Save Us

georgebernardshaw1-2x

Thank you fellow artists, writers, bloggers, educators, dancers, poets, philosophers, musicians, homeschoolers, trauma survivors, family and friends, near and far for your virtual hugs, kind words, and listening ears.

Thank you for finding creative ways of connection during this Corona pandemic. Thank you for sharing your art and spreading light and hope to others.

I’m still in survival mode, trying to get my bearings. Absorbing unwelcome changes. Surrendering to uncertainty.

In times of crisis, the great poets and writers can offer us solace and momentum.

I leave you the words of W.B. Yeats, from The Celtic Twilight(1893), a lyrical tribute to Irish folklore.

Please let me know how you are doing.

 

I have desired, like every artist, to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world…

let-us-go-forth-the-tellers-of-tales-and-seize-whatever-prey

 

 

Surviving Lost Love: “A Fig in Winter”

 

roses-4125558_1280

Sometimes we love what we cannot have. It’s as simple as that. And yet, the longing continues, causing our suffering.

Doesn’t matter if the loved one is unavailable, doesn’t love us, or has passed on. The wish to resurrect the relationship someway, somehow can be overwhelming.

Unrequited love hurts and haunts.

Hope lifts you for a while but can hinder healing.

If you’ve been through a painful breakup, you might remain bitter, forgetting all the good parts of the story that proceeded its sad ending.

Amnesia blinds a broken heart.

A broken heart focuses on the end of the love story, whether through physical parting or death.

We scrutinize the last days and hours. The pain our loved one endured. What we failed to do or say.  Our hurtful words. Missed chances. Regret looms.

If_Only

This is a natural response to heartbreak, of course, maybe even necessary.

If we stay too long in those final days, we become blinded to what came before. Instead of reliving the moments of joy and connection, The End overpowers us.

In the face of loss, we remain broken if we do not open our hearts to new love experiences. This might mean dating again, forging new friendships, or finding a surrogate (not a replacement) for the lost love.

But how?

The key to moving on, we are told, is simple:

 

acceptance-road-sign

Acceptance that we cannot change others.

Acceptance that someone may not love us they way we love them.

Acceptance that we cannot write the script for the Universe.

Acceptance that some things will never be as we wish.

Acceptance that all relationships will eventually end.

hands-718562_640

Image by John Hain

The answer may be “simple”, but the journey is long and and bumpy. Maybe even a life’s work.

The poets and philosophers have pondered this arduous path for millennia. When my heart is aching for what I cannot have, I find solace in the writings of Greek stoic, Epictetus. (50-135 CE)

When you are delighted with anything, be delighted as with a thing which is not one of those which cannot be taken away, but as something of such a kind, as an earthen pot is, or a glass cup, that, when it has been broken, you may remember what it was and may not be troubledWhat you love is nothing of your own: it has been given to you for the present, not that it should not be taken from you, nor has it been given to you for all time, but as a fig is given to you or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year. But if you wish for these things in winter, you are a fool. So if you wish for your son or friend when it is not allowed to you, you must know that you are wishing for a fig in winter

fig-3877018_640

Image by Andrea Petra Puporka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missing Your Dad on Father’s Day

Father's Day Card

In May 2016 I was shopping in Target when I saw a display of Father’s Day cards. I’d always sent a special card to my Dad and decided I’d pick one out right then. While surveying the multitude of choices, a force of reckoning hit my chest.

I don’t need to buy him a card this year.

My father was dead. For six whole months.

How could I have forgotten? 

I blinked back a surprise of tears. In that small space of forgetting, my father had come alive again.

“Come back. Even as a shadow, even as a dream.”Euripides

Maybe you’ve had such an experience, too. You pick up the phone thinking you’re going to call your Dad (or your mother, aunt, brother, friend) only to remember…  

Or maybe you’ve had a vivid dream of being with your dad–a dream so real that when you awoke it took a moment to believe it hadn’t actually happened.

A period of disbelief  often follows the loss of a loved one. This feeling can be more more pronounced when the death comes suddenly and inexplicably, as was the case with my dad.  Not seeing him buried, or having stood at his grave site, added to the feeling of unreality. And because we lived in different cities, it was easier to believe he was still in Florida enjoying the sunshine. 

From Homer to Shakespeare, mythology and literature are replete with stories of characters grappling to accept death’s permanence.  Sigmund Freud wrote that an essential component of the complex “grief work” is coming to terms with the fact that our loved one is physically and permanently gone.  “Mourning has a quiet precise physical task to perform: its function is to detach the survivor’s memories and hopes from the dead.”

Sounds like a good plan.

Yet when Freud lost his dear daughter Sophie to influenza, and then later, her beloved only surviving son, Dr. Freud remained inconsolable and unable to follow his own prescription for mourning.

In Joan Didion’s exquisite grief memoir, My Year of Magical Thinking, she potently describes the disbelief that grips us after losing a loved one.  Joan’s husband of 40 years dropped dead of a massive heart attack as the couple sat down to dinner one evening.  

It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it.”

Didion is taken aback by the irrational belief that her husband will return. She can’t bring herself to give away the clothes he may be needing.

“Bringing him back” had been through those months my hidden focus, a magic trick.”

We attempt to keep our loved ones alive by holding onto momentos—a watch, tie, jacket, hairbrush, written letters—as if we are able to contain their physical presence within the object. 

We’re afraid of forgetting them—and of letting go.

He was my North, my South, my East, and my West

my working week and my Sunday rest.

~ W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”

On my desk, I keep favorite photos of Dad, a few of his fencing medals, a handwritten letter, and his Olympic baseball cap.

Dad&Me_80th bday

Me and Dad, July 1990

As Joan writes: “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. ”

I’m lucky to have had may father for many years and many chances to share my love and appreciation. My heart breaks for those who have lost their father at a young age.  Growing up without a father can have longterm psychological effects. Children are particularly vulnerable to the belief that their father will “return”.   The experience leaves a gaping  hole of missed moments and opportunity.  The surviving adult-child’s life is shadowed with “what might have been” . 

My friend/mentor Nechama Laber lost her father at age ten. She didn’t know he had been ill and never got to said goodbye. It wasn’t until Nechama was a grown woman that she came to realize the full impact of his absence on her emotional well-being. Nechama has since devoted herself to continuing her father Rabbi Azriel Wasserman’s legacy of Jewish learning. This summer she will publish a book celebrating his life and teachings: Finding the Song in Sorrow – My journey from Loss to legacy to Light!

Blogger Leslie Spencer (lifewithoutmydad.com) also lost her father at age ten.  Her 2017 post about being a fatherless daughter on Father’s Day is particularly poignant. She offers her approach to facing this time of year.

By age 25, author Claire Bidwell Smith, had lost both her parents to cancer. For the past 10 plus, Claire has supported others through grief workshops, retreats, podcasts, online programs, and individual counseling. 

If you are missing your Dad this Father’s Day, try to do something that honors his memory: donate to charity, write him a letter, cook his favorite dish, make a photo album, or share a story about him.

And if you never knew your dad, or are estranged, then honor another special dad you care about. 

After getting through the first Father’s Day without my dad, I do not feel anywhere near the pain I feel on his death anniversary.  That day triggers traumatic memories. 

And yet…

My dad died on my son’s birthday—one of the happiest days of my life.

I hope I get to see my son become a dad.

I look forward to sending him a Father’s Day card.

2%rsVIGkQC21diz5VPjDQg_thumb_3474

Byron Krieger as a collegiate fencer.

ZAPbMeY8S6qXU9mzvpv7Pw_thumb_1fd2

Grandson Sam as a collegiate fencer