The Little Griefs and Little Joys of Pandemic Life
As I am writing this, I have my windows open to fall, which happily blew in on a breeze overnight. A fledgling Cardinal just landed on the porch rail outside my window, cocking his head in curiosity when he caught a glimpse of me. There is no sound but the breeze, the birds chirping and the occasional cicada singing its chorus of summer’s end.
These are the little joys of life during a pandemic. The sun still rises, the moon sails high in the velvet night and the birds still visit the feeders, emptying them out as quickly as I fill them.
When I walk out to the chicken coop, there will be 3–4 lovely brown eggs nestled together in one nest, even though there are six nest boxes for 5 hens. Just this morning one of my girls was complaining loudly to the entire neighborhood that her sister was sitting on the nest she wanted. The chickens could not care less about the pandemic. They make me laugh, and this is a little joy.
The sheets are on the line and when I take them down and put them on the bed they will fill the room with the perfume of sunshine and autumn breezes. We made a trip to the appliance store today to buy a new dishwasher, since the old one flooded the kitchen floor one too many times. These are the things that make life still feel normal.
But there are little griefs, and often they sneak up behind me and overtake me when I am not looking. It seems they come almost daily.
Like realizing that I have not eaten in a restaurant with friends in 6 months, and likely won’t for many more months to come. When we attempted to eat in a restaurant a few weeks ago, we bolted before the waitress could take our order. I felt unsafe to the point of having a panic attack. This is a little grief.
Having our plans to visit our granddaughter cancelled because her mommy got the virus was a little grief, wrapped in worry, making it a big grief. Thankfully, our daughter-in-law has recovered. Thinking about the world our grandchildren are growing up in is also a little grief.
Once, I left the house without a face mask only to realize I could not go into the store when I got there. At that moment, I was gripped by the feeling that I just wanted life to be normal again. I started to cry. These are all little griefs, but they come pretty regularly and they add up.
I have made new friends, which is a big joy. When you meet new people, the way the relationship usually progresses is you have them over for drinks, or a meal. That is not safe now. Even spending time together for a few minutes indoors can feel dangerous.
When an old friend stopped by the other afternoon, it was too hot to sit outside. Sitting inside with a close friend during a pandemic feels like you are breaking the law, even if you are wearing masks. Grieving the ease of being with family and friends is a little grief that feels like a big grief.
A day after our visit, I started feeling my head close up and my throat get sore. It seemed I couldn’t taste my dinner. I kept smelling the candle in the bathroom to make sure I could still smell. A shudder of fear raced up my spine. This was a little grief that felt huge — the fear that enjoying a visit with a friend may end your life.
As it turns out, the dry fall air is triggering my seasonal allergies and I am going to live to worry about contracting the virus for a while longer. What a relief.
But the dry autumn air is also enabling me to be in my house with all the windows open, and tonight we will sleep with them open for the first time in months. This is a little joy.
When we are being hit daily with little griefs — and maybe some great big griefs, too— it is even more important to pay attention to the little joys. This is about the practice of being present. I have to bring myself out of my head over and over again to see what is right in front of me — the sweet, handsome face of my husband, the soft kitty that wants to sit in my lap, the butterflies on the flowering tree outside my window.
Face-Timing with my 81 year old mother is both a miracle and a joy, as is reading our granddaughter a bedtime story when we are almost 300 miles away. Little griefs and little joys, woven together to make up my days in this strange and upended world we are living in.
I was walking through my living room last week and I stopped in front of the Buddha that resides on the table. I centered myself for a moment and then bowed. Before I stood up out of the bow, I heard the words, “You are running away from yourself.” I pondered this thought and had to admit it was true. I have been running, keeping myself so busy with obligations, and caring for everyone but me, that I have not let myself be still long enough to feel my feelings.
When we experience daily griefs, no matter how small, they add up to a wave of grief that can capsize us if we are not dealing with them as they come up. It is easier to ignore them, and one of the ways I am doing that is to stay busy.
Instead of dealing with these griefs by acknowledging them and then caring for myself, I have tried to stay positive and be strong, for myself and everyone around me. The problem with this is that those feelings deserve my care, and when they don’t get the care they need, they go underground and resurface as depression.
When I wandered into my husband’s den the other day and admitted I was feeling a little depressed he seemed alarmed. But just admitting it made it ease off. That is all our feelings want. They want to be seen. They want to be validated. They want us to care enough to say to ourselves, “I’m so sorry sweetheart. I know that you are suffering right now. You are not alone.”
This simple act of caring for ourselves can release the pressure behind the emotions, giving them space to exist without having to shut them down. It is ok to feel grief anytime, but especially now. It is more than ok to acknowledge that we are experiencing grief. When we turn toward our grief, instead of running away from it as I have been doing, we make more room to experience joy.
We are living in difficult times. We are living with daily uncertainty. There are little griefs everyday — cancelling our plans, missing those we love, worrying about contracting the virus. Grief upon grief.
But there are also joys. Sitting on the deck with my coffee at sunrise. Hearing our children and grandchildren express their love for us. Cool breezes after an oppressive summer. Little joys that add up to living life the best we can.
It is up to us to find the joys and to acknowledge the griefs. We can’t wait until this is over to live our lives. This is our life. It’s the only one we get. Each morning our life is waiting for us to inhabit it and meet whatever comes with compassion — both joy and grief.