What It’s Like Navigating a Global Pandemic After Suffering a Personal Loss
There is no doubt that the last 18 months have been hell for so many of us. We have lost our sense of normalcy. We have lost jobs. We have lost friends and loved ones. And sometimes, we've just lost it.
Today was one of those days. I just lost it. I cried at work today. Actually, I sobbed. I even thought about going out to the car, starting the engine, and driving until I had to stop for gas and then driving some more until I ran out of gas money. You might be wondering why but the truth is I really don't know. It wasn't one particular thing really. It was more like all the things.
We Have All Lost So Much
Sometimes I get overwhelmed. The pandemic has been hard and I have watched so many of my friends and family struggle. I have seen friends and family wonder how they are going to get their next meal. I've seen people I love and care about get sick with this stupid disease. I have seen friends lose family and I have lost people that I love more than anything. It's that last one that has been the hardest.
I lost my dad in November - I've talked about it before. It was sudden and unexpected and I have run the gambit of emotions over the last several months. Like so many others who are navigating this kind of loss, It has been hard... really freaking hard. But the world keeps on moving, no matter how shattered by grief we might be and I think that's the really hard part. When the initial pain starts to subside (it never goes away, by the way - it just gets a little less some days), we start to get back to whatever normal happens to be.
What Exactly is Normal, Anyway?
For me, normal involves getting out of bed every morning for work and sitting in a room with a microphone while I share with you what's going on in the community and the world and I have needed that sense of normal. I have needed that purpose. I have need my friends and family and I have needed you. Without those things, I'm not sure that I would have made it out of bed for the first few months. So I get up, and I do the things - the normal things.
Since losing Dad, I have found that I struggle more with things that were never as difficult as they are now. I have trouble concentrating. I really struggle with maintaining my focus lately and I lose words. I will be mid-sentence and then just stop, looking like a deer in the headlights because I can't remember the word I am about to say next. This happens often. Just to give you an example, I had bought a package of danishes at the store a couple of months ago and over dinner, I brought them up to Shawn, only to then completely lose the word danish. I was just about to say it, and it vanished. Just poof, and it was gone. I could see the danish in my head with its flaky layers and middle packed full of cream cheese filling but I couldn't find the word for it to save my life. It was like my brain just turned off the lights. I was so embarrassed and confused by my inability to find the word - a common word - that my eyes welled up with tears. It happens more than I'd like to admit.
Grief Affects Our Brain and Cognitive Functions
My therapist told me grief affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It's the part that is responsible for our working memory and working memory is kind of like a crate of eggs. There are only so many slots for eggs - in most cases a dozen - so to hold a new egg, you have to take out an old egg. To hold a new (egg) piece of information to work with, your working memory has to take out an old (egg) piece of information to make room. So when we're grieving, our working memory, and our ability to hold all the eggs, can become diminished. For me, I am losing words. And it isn't just the death of a loved one that can do this. In fact, we are all grieving at the hands of the pandemic. We are grieving the loss of normalcy. We are grieving the loss of jobs, of livelihoods, of stability and security, and yes, even the loss of loved ones. But the world doesn't; stop.
The World Doesn't Stop
In fact, the world keeps spinning and we're seeing more cases of Covid because of this new variant and that is scary. I have a trip planned next week with my daughter to celebrate her birthday, and despite things starting to feel like they could one day be "normal" again, like we could be coming out the other side of this pandemic, I just learned the city that we plan to visit has reimplemented a mask mandate - regardless of vaccination status - because the reality is, we are not out of the woods yet. The variant is spreading, and I'm scared. I'm scared to lose more people I care about and I'm scared of what a massive surge could do to us both from a societal and economic standpoint. And you may be scoffing, and thinking to yourself that there is nothing to be afraid of or that I'm way overthinking it and maybe I am but it's where my mind has been lately.
It's Ok If All You Did Was Show Up Today
So today I cried and I entertained the idea of just running away and I know I'm not the only one. Instead, I walked around the corner from our office and I got the biggest iced coffee from my favorite little place and I reminded myself that I just had to make it through today, that tomorrow is a new day and I can start again then. I don't have to give up and run away. I can keep going... I have to. So if you're still here and you're still reading this, thank you for letting me get this off of my chest. Thank you for holding space for me and letting me grieve and be afraid. And if you're grieving and you're afraid, I see you. I understand... and I hope you're able to walk around the corner for an iced coffee and then keep going too because the world doesn't stop - and neither do we because it's ok if all you did was show up today.