Hope and Despair – More Than A Year In

Just when we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, darkness and despair have descended yet again. So many metaphors come to mind: the wind taken out of our sails, it is darkest before the dawn, the darkest hour, dark night of the soul.

Just as vaccines are rolling out and hope is on the horizon for many of us, variations of Coronavirus are showing up around the world. India is making headlines for the devastation being wreaked by the virus and the inadequate ability to respond which is leaving people dying, not just in hospitals but in the streets. Other countries are also struggling, even while others are enjoying success like Australia and New Zealand. The tide in the US has changed dramatically with clear leadership and the dedication of resources to combatting spread and ramping up vaccinations, and they are not out of the woods yet.

Across Canada, cases are rising, hospitals are in chaos and frontline health care professionals are exhausted. In Nova Scotia, after being down to no or few cases for months, we are having the highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Last year, most of these cases were in long-term care and now they are the result of community spread. Locked down again just as plans were made for opening up.

Defiance of vaccines, mask wearing and social distancing competes with people advocating for as many precautionary measures as possible. Misinformation, both deliberate and uniformed, competes with science, medicine and public health guidelines based on sound research and evidence based results. Almost everyone I know personally is signing up for vaccines as fast as they become available.

It is easy to get lost in a sea of desolation. I am fortunate that my family is close by, we all take precautions and we do get to see each other, if not as often as we might like. My partner and I live in different countries and are separated by more than a border right now and have been for the majority of the pandemic. We are not young. These are precious years. My business was just beginning to return to some in-person work, which is sorely missed in my world.

The tides can turn fast, though. If you, like me, seem to be moving through quick sand to get up in the morning, begin your day, attend to your tasks, to find joy, we have to remember the light is at the end of the tunnel and, even if it is hard to see, it’s not as far off as it seems in the moment.

Here are 14 reminders of things to do to keep moving through the days, toward that light at the end of the tunnel:

  1. Above all, be kind and compassionate to yourself. You are doing what you can. Things are getting done, even if slowly.
  2. Be kind and compassionate towards others – family, friends, neighbours. Most of us are doing the best we can.
  3. Reach out and connect with your family and friends – including new ones. Commiserate together. Laugh together.
  4. Let yourself feel what you feel but try not to let it overwhelm you. Not easy some days and for some people not easy at all.
  5. Grieve the losses. The people. The ability to be together. The freedom. All of it. There is so much of it. Acknowledging our grief and our sorrow helps us be still or keep moving or discover whatever it is we need to continue.
  6. Look for things that make you laugh. We are allowed to laugh, even in the dark days. And laughter is good for the soul.
  7. Get outside – walk, sit in a garden, in the woods, on the lawn, on your patio or balcony. Even just open a window. Breathe in fresh air.
  8. Take care of your body. Hydrate yourself. Drink water. Lots of it. Eat as well as you can in these days. I live alone. Getting motivated to make good food is not always easy but I do what I can on the days I can. Exercise. Breathe.
  9. Meditate, if it is in your practice. At a minimum, sit quietly with a cup of coffee or tea and invite yourself to be present to that moment.
  10. Take a break from the news (says she who listens to CBC radio a ton).
  11. Listen to music that lifts you up.
  12. Use social media to lift your spirits – not drag you down. Find the groups that inspire, the people who provide hope. Spread those messages as often and as far as you can.
  13. Read. Binge on Netflix. Play games. Just give yourself permission.
  14. Allow the future to motivate you – when you will see loved ones again, be able to travel, move more freely without the fear of the virus at every outing.

I know it’s hard. It’s why we have to turn our attention to the little things. They keep us going. And, above all be kind – to yourself and to others.

You Can Cry If You Want To!

2020! Christmas. Unlike any other I have experienced. Thanks to Coronavirus, the spread of it, illness and deaths because of it, precautions we take to reduce the spread and try to keep ourselves from contracting it – for ourselves and our loved ones. For everyone I know, this means smaller family bubbles for the holidays. And this makes me sad. Deeply, profoundly sad.

In 2011, I wrote this post describing Christmas as the season of amplification – of joy and of sorrow. It was the last Christmas my mother was alive – just barely, in long term care because of dementia. Emotions are always present in our lives if we have lived a minute. Every year of life this becomes more so as life’s experiences continue to accumulate.

This is the first Christmas without my dad. It is the first Christmas since we’ve been together that Jerry will not be with me for Christmas. The first Christmas my whole family cannot gather in one place. It’s been a year, as consultants, that all our client work has been postponed. Travel stopped. It’s all still disorienting.

Yet, we’ve been re-imagining our business during this time, opening new explorations and looking to the future. A vaccine is on the horizon. Next Christmas will look different again – hopefully in more ways we celebrate rather than mourn. In the meantime, my house is decorated. The tree is up. Jerry and I have a tentative plan to be together for a month post-Christmas.

I continue to reflect on my experience and how to move with and through the unusual holiday season. Here are 10 thoughts on how to do this.

  1. You can cry if you want to. Encourage the tears. Let them flow. A good cry is healthy.
  2. Laugh. You may not feel much like laughing, but laughter lifts the spirits, is good for the soul and is also healthy. And, it’s okay to laugh, give yourself permission, even as the world is different than it used to be. Watch funny movies, remember funny events, read books that make you laugh.
  3. Connect. Bubble with the friends or family you have chosen to bubble with and spend time with them. Reach out to other people you care about. Text. Phone. Video call. Think particularly about the people you know are alone or suffering even more than you. There are some who have no one to bubble with.
  4. Find or create comfort for yourself. This could be food, books, movies, music, traditions you allow yourself to carry out even if you are alone or have a smaller bubble. Decorating my tree with my small family bubble was one for me. Making gingerbread cookies to share will be another. Wrapping myself in a blanket to watch a movie or read a book brings comfort.
  5. If you are buying Christmas gifts, shop local. It’s always a good idea and never more needed. Support local craftspeople, artists and shop owners. And make donations to people in more need than you.
  6. Support a local restaurant that offers take out. Buy a meal for yourself and buy one for someone else if you can.
  7. Allow yourself to revisit all the beautiful memories of other holidays. Sink into them and let them wash over you. Last year, my dad was not well. Jerry was here and we spent a lot of time in Lunenburg with him – including bringing Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and other family festivities to him over a 2 week period. We knew it might be his last. It was time well spent and makes me smile. There are so many more memories that make me smile – decades of them.
  8. Take care of your body. Sleep. Exercise. Walk. Eat reasonably well.
  9. Take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing. 2020 is a time when anxiety, depression and emotional balance have been extraordinarily challenged. Then add in the stress that can come with the holidays. Reduce the things that cause you increased anxiety. This might be putting yourself on a social media diet. Or taking medication. Or deciding not to do a particular thing this year. Last year, for me, it was a decision not to do gingerbread houses – a treasured tradition for me for more than 2 decades. Not doing them this year either. Do or don’t do whatever else will contribute to your emotional and mental well-being.
  10. Look to the future. Next Christmas, hopefully, we will not be talking small family bubbles but be able to gather in our extended family and friend networks again without fear of spreading a virus. 2021 brings a promise deeper than our usual New Years. We couldn’t have anticipated that 2020 would be the shit show it has been, but the future holds promise.

For those of you who have lost loved ones in the last year, I send love and compassion. To those on the front lines of battling coronavirus, I send gratitude. To everyone masking up, washing hands, trying to follow arrows in stores and keeping your contact with others minimal, thank you. We’ve got this. We just need a touch more patience and willingness to be disciplined in our behaviours.

What Futures are You Mourning?

Easter morning 2020. This already would have been a different Easter since my dad died in January of this year. Like most, we typically would have gathered as a family, my kids and grandchild – here at my home or, as has been the case more recently, we would have taken Easter to my dad in Lunenburg.

March 1-2020

March 1, 2020 – the last time most of us gathered as a family just after my father’s funeral.

Not only is my dad gone, so too, for many of us is any sense of traditional celebration or family gathering for this year. Day by day the assessment of how long we will have to self isolate and physically distance seems to extend. It started with two weeks, expanded to two months and now there are ruminations that it could be as much as two years.

This means an indeterminate unknowing about what the future holds. Groundlessness continued for an indefinite amount of time. Will we reach a breaking point or a breakthrough point? Probably both. Probably more than once.

I am mourning my family celebrations. I grieve that my family and I cannot come together in person and reminisce about my father, among other things. I get this is for the greater good and the longer-term future but that doesn’t mean I can’t grieve this current moment or that I can’t grieve the future as I imagined it to be. As we all imagined it to be. We all get to acknowledge our emotional reactions and the rollercoaster global moment we are in. It is healthy to do so.

I grieve the uncertainty of knowing when I will be able to be with my beloved again. The time of reunion keeps getting pushed off. First it was maybe the end of May, then June, then the summer and now who knows when. We have a long distance relationship nurtured in mutual love and respect and the ability to travel to be together frequently. Now complicated by the fact it is an international relationship – me in Canada, him in the US. I feel despair in this, even as I know our relationship is strong enough to weather this.

What will be the impact on our business? Our livelihood? I get this is a moment of great opportunity in the midst of uncertainty. But what will that look like?

In the middle of all of this, I am clearing out my father’s house, getting it ready to hand over to new owners. It is a lonely task thanks to social distancing. I drive from one empty house to another, bringing back contents from one to the other, waiting for the opportunity to give away that which my brother and I have decided to let go of. Holding onto other things until such a time as he can travel back to NS from PEI safely and my kids and I and my partner can gather.

It is not just this moment that is unsettling. It is the loss of futures we dreamed of that are not available to us right now. The weddings that are cancelled, postponed or happening in a different form. The funerals that can’t be held right now. Being with loved ones in the time of death or the time of birth. Birthday, anniversary celebrations and so much more. We each have our own lost futures and it is okay to grieve them. Give yourself permission with compassion, forgiveness and care.