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My dears –
I had an edition of Reflections half-written – and promised to those of you on the Facebook Community Group – about the deadly allure of productivity. And maybe I’ll write about that next week. After all, the refrain I keep hearing after I ask how people are, “Well, I’m not being very productive, but…” is disturbing me.
But that is not what is with me today. Today I am watching my garden wake up, as I have been for the last few weeks, perhaps even more attentive than I would have been a year ago, because today, like every day this month, I will be staying home. Today I am writing about what is settling over the planet, and certainly over the United States residents I know: grief.
I first recognized it when I realized a set of familiar feelings and sensations. I was moving through molasses. The fog in my head made thinking hard. Everything felt overwhelming. I wasn’t able to get work done in the ways I wanted to.
And honestly, not much of that has gone away. I’m feeling much better than I was before the active mental health crisis I was in passed, but I’m still noticing those other feelings. And I’ve remembered the last time I felt them, which was when my father died.
I was blessed to spend the day my father died with my family, gathered around his body, spending time in tears and conversation, doing a fair amount of drinking, and going through the motions of a day. I remember so clearly when Julie’s and my nephew, Sacha, started crying and squirming on my brother’s lap because he’d never, in all his wise three years, seen his father burst into tears.
We went to lunch. We picked at the food we ordered. Julie, the grounded, clear-headed, helpful daughter- and sister-in-law, took Sacha outside when he got antsy. And the rest of us continued to sink into what we new was a deep grief.
The grief would stay with us. It’s still with us sometimes in little moments, here and there, but it was its most powerful that day. At his memorial service, I read “In Blackwater Woods,” with its wrenching last lines, “To live in this world, / you must be to do three things. / To love what is mortal, / to hold it against your bones knowing / your own life depends on it, / and when the time comes to let it go, / to let it go.” But even the grief of that day—even reading those lines with a voice broken by tears, surrounded by colleagues, friends, and relatives—didn’t hold a candle to that first day, that day of his death.
Some of us have already felt the most pointed talons of COVID-19 grasp our hearts; some of us have already had someone die from it. The mother-in-law of a dear friend of mine has died. Her family cannot have a funeral. They cannot gather in the comfort of the arms of the outward rings of friends and family.
Three friends of mine have had it and recovered.
And we, our whole culture—I suspect, the whole world—are moving through grief. And nothing is going to stop it or its phases of denial, “This can’t be happening,” bargaining, “If I just do these things I won’t have to feel this terrible feeling,” anger, “God DAMN it, why is this happening,” and acceptance, “This is happening and will be happening for some time to come.” We will pass through these times in variations of these conditions for some time, spinning through them in chaotic order, with seemingly no reason for being in one place once and another place later on. We don’t stop at acceptance. After all, I still have my, “If only I had…” about the loss of my father, ten years after his own deaths. They come and go. But they come.
So we move through the molasses. We do our best to think clearly. We feel the paralysis. We are rational and make plans, stay home, spray surfaces, wash our hands, wash our hands some more. And some of us cry and find ourselves crying again. Crying with fear. Crying with anger. Crying with loss.
These are the conditions of grief, my friends. And there is, as my friends and comrades, Revs. Tracy Springberry and Matthew Cockrum remind us, “The price of a good life is to feel it.”
There’s nothing for it, friends. We just have to feel it. Feel it and try to make what we can of it. There doesn’t have to be a silver lining to this mess we find ourselves in. We don’t have to make meaning of it, not now, and maybe not ever.
I love you, and I am grieving with you.