Pandemic: An Unexpected Distraction From Grief

It’s interesting how a pandemic has the ability to distract one from grief. I don’t think it would have had the same affect had the pandemic occurred within the first two years, when my grief was, not necessarily more poignant, but certainly more in the forefront. It often felt as if it were controlling my life back then; I couldn’t escape it, and I desperately wanted to.

Eventually though, as we fell into our new routine, found our new path in life, the grief settled into background noise. Like a fan with a slightly annoying click every few seconds. It’s always there, usually you’re able to ignore it, but then one particular click smacks you in the face and all you can think about for endless minutes or hours is that stupid fan and why won’t that damn fan shut off already?

Unfortunately, we can’t unplug the grief. We can’t even fix grief to take away that frustrating click. All we can do is wait for the next time it clicks its way into our heads and then wait for it to fade into the background again. Sometimes, when the clicking becomes too intense for me, I’ll head out to my son’s grave, a surefire way to get the tears flowing at a point that is convenient for me (because normally when the tears happens, it’s never expected and always at a bad time). That works as a sort of reset, and I can get back to the process of living again.

And then there was a pandemic.

Completely unexpected; no one knew it was coming, no one had a clue how to manage it. It distracted us from every single other aspect of our lives. In fact, for a few months, it quite literally took us away from our lives. The world all but ceased functioning during March and April, and while we are slowly moving about again, the landscape is vastly different from what it was this past spring. People are dead who shouldn’t be, economies are shook; masks have become just another piece of our wardrobes when we leave the house. Which happens far less frequently than it did six months ago.

My last day in the office at my day job was on March 13, two days before the anniversary of my son’s death. I was so distracted by the abrupt decision not to return, to figuring out how to set up two home offices in my house (because that following Monday would be my husband’s last day in his office), to worrying about my father-in-law with his bad heart and my mother with her diabetes and other ailments because they were at highest risk of not surviving this seemingly unstoppable virus; that I did not have the usual buildup to The Day.

Each year since he died, I’ve had this intense buildup, starting on March first, each moment until the fifteenth becoming harder and harder to bear, until the emotional explosion on the anniversary. When the day arrives it’s almost a relief because the anticipation is gone. (I say almost because the arrival of that day is also a stark reminder of what I lost four and a half years ago and it still hurts like hell.)

This year, the buildup was an undercurrent, pushed aside as instead I watched and talked about and wondered and worried about this virus that was sweeping the world and had hit the shores of the US and yes, there were cases in my area and people were dying and it felt a little like the apocalypse for a while there. Actually, it felt a lot like the apocalypse.

And then the anniversary was here and my focus shifted for a moment, and all of that was so trivial because it hadn’t impacted my family directly by that point, so all I could think about on that day was my son and the fact that he was no longer with us and never would be again.

And then the sun set and the day was over and the pandemic moved to the forefront again.

A month or so later, it occurred to me that my little nuclear family of three was doing all right. We weren’t fighting, we were laughing; my daughter was getting her schoolwork done without issue, my husband and I still had our jobs. Tragically, we lost a friend to the virus, but so far our parents were fine.

I was shocked, to be honest, because change, especially unexpected, life-altering change, is not something I normally handle well. I generally need time to process things, to adjust, to work out in my head how I am going to handle whatever this new thing is.

We didn’t get that with this pandemic, obviously, and yet, I was managing just fine.

And I realized it was because of my son’s death. We’d already been down this road. We’d already gone through this pattern of living, where you are traveling quite cheerfully down the road of life and then without warning, there’s a cliff, and you can either fall over or take a sharp turn and try out the new landscape, which, as similar as it is, is so very different from your previous life that you don’t even recognize it. But the thing is, you figure it out, and eventually, you find your bearings, and as hard as it is to believe, you get comfortable, and that new path becomes your path.

Fast forward through summer to the beginning of the school year, which is typically one of my triggers. And again, the pandemic superseded my grief. I spent so much time wondering how it was going to work this year, wondering if the kids would wear their masks to keep their risk low (they are), being nervous because even with all the safety precautions there is still risk, that I drove away from school on the first day and didn’t shed a tear, my chest didn’t tighten, I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to swing by my son’s grave.

Here we are, one week later, and I’m fine. I’m sure it will be rocky, as this should have been his senior year, but you know what? Yes, it will suck as it’s happening, yes it will suck forever more because he’s not here and he never will be again, but we’ll get through it. We’ll ride the waves and we’ll come out on the other side and we’ll continue down this new path in our lives.

Stylish, trendy masks included.

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