For many of us, 2020 has been a year of unfathomable loss. Whether we felt like we were losing our mind due to the maelstrom of media covering an array of devastating news, or we experienced the loss of a friend or loved one, or even just processing the lost right to be out in public during the quarantine, this year is guilty of larceny.
From a personal standpoint, since March, I have been equal parts ashamed and proud of my own response to the current world I live in because I seem to oscillate between losing my shiitake and then getting my shiitake straight. In September, I finally committed to 10 minutes of meditation a day. And despite bad characters that have tried to thwart me like lack of time and poor motivation, I have been consistent. As a result, the mood fluctuations have become less extreme.
This is a win.
But the passing of people and pets this year has been a terrible loss. As far as my friends who died this year, none were due to COVID and all were unexpected. Flukey even. For example, one was a friend who 45 minutes prior to his death visited his cardiologist and was given a clean bill of health. Then, while making his lunch, my friend suffered a massive heart attack and died instantly. As far as pets who died this year, we lost three family pets — one of which was a freak accident in which the animal accidentally broke his neck.
I tell you this not to be macabre. I tell you this because it says so much about 2020.
In this piece, I hope to honor the losses—both mine and yours—by finding some peace. Please know, I became a writer with the intention of making a positive difference in people’s lives. I am, in no way, trying to minimize anyone’s loss. Instead, I am striving to put my arms around a difficult concept like loss, as well as around you, dear Reader.
Everything in this world is made up of atoms. Everything.
Atoms are comprised of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Although electrons move around the nucleus in what looks like a cloud formation, there is a degree of order to their movement.
If you think of the nucleus like a planet, the electrons are its many moons. In atoms, these “moons” orbit around the planet at different distances, and only so many moons can fit on any orbit at a single time. The number of electrons on a given orbit path stays the same across atoms, but the number of orbit rings increases or decreases depending on how many electrons the atom needs to balance the charge.
Balance. We all are in search of balance, as well as meaning in our lives. We, as humans, intrinsically want to know why things happen, or more specifically, why things happen to us.
When we lose someone, such as a loved one, or something, such as a pet, the “Why me” is nebulous. Much like the cloud formation around an atom, this highly charged question circulates around our nuclear self in a seemingly chaotic and random pattern.
But it is intentional. Everything has a purpose. Everything.
And, if we look closely, our memories comprise the cloud formation. They are our electrons. They are vibrant vignettes of those times, places and people that are no longer with us, and, when we remember, we attract these electrons into our orbital path and our charge is stabilized.
Stability. It is a frictionless state of being. When we are stable, we can be, just be, with ourselves. No judgement. No expectations. No “if only I had [fill in the blank]” regrets.
It is also in this state that we can grieve, a necessary process that is part of death. Researching for an article I wrote over a year ago about people who had lost their spouses, I interviewed licensed professional counselor, Rosemary Clark of Whole Health—“a unique, wellness-focused counseling practice that empowers you to realize your full potential.” Clark does not necessarily agree with the five stages of grief—denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Instead she said, “Most of us get grief is intense, but no one gets how hard it is until it happens to them. I am not going to say there are five distinct stages, but I will say there are five strategies/commonalities that we face and could help facilitate the process of mourning.”
Clark’s 5 Strategies/Commonalities:
- Honor that it is hard. Grief is an expression of love without that person being present and it does not follow a prescribed treatment plan. There is no answer that is sufficient. Make the unbearable bearable and define your new normal.
- Learn to be in a complicated place. Say to yourself, “I’m OK but not OK.”
- Honor the life. Call he/she by his/her name. We do not need to forget or move on. We need to integrate.
- Accept there will be good days and bad days. You might not necessarily like it and you are not required to like it.
- Practice self-care and find other people who are kind to the subject such as a therapist, support group, and or supportive friends and family members.
Personally, grieving for me feels like taking off a wetsuit with a stubborn zipper that is drenched and too tight, especially at the ankles and wrists. The more I try to remove it, the more it seems to adhere to me like an unwanted second skin.
When I asked my mother (who, too, has lost several close friends and a much adored dog in 2020) how she feels when she is experiencing grief she said, “I feel like a peeled grape. Fleshy and exposed.”
I then asked other people, “How do you feel when you are experiencing grief?” Their responses included:
“I do not feel anything. At least, I don’t want to.”
“I feel like I am going to see her tomorrow, but then I remember I’m not and I have to take a deep breath.”
“I tell myself that he is in a better place.”
“I remind myself that part of living is dying. We all have something in common. We all are going to die.”
“I am vacant, or maybe vacuumed. Like everything has been sucked out of me.”
I hear these words and think about my electrons. Those charged particles orbiting about me. When I look closely, I see Dorsey Smith with her perfectly styled hair and makeup, equipped with a glass of white wine and her southern accent and isms. I see Jane Furtado, with her side smile, always poised with her wit and ready to deliver a one-liner that would make me wish I was witty, too. I see Anne Crigler, no frills but still polished, shaking her head and laughing silently because, as her daughter’s roommate, she had to like me despite my crudeness and lack of polish. I see Randy Light, dapper and dressed in khaki pants and a pressed button-down shirt, his bushy eyebrows framing his kind eyes. I see Mr. Ed, our rescue cat who came with the comical name, laying in my lap and purring so loudly we had to turn up the volume on our television. I see Wilkins, our pet squirrel, drinking formula out of his kitten bottle. I see Ally, my mother’s dog, walking in my mother’s garden as my mother explains different varietals to me.
I see them all. As well as others. And I welcome them into my varying orbits. Because everything in this world, as we know it, is made of those we have loved, currently love and will love.