Mourning in Times Such as These

Today I am grieving. Grieving over 70,000 lives lost in my country from one virus in just a couple of months. Grieving yet another black man murdered months ago while his white killers still walk free. Grieving the defensive excuses so many people (mostly Christians) I know are making in order to not have to truly mourn these losses. 

Yet, while I grieve, I still sit at my computer updating the school website for the teachers. I wait for phone calls from our textbook reps to get quotes for next school year. I research free ebooks and read alouds and virtual field trips for my students. I increase the tip on my instacart order to make up for the income loss due to items not being in stock. I pet my dog, who comes to visit me in my “home office” for a quick snuggle. I text my global prayer group about books I’ll be dropping off for their kids. I drink my morning coffee, and turn on the fan as the day begins to heat up. 

And yet, I mourn. Or at least, I try to. 

In the middle of an email about school accounts, logins, and passwords I feel like bursting into tears. It passes quickly, and I move on with my tasks for the morning. Lately, my days feel like this – a slightly jumbled mix of emotions as I try to balance living life day to day in faith and hope (one of the most difficult things for cynical me – hope), while experiencing grief for these deep losses we are facing globally and locally. 

I have friends that can’t even try to balance this. And I get it. Friends who are so focused on the pragmatic side of life that they just can’t give in to any emotion right now. The economy, kids at home 24/7, working from home, getting groceries – this is what they can focus on. And, often, only this. 

Then I have friends who are paralyzed in their grief and mourning, lamenting and gasping for breath at the mere thought of the immense loss surrounding us. They become unable to deal with the practical side of day to day life.

But most of us are somewhere in between, just trying to figure out how to survive this time without becoming callous or overwhelmed. It’s a tricky balance, and I don’t think I know anyone who has gotten it just right. Most of us lean one direction or the other, becoming either too cold or too emotional, prioritizing either the compassion or the practicalities. 

I challenge each of us to continue to seek ways to be both practical and survive, yet compassionately mourn. If you lean toward just getting on with life, and accepting all of this death and injustice as “normal,” “inevitable,” “necessary,” or “not that bad,” I challenge you to learn to lament. My dear friend, an incredible woman who lives with chronic illness, has a blog called The Curse and the Blessings which can walk you through lamenting via the Psalms. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has been recording a series of Songs of Comfort as the pandemic rages, that can help you process your emotions. Spend time in prayer, asking God to help us “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) during this season of loss for so many.

For those of us who lean more toward the emotional side of things, and are struggling to get through the day to day tasks of life, I encourage setting aside time to pray for God to help comfort you, but in a way that makes you capable of reaching out and comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Don’t let this overwhelm you, keeping you in your head. Set some practical steps, like limiting your time on social media and the news. Make a To-Do List that has one achievable goal for each day that week. Bathe your days in gratitude for every little gift from God, from spring flowers outside (even if you’re allergic to them) to a bed in which to rest.

I’m trying to take one or two small steps each day to help me continue to live life and be useful where God has given me tasks to do, but also hold a compassionate heart for those who are hurting right now, including myself. 

If you have anything that is helping you lament, or helping you continue living daily life, please share with the group. We can all use the encouragement and support!

My Brain Won’t Work. I Blame You, Rona!

Each day, I sit down at my desk in my home office (guest room) for a couple hours of online tech support for the teachers as they deal with Home Learning. This new opportunity to get ½ my hours back after 5 weeks without work was a godsend, the gift of administrators who have been doing everything in their power to help me keep some kind of income since campus closed due to the pandemic. Other than this, I have time. “Free” time (without the freedom). Yet, I haven’t written a single blog post, poem, story, or journal entry. My brain exists in some kind of existential fog, incapable of expressing itself in more than the odd Facebook rant, and even those haven’t gone far, mostly deleted before publishing.

 

Yet, I don’t have kids to balance the huge load of online learning with general parenting. I don’t have a husband who needs to use my space, or laptop, or spend time with. I’m not working all that much, and rarely leave the house, so I have way more time to write than ever before. No outside distractions. No excuses. Except maybe that is my excuse?

 

Being a semi-unemployed, mostly-quarantined, insomniac, singleton in the time of a global pandemic leaves the brain way too much time and space. Thank God for my mum, because if I lived alone, it would be even worse. 

 

This mental fog in which I dwell hits whenever I try to focus on something that requires deeper thought. I can get through work pretty well because it’s mostly looking for content, uploading stuff to a Google site, or emailing parents and teachers back about the reading program. Nothing requires truly deep thought. I can watch TV, but only lighter programs or shows I’ve seen before. I can read, but again, only lighter fare or rereads. I couldn’t even finish a puzzle.

 

Even now, my head is fuzzy and my eyes are having trouble focusing. Creating each sentence is like digging through mud. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education helped me feel more sane about my mental deficiencies. “We can’t read. We can’t think. We’re having difficulty communicating. It’s all the profound effects of stress” The Harvard Business Review published an article explaining how what we are experiencing with our emotions and thoughts during this exceptional time is grief, actually several types of grief at once. 

 

This makes sense to me, as I can remember my brain reacting in a similarly floaty way as my dad was dying, and when my sister was having some health problems when she was pregnant, and when I’ve been in a couple different periods of deep depression. 

 

The thing is, I wasn’t expecting my brain to do this now. The day after my campus closed due to a stay-at-home mandate, I made a list. I was going to be Productive! I was going to be Creative and Efficient and get So Much Done. I would come out of this season more awesome than ever. Possibly with a book deal, a more toned body, the thanks of friends whose lives I had made better, a thoroughly KonMari-ed room, a signature cocktail, new life skills, the cure for insomnia, and a redone blog without that darn error code at the top that I just can’t get rid of.

Instead, I’m definitely on track to gain the Covid 15 as my mum has taken up baking again. I’ve had sinus infections and allergies, so have spent a good amount of time in bed, though my sleep is worse than ever (and that’s pretty darn bad, considering my lifelong insomnia issues). My closets and drawers are as messy as ever. I haven’t Facetimed my besties since the first week of this. I managed to get the ingredients for Moscow Mules in one of our Instacart orders, but other than that have been quite happy with just two fingers of scotch, neat. And I haven’t written a word before this rambling thing. I am the poster girl for Quarantine Brain, except instead of a Fight or Flight instinct, I Freeze.

 

I’ve got friends who have been using this time well. Reading Good Books. Writing. Drawing. Painting. Cleaning. Baking. Adopting pets. Raising kids. Learning new skills. And I’m just here, proud of myself for putting on non-pajama shorts today (at noon, after I finished working online). Ah well, to each her own.

 

The one thing holding me together is the same reminder I’ve needed my whole life, the reminder than God loves me. I can rest in that knowledge. He doesn’t love me because I have reached a certain level of productivity, in fact, there is nothing I can do to make him love me any more than he already does, because his love is already complete. Even when these blurry eyes of mine are having trouble focusing on anything, even Him, God is still there loving me.

 

How are you holding up during this time? Comment here, or on my social media, or DM me to chat more about it. 

 

It’s Valentine’s Day. I’m Single. Now What?

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I know a lot of singles have a rough time today. I’m here for you. But let’s be honest, we can have tough times on average, nothing days, so it’s not that unusual. Oddly, Valentine’s Day has never been a trigger for me. Perhaps it’s my realistic (some call it cynical) nature that doesn’t think it’s that great for most couples either, or the fact that I love decorating for holidays, or the relief I feel in having absolutely no pressure to make someone else’s V-Day super special. Maybe it’s the fact that, other than one awkward day in junior high, I have always been single on Valentine’s Day, so I’m pretty used to it. I also got See’s Candies from my mum, flowers from a friend, and adorable little cardboard valentines from some students, so there’s that. 

I happen to have today off because of a 4 day President’s Day weekend, so I find myself with much more time to fill than usual on Valentine’s Day. So for my friends out there who are feeling a little more alone than usual, here’s how I’m dealing with it:

Step 1: Get some exercise. Shocking, I know, for a couch potato like me to suggest this, but it’s how I started my day. My exercise consisted of my last physical therapy session for my crappy back which was pretty much lots and lots of stretching. Lots. And lots. Of stretching. Anyway, instead of sleeping in and starting off slow like my insomniac body loves, it was a mood lifter to start with movement.

Step 2: Eat yummy food. On my way home from PT, I drove through the local Tom’s and treated myself to one of the yummiest breakfast burritos around. Tonight, mum and I will be grabbing our favorite kebab plates for take out, and I will finish off the bottle of wine I opened a couple nights ago, because I’m classy like that. And yes, there will be chocolate.

Step 3: Rest. I brought that burrito home and ate it on the couch while watching the cheer-leading thing on Netflix. This helped me rest and recover from PT before moving on to some chores, while reminding me how insane I think people that do athletics at that level are. So it was a win-win.

Step 4: Help someone else. After the burrito brunch, I did some house cleaning for my mum because she’s nicer than I am and is having lots of (mostly older, widowed, or divorced) people over tomorrow for a post-Valentine’s Day lunch. The windows haven’t looked this good in a long while. (Except for the ones that seem to be dirty between the double panes and impossible to reach? Those are beyond my skill level.)

Step 5: Do something creative. I have a short story deadline tomorrow for a project with which I’ve been helping, so I got that done today and sent off to the editor. Something about gospel care, suffering, and lament. After a couple months off from writing (sorry!) it was nice to get back to it.

Step 6: Spend some time with God. The story I was working on required some biblical research and prayer, so I was able to spend some time talking with God and reading his word. I was also able to spend a lot of the window washing time in prayer for my friends and family because my wireless speaker stopped working so I couldn’t listen to podcasts, so that worked out well.

Step 7: Avoid the interwebs. For some, it might be best to stay off social media so you don’t have to witness every couple on the planet shove their adorableness in your face via three different types of media. For others, like me, you might just need a break from the insanity that is Donald Trump and his ilk.

Step 8: If possible, spend at least some time with another person. I know this isn’t always possible. I lived alone for many years, so I get it. But if you can, spend at least some of this weekend around other people. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my mum tonight and watching “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” together. If you are alone and can’t find someone to hang out with, feel free to send me a note here and we’ll hang out in spirit.

Step 9: Hug a good doggo. Again, if you can. You might need to borrow a friend or neighbor’s pet for this. Or, if you’re not allergic like I sadly am, find an obliging kitty. Anyway, I’m getting lots of oxytocin hits by snuggling my old little puppy. He’s a gift.

Step 10: Don’t take it all so seriously. This goes for singles and couples alike. It’s just another day. And yes, it’s cool to have a day to express love for the people in our lives, but it’s not the only day we can do that so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t take all the happy couple photos too seriously either, it’s just one nice moment amongst the very hard work it takes every one of those people to make their relationships work. Props to them. Be silly. Wear pink or don’t. I currently have on a black t-shirt stating boldly “Books Not Bullets: march for our lives av”. (That made for a could-have-been awkward moment in PT this morning when the Air Force veteran was on the table next to mine. But we’re good. I thanked him for his service, he cracked some jokes about the stretches, and we were best buds by the time I had to go away to the leg press.) I do have hedgehogs with hearts socks on.

Step 11: Tell people you love them. But not just today. Tell them all the time. Tell your family and your friends. Tell God. Tell your pets. Tell anyone you love that you love them. Let them know. 

How do you get through Valentine’s Day (or any other time where singleness is a bit more obvious than others)? What are your plans? Oh, and dear readers, I love you.

A Sudden Ambush of Grief

On my way to work this morning, I drove past the long-defunct Hometown Buffet. It closed down ages ago, but this time it was in the midst of being gutted. Walls were smashed by large machinery, insides exposed in the process of being laid to ruin. I’m sure the no-longer-with-us Toys “R” Us next to it will be next.

Glancing out my window and seeing the red and green sign still hanging on, declaring “Hometown Buffet” over wreckage hit me out of nowhere. I went from benign coffee drinking and podcast listening to brushing tears out of my eyes. My heart did that little skip, that almost-hurt. It came as a surprise.

In that second, memories of my long deceased grandpa flooded in. Birthdays and Father’s Days spent heaping plates full of meatloaf and limp salad, looking forward to soft serve ice cream with sprinkles on top were brought to mind. Thoughts came of joking with my brother and sister about how only old people ate here, about how mediocre the food was, about the birthday song played over speakers.

And my grandfather? Man, he loved that place. A typical WWII Veteran of “The Greatest Generation,” he desired the most food for the money. Even though he didn’t actually eat much, and barely ate meat after a stint working in an abattoir in his younger days. But as one who lived through the Great Depression, he couldn’t bare to see food go to waste – thus his love of a buffet.

My grandpa (my mom’s dad) was my last living grandparent, and the one to whom I was closest. He told me I was like him, that I had inherited his wanderlust which led him to enlist in the Navy, then to move around Southern California from place to place in his RV when my mom was a little girl until retirement.

He passed away about one year after my dad. That was a tough year as he was in heart failure for much of it and couldn’t get around much. He fell a lot. We sold our old house and bought a new one, moving him in with us (mom and I, and Josh on the couch during summer break from university). Lavender got married to one of my best friends and grandpa got to be there. Greg had my first nephew, Graden, a gift from God, my father’s first grandson he never got to meet. And grandpa died.

All of these memories flood back just from one building in the midst of being gutted. Grief is a funny thing. 16 years later, and it can still ambush me. But I don’t mind, not really, because these memories make me smile through the tears. I’m reminded of my grandpa’s deep and eternal love for me and all his grand-kids. Grief has somehow softly transformed over the years, and by the grace of God, into an old friend who comes to visit, bringing all the memories with them, but not staying for long.

To my friends experiencing grief that is much more fresh and raw, know that God is with you in it. Our God is a God who can lift up the downcast, he is the God of steadfast love (Psalm 42). Hope in him, and know that someday the ambushes of grief will be softer, bringing joy instead of pain.

The Transient Existence of the American Single

A childhood friend is staying with us for a few days. Like me, she is a single woman starting out her 40’s. One of our frequent conversations starts with “where will you go next?” And while this conversation isn’t limited to singles, it is one I have much more frequently with unmarried friends than married. It’s one I’ve had with myself at many different times in my life. 

The single life can have less permanence than the married one, and this is a cause of stress and anxiety for many of us. It’s also a cause of adventure and excitement, so it’s not all bad. But at certain points, the thought of “where will I go next” is exhausting and scary.

Part of this is financial – single people often can’t afford to buy a house/condo/apartment on their one income, so we are, for the most part, renters. Again, not all singles – I have single friends who are homeowners – but most aren’t. And, for most of us, renting can be too expensive for one income so we can’t even rent a place on our own – we must find one or more flatmates or roommates to share the costs. As roommates move, get married, or find other situations, we constantly have to find new ones. This, again, is exhausting and scary. 

We move back home with parents for seasons of our lives, we switch jobs to go where God leads us, but most of all we switch apartments as landlords raise rent, property values go up due to gentrification and we’re priced out, health concerns arise and we need to move, we find a better place than the last, or our roommate moves on so we must as well. 

Yes, married couples move too due to job transfers, family commitments, raised rents, and other things. But the married couple can work through those decisions together, and other than military placements or other careers where they might be separated for a time, they get to move together. That panic of “who can I rely on?” or “how do I find someone to live with yet again?” isn’t there. The frantic calling around of everyone you know, emailing local churches, looking on online forums, and praying you don’t end up with a psycho seems to be limited to us singles. 

It’s interesting because even those singles who are financially stable enough to get a place on their own may find themselves judged for living alone. We can then be seen as selfish for not having roommates, or antisocial. The cliche of the Crazy Cat Lady comes to mind. Friends who decide to buy a place together and commit to living a single life as flatmates can be judged as codependent, suspected to be in a homosexual relationship, or just seen as weird. 

Those of us who move back home to be part of a family are also judged harshly. We’re viewed as unable to be independent, taking advantage of our parents, immature, and, yet again, weird. Jokes about unmarried men living in their mom’s basements and old maids never leaving their parents’ house abound. There must be something wrong with us. Our parents are to be pitied. 

But we’re just like everyone else, trying to figure out where we fit, trying to find community and family, trying to feel at home. So the next time your single friend asks to stay for a week or two as they figure things out, do what you can to help them feel loved and at home. Do what you can to help them figure out where God would have them go next. Do what you can to help them make those scary decisions. Do what you can to help them feel less alone. Give them a home away from home.