We are grieving, and it's okay.

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

This morning I witnessed my 19 month old son coughing into his elbow. Normally, I would delight that he somehow picked up this hygienic habit, and secretly praise his daycare provider. During this sensitive time, I held my breath and prayed that he didn’t cough again. He didn’t - the first was from some leftover granola bar in his throat. We moved on with the day.

It is remarkable how such a small moment - a toddler coughing - now carries an enormous emotional weight. When he didn’t cough again, I felt relief flooding my body. Not my baby, not right now.

Yesterday, after a strange week, and a full day of trying to mimic school at home, my four year old told me that her body was full of anger. So we did deep, screaming breaths. Try it - (or if people in your home are sleeping, try it with a screaming whisper - it sounds a bit like the ocean) - Take a deep breath in, and then just scream to let it out. At first she found it odd, and a little scary - sort of when like grownups cry - but then, it helped her release the tension and frustration that was welling up in her little body.

The world is changing before our eyes. Whether we have “leaned in” to it or not, whether we choose to believe it or not, the lives that we had been living mere days or weeks ago, no longer exist. Our routines, work and school lives, social and religious activities have all been shut down. Our birthday parties cancelled, Bar Mitzvahs postponed, and what was once an open, global, democratic society - suddenly feels plunged into the depths of history. Even those of us that still have to physically go to work - I’m looking at you NYC public school teachers - question the sanity, safety, and morality of it each and every day. Popping out to the store for some toilet paper, or even late night ice cream, isn’t so simple anymore.

We want to be here for each other, but for our safety, we are told that we can’t. We can’t touch, we can’t hug, we can’t be a shoulder to cry on.

And we don’t know when it will end.

We are facing an invisible invader to our daily lives - a life-less, emotionless, goal-less being that just does what it is programmed to do - hop from one host to another, replicating. It is invisible, highly contagious, and it doesn’t care who you are, where you’re from, what your origin is, or what gender pronoun you go by. It just is - and we are reeling from it.

It really doesn’t care about the race you’ve been training for, the concert you’ve been looking forward to, the trip you were going to take to clear your head, or the fact that you were about to get married.

What it does, however, is pose a real danger to older adults, those with underlying conditions, or weakened immune systems. I have heard people say, still, “well that’s not me” or “at least it doesn’t affect kids” - tell that to otherwise healthy people who have been hospitalized, or the seven year old with a high fever and difficulty breathing. Or the thousands, upon thousands of people around the world facing quarantine, social isolation, and all of us - who are afraid, and all of us - who are grieving.

All we know for sure is that something is happening - something big, amorphous, invisible, and unknown - and it is changing the way we all live, work, learn, care for each other, and tend to our communities. Whatsapp and Facebook groups are the new community gatherings. Selfless volunteers are the only way that the quarantined, the elderly, and the food insecure are getting what is necessary to survive. Parents are now facing the daunting task of teaching their kids at home - while also working, keeping calm, and mitigating every single moment of the day, night, and what seems like beyond.

Whether we like it or not, we are grieving - on a global scale. We are mourning the loss of our routines, our social gatherings, our communities, even our interactions with that coworker we secretly can’t stand, or that student who gets under our skin. We miss seeing people on the street, greeting them effusively.We miss the crowded subways, and movie theaters, and looking forward to things.

We miss taking “me-time’ and using self-care as a sage piece of advice for someone feeling anxious.We are all feeling anxious - across borders, identities, and ages. We feel weird posting light-hearted things on social media. We feel guilty if we aren’t quarantined and can go outside. We feel angry at our governments, our mayors, our supervisors for making decisions that we don’t agree with. We feel sad that our children will have this time ingrained in their memories. We feel afraid - will we get it? Will someone we know get it? Will someone die? We are afraid of the answers to questions we don’t want to ask.

We are experiencing death. We are experiencing the death of what was once “normal” - just as when a loved one dies - suddenly what was there, isn’t.

And it’s okay for us to be sad about it. It’s okay for us to feel frustrated and yell at the rain. It is okay for us to feel lonely and check Facebook constantly. It is okay to feel like we are the only ones who could possibly be failing at parenting our own kids. It’s okay, because we are grieving.

When we grieve, our hearts become heavy, and that heaviness makes it hard for us to breathe. It sends uncomfortable tingles down our arms, and into our stomachs. We want to curl inward, to retreat, to give up. Grief is hard because it is a cluster of emotions smacking us in the body and brain at the same time. Grief is sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness, despair. Grieving, is what we are doing now - and we struggle with it.

It is okay for all of us to struggle during this time. We all are. What is not okay, however, is to give up on ourselves. It is not okay to give up on our lives, our children, our futures.

Take a deep breath, and see that fresh oxygen spreading as light throughout your body. When you breathe out, let it take away some of that heaviness that sits around your heart. Wherever you are right now, let yourself be. Let yourself breathe.

In this time, where distance is not only a given, but a requirement, we owe it to ourselves- and everyone we love, to practice healthy release and expression of our emotions. There is no shame in tears - yours or your children’s. There is no shame in tantrums, kicking the floor, and screaming - as long as it isn’t at someone. There is no shame in needing space - even if that mean s locking yourself into your apartment’s only bathroom for a few minutes, and letting the kid - or the spouse - find their own snack.

When we are mourning the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job, a potential opportunity - we are told to give ourselves time. To take space from what was and figure out what we want the new “is” to be. Well, what if what we are mourning is the fact that we now have so much time filled with unknowns, and way too much distance from the people and things that matter to us?

It’s the same. We still need to take those deep breaths, let those emotions move through our bodies, and cut ourselves some slack. A lot of effing slack. If we are able to see that we are grieving, then maybe - just maybe - we can allow ourselves to feel each emotion. To be sad, angry, lonely, wistful.

When we take a deep breath (yes, do it again) - we can start to identify the feelings that are crowding our hearts, choking our throats, and clouding our judgements. Each feeling we acknowledge, and each emotion that can move through our body and out with an exhale - is another milligram of lightness we can feel. It is another inch of space in our body for healing.

We are all daydreaming about January - which we thought was the longest month ever. We are all reminiscing about that time our kids were allowed outside. We are all remembering that just mere weeks ago, we complained about things that now seem insignificant.

We are feeling a lot of feelings at once. So are our kids. So are our parents. So are our friends.

So are we all.

We are grieving, and it's okay.

But we can’t give up.

We need to feel, we need to breathe, and we need to continue to do what humans do best - care, love, and eventually - heal.


Yali Szulanski

March 14, 2020

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