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2020: A season of loss

It truly is a season of loss. Loss of our freedom and casualness to just come and go as we please. It’s a loss of seeing people we love and groups of people we’re used to meeting with. It’s certainly a loss of seeing our families who may live far away, our grandchildren and others who we love.

A loss of normal schooling and social groups for the children! A loss of travel, of making any plans. A loss of trust, in that things will work out. Loss of expectations, because everything changes daily. A loss of order, there seems only to be chaos. And for sure, a huge loss of life itself.

The pandemic has taken its toll in so many areas of our lives. Yet, I feel so privileged here in this fairly safe town (as long as I don’t go downtown). I think of so many who are worse off, and am grateful that at least I have some semblance of fulfillment in my usual days. But then I get into the feelings of loss and grief, and then even anger in that someone’s not in charge and preventing me from seeing my family. The emotions are all over the place, as I’m sure they are for most of us if we really look at them.

Loss is something we deal with from the time we are born. We lose the comfort of the womb, and from then on there’s a string of losses, including our mother, our family of origin, our youth, the safety of someone else caring for us, our independence when creating a family and on and on, until finally our bodies lose their strength and resiliency. Everything is impermanent.

I have tried to look at these COVID-19 losses and resulting grief with Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ five stages, but I’m not sure all of them apply here. Denial at not believing the virus could be so tragic at first; anger and blame at the powers that be; bargaining by wearing the masks and taking precautions, thinking that would solve things; depression at realizing all the losses I’ve felt; acceptance and moving on with our lives, not so much! It feels more like we’re stuck.

There’s more of a powerlessness, a despair with all these changes in our lives. Is our currently limited life trapping us in fear, or can these limits become strengths to step beyond this isolation? I do know people who are reaching out, making masks, putting together school supply boxes for kids, Zooming and creating study sessions with their grandchildren.

Ram Dass said loss and grief are part of elder wisdom. They humble and deepen our hearts, connect us to other grief in the world and open us to compassion. We may have to slowly work through them though. Staying present with grief, feeling its sorrow and being tender and patient with ourselves is one way. I try to remember these are only thoughts, they are not me.

But we must also reassure ourselves, and others, too. We can make it through these terrible times. We are tough! We have seen loss before. We are doing what we can to come out the other side because we love this life and all it gives us.

We don’t want to close off our hearts or shrink into “safe” zones (other than physically safe COVID-free zones), that leave us feeling half alive. Perhaps depression is a prerequisite to finding something else – a reorientation, a deepening of our souls.

We have lived a long time. These years have brought many fruitful experiences and rich gifts. I’m trying to take this time and make it into one of these ... somehow.

As Roshi Joan Halifax said: “Grief teaches us tenderness and patience with ourselves, and reminds us lovingly not to hold on too tightly. Impermanence is inescapable, we learn; no one and nothing escapes her touch.”

Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life and written the book “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.