Though I’d known for a couple of weeks already, the public announcement from my dearest friend that her cancer was no longer treatable stopped all my plans on New Years Eve 7 months ago. My phone was blowing up with messages from well-meaning friends who had received the news and in each conversation, it felt like I had to process the reality of losing her over and over again. I canceled my plans that night and fell asleep hours before the ball dropped. I had nothing to celebrate about 2020.
I still really don’t.
Though my dad went into the hospital at the beginning of December, he didn’t come home until January 29th. So many things happened in those 2 months that I couldn’t even put into words but for the most part, my days were spent driving to Christ Hospital, watching him suffer in pain, trying to sneak out while he was asleep because he didn’t want to be alone, driving home, laying in bed trying to sleep only to have a panic attack, medicating to finally fall asleep, and waking up the next day to do it again.
There were, of course, victories and relief. The day of his LVAD surgery was so difficult. His doctors came out after an 8 hour surgery to say he did great and we could see him soon. An hour or so later, one came out and said that they needed to take him back in and if we wanted to see him before that, we had to go back now. The next 4 hours were a blur. Blood clots were squeezing his heart after surgery. But they saved him once again. I drove home in a light snow and tried to sleep again.
The day after his surgery was the day Nancy told the world about her prognosis. The end of 2019 didn’t give my grief space to breathe. 2020 surely hasn’t either.
I woke up on March 5th to a message on the group text chain named “best frannnns” in my phone. I replied and jumped in the shower. Within minutes, one of them was calling. I ignored it. I could hear it ringing outside of my shower curtain again. It was another one of them this time and I didn’t know what was wrong – just that something was.
Our best friend lost her brother. Heart attack. 37 years old. I had to call the only one left on the group text that hadn’t answered her phone yet. Later in the morning, I had to tell my sister, who’d been friends with him for decades. Both conversations are etched into my brain for good now – their instant grief was palpable through the phone.
I was the only one of the 4 of us that could get away immediately. I drove to the hospital, not sure where to go or who I’d find. But I found her. And one by one throughout the day, the others came as well. We ended that evening together at a round table in a hospital cafeteria and I think that image will stay with me forever as well. The grief was thick in the air.
Coronavirus hit and shut down my industry. I couldn’t sleep from anxiety over my clients having to postpone their weddings. Each time one of them reached out, my heart broke for them to the point of grief. I can admit – I have not found a way to be a healthy empath. I was/am consumed with anxiety for them. And I was/am consumed with anxiety for myself. I couldn’t work, couldn’t make money. Belle + Oak is still shutdown. I’ve only shot one wedding since March. For weeks and weeks, I sat in this house alone. Even now, no one’s been inside my home (except for a dogsitter when I wasn’t here) in 6 months.
I was isolated and terrified and depressed. And Nancy was slowing down. Coronavirus took away being able to be with her in the weeks before she died. I finally got to see her through her window and then later that week, I got to stand in her yard with others friends and sing happy birthday to her from far away. She was beaming.
I had told a few of our friends that I was worried about finding out about her death online. I don’t know why this was a specific fear but it was. It legitimately haunted my dreams.
I missed a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize while out on a walk with Karibou. Ignoring the voicemail they left, I sat down on my couch, opened Facebook, and let out a wail that felt like it was coming from the deepest part of my body.
On April 27th, she died. I read about it online.
I sat on the edge of my bed, clutching my stomach as I sobbed, and I remember feeling very, very aware of my loneliness in that moment. Forced to stay at home, I hadn’t been touched by another human being in 7 weeks at that point. And anyone would tell you – I’m not a hugger. But that night, all I wanted was for someone – anyone – to wrap their arms around me. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more alone.
Things started to open back up in May. A lot of people started working again and there seemed to be a small sense of normalcy return. I saw a few friends finally. I was still not working myself, still worried about business and my dad, but I sorta felt good. Finally.
And then my Mamaw contracted Covid-19. For months, she’d been kept away in her nursing home room from not only outside visitors but from my Papaw, just a floor away. Their separation was heartbreaking. But it was to keep them safe so it was worth it.
But she got the virus anyway. And she died from the virus on May 30th. Alone.
And 43 days later, my Papaw died of a broken heart.
At his funeral this past Saturday, I think we were grieving them both. Really, I think I was grieving all 4 of them: Danny and Nancy – who didn’t have funerals, and my Mamaw – who didn’t have the funeral she deserved. Papaw was wholly deserving of the grief in our hearts – he was so special to all of us but the tears flowing from the first two rows of the church were from a family of hearts broken by all that has been taken from us.
It’s ugly and it’s heavy and I don’t know where to put it.
The first step is talking about it – or writing about it, in my case. Being honest about what hurts is crucial – and it’s been more than these major losses. I’ve been betrayed in the last 7 months. I’ve lost a relationship that meant the world to me in the last 7 months. I don’t even take Tylenol and I’ve had to medicate every night to sleep for the last 7 months. The person I trusted the most in the world didn’t say a word to me after either of my grandparents died. I’ve had to rework my budget a million times in the last 7 months, watching my savings account dwindle. I gained weight. My hair started falling out. I get online every day and see people call the virus that killed my grandmother a hoax or people lament others ‘living in fear’ when we actually just care about other people and I want to scream at them that some of us lost something we can never get back.
I have been a walking shell of a human being for 7 months. Loss after loss after loss after loss. A whole lot of uncertainty. And a whole lot of loneliness.
C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed that he wondered why no one ever told him that grief felt so much like fear.
“I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” C.S. Lewis
Now: please know that I know it is not unique to me that this year has been defined largely by grief.
It pains me to even make that disclaimer but with social media comments on a post about the death of my grandparents like, “I never even knew mine – you were so blessed.”, it feels like we are constantly having to apologize for our emotions to people who might have had it ‘worse’.
(The grief olympics are weird. And very real.)
So what was the point of this? It wasn’t to make you feel bad for me. Writing about my grief is a healing process for me. I hate being misunderstood and I think talking about what’s happening in your life allows people to understand where you’re at, perhaps understand your behavior, understand why you’ve changed.
And I have changed. I am not the same person I was 7 months ago. Grief has changed me. I have to be willing to admit that. This isn’t a story of victory over it either – I’m in the thick of it. This is just my first step of healing. This is me being honest about my brokenness.
I know there are more steps to take to heal. And I’m willing to take them all.
And for Nancy.
For my sweet Mamaw & Papaw.
And for myself.
I will take every step of healing from the grief that has plagued 2020.
And no matter the source of yours, if you share in this year of grief –
I am praying you will too.