We’ve all intersected with grief this year, whether it’s been due to the collective loss of lives, of people we know closely, people we’ve admired from afar, or friends and relatives of people we know. We’ve grieved our daily routines, our many impromptu adventures and meetings, or just the space to do everything or nothing. We’ve grieved the lack of compassion we’ve seen, the fear and hate that has been fomented by those who wish to divide the country. We’ve grieved losing our jobs and joys … we’ve also adapted, adjusted, and come together as we stay safely apart. Alone, together. We’ve found ways to connect, to share, to support one another in our grief and our joys, and we’ve been resilient and funny and eloquent and outraged and moved. We’re helping in ways big and small, and connecting with neighbors nearby and old and new friends far away. We’ve honored each other and held each other up.
Part of what was different about loss during this time was the shock of it, the amount of it, and the sheer magnitude of everything connected to it. The wondering if someone else you knew or heard of was going to be next. The rage and frustration around those who denied this was happening or who wouldn’t take precautions. The paranoia that started to set in if you didn’t see someone for a while or hear back… were they ok? Was I about to grieve? The relief on the grumpy laundromat owner’s face when I walked in after being away for 2 months, the big greeting hello because they were wondering what happened to me. Death was a daily conversation, whether it was with someone else or myself, and the feeling of grief was like background music, sometimes almost unnoticeable, but just there. All that was tempered by diving into work, making sure everyone was OK, and connecting through screens, in person, getting coffee with the regulars down the block, finding ways to be creative and share.
Then there was my mom. Even before the pandemic, I knew that it wouldn’t be long before my mom was “going home.” She was now bedridden, her Alzheimer’s had gotten worse, and she was extremely weak. My brother Sam was out in California managing her care with the caretakers, and my brother Max wasn’t far, up in Venice. I saw her in January, before everything went down with Covid, and that would be the last time I saw her alive. We had this sweet and tender moment when I left; she looked sad, but she connected; I felt sad but I connected. She kind of knew who I was, but there’s no way she could have articulated that even to herself.
I was set to go out again on April 8th, but cases were surging like crazy and my flight got changed; so I postponed it, and finally made a reservation for April 30th. On the 29th, I asked a group of friends to zoom to let them know I was about to leave and that this was probably it. While we were on the call, I got the message from my brothers that she had passed away. We had a lot to figure out, we had some sibling stuff to unpack with each other, we had to work, and we wanted to honor our Mom. We were only able to see a few people at a tiny service, but they were the VIPs in our family’s life, closer to us than some of our extended family. It was kind of surreal, even going into David Lynch territory when a guy driving a tiny tractor was digging up the ground and doing tractory things while we were talking about my Mom. We had to laugh it was so weird. But we were relieved that we had each other, that we did things to honor our Mom, Peggy, even if we could not host a gathering that was up to par with the many she had hosted over the years. We were able to be in our family house together for a few months, we ate dinner together almost every night. We watched TV shows and movies, told stories, went through stuff, more stuff, and then more stuff … we put some of the many chicken and rooster things in the garage so Max wouldn’t be too traumatized by them; we went out to the front yard to say hi to Bob, the peacock who hangs out there every day (he’s practically domestic by now!) We even named a peahen we saw Peggy! And we did our exercising, my brother Sam even meeting me at the end of a 13.1 mile run down in Manhattan Beach. Max taught online yoga. We saw friends here and there, safely. We toasted our Mom and Dad regularly, and talked about what we needed to do next.
While we knew that we’d hold a memorial at some later date, and that’s fine, the thing that hit me the most was coming back. I loved being in California, but I did love coming back and being reminded of all of the neighborhood hellos, the impromptu NYC chit-chat that happens, my local friends (and the cats!). But there were a lot of friends that I’d normally see in a group and much more often, there were the places I’d go to feel community and hear inspiring music. When I experience loss, I don’t need to cry that much or be coddled; I just like to be around people, to do things together, to tell stories and feel that familiarity. I could do that with people nearby, but not so easily with others. And we were all grieving someone or something and giving each other, and ourselves, grace to get through it. Some of us were “fine” overall – even me – with the loss. Some of us were struggling – even me – with the loss of others. Friends and acquaintances and colleagues and families at the school – FB friends – everyone – we’re in a collective grief, and in a collective and continued recovery. It’s sad, but it’s beautiful. It’s sort of like the beauty of blues and jazz rising out of a world of pain.
With my mom, we started grieving her as she lost her memory and as she changed; we knew it was coming. It’s still sad, it’s still a loss. Yet this year is full of loss that nobody saw coming. At least for many of us, the reaction was to keep giving as we were grieving in order to stay sane, to laugh to keep from crying, and to create instead of crash.
A lot of us couldn’t be together the way we normally are when we lose someone, and we were saturated with loss; but some of us, like my brothers, my housemate, and my local friends and neighbors, got to be together in ways that deepened our bonds. After September 11th, 2001, I thought how palpable our collective consciousness was. On most days, we walk by people and we have no idea what’s going on with them; they could seem sad, tired, happy, angry, crazed, serene … but we don’t know what their deal is. But after 9/11, and after the pandemic really hit us, it’s different – now we do know. We know, at the minimum, that we are all going through this thing. We all share that now.