I never thought I’d live in a time when one minute I’d be reviewing the modeling on the number of deaths in Texas, and the next I’d think, I should really mow the grass before it rains.
I don’t have to tell you how unsettling this juxtaposition of pandemic and “normal” life is. We’re all living it. The lucky ones, which I still currently am, have kept our jobs and work from home. Our meetings still run, deadlines arrive. We slowly toil away in a world that feels more isolated than before.
It’s been about a month now that I’ve worked from home, social distanced and essentially quarantined myself. I go to Target and our local grocery store once a week. For a while I stopped going to the barn, too stressed and anxious to deal with my horse reasonably, but when he murdered his feet I started going back out to care for him. But the vast majority of my time is spent at home, alone with the dogs.
Keeping a full schedule of social events, projects and extra jobs has been my solid coping mechanism after Tim has died. In the early days of the pandemic, I was worried for myself. With all of that stripped away, I would be alone with my thoughts. Very alone.
But, it hasn’t been as dark as I feared. I guess that is the gift of time. June will be five years since he died. I keep thinking of all the bad things that have happened to me in the past five years—really, all the loved ones I’ve lost, because there’s been so much good too. Part of me wants this pandemic to be the end of it. One last explosion of grief before I can finally get on the other side of my personal tragedy, and chase a happy life. Sorry to drag the whole entire globe into my drama! We’ll all be better in three months. But of course, that’s not how it works.
I can’t help but imagine how Tim would have handled all of this. His memory, though softer than it was five years ago, fills the empty space that a spouse would (should?) consume. He would be gripped to the news. Too empathetic. Furious at the president. Worried about his mother.
When Pascale first got sick, my main thought was, How am I going to survive this? Now as the world around me appears to collapse, the question takes a larger connotation. I know I will survive, but I worry. I worry about being laid off, and having to figure out finances on my own. I worry about my family’s business in North Carolina that’s so sensitive to the economy. I worry about the horse industry, though a silly luxury, but still a real concern for me. I worry that this ramifications of this virus will push me towards a life of solitude that I cannot handle.
To distract myself, I work on crafts. Watch way too many episodes of Law & Order SVU. It’s calming, predictable. Olivia Benson will catch the bad guy. Justice will prevail in the end. I watch Lucie grow up, and Pascale decline. Her days have been golden through this, but the past week has brought the return of pain and a sharp downturn. I don’t think it will be much longer now.
I watch the birds at the feeder hanging outside my kitchen window. There are six morning doves—an undesirable bird I’m told—that are so big they can barely balance on delicate perch. They flap awkwardly, batting their wings against the metal cage holding the seed; strut around the ground, picking up scraps. I feel a kinship with them, bumbling amongst their sleek and beautiful peers. Doing the best they can.
There is also a pair of blue jays with their sharp beaks and aggressive nature. They snap at the feeder, plucking out sunflower seeds with feisty snaps. The blue jays are the only birds who aren’t afraid at me through the window. Small, dotted pupils stare back at me while they feed. When we lived in the little blue house, Pascale killed two blue jay fledglings when she was a puppy. She wanted to play with them. Even brought one inside the house from the rain and presented it to me with an enormous swell of pride. I get the impressions the aggressive jays in my yard know this.
The birds I look out for the most are the cardinals, a bonded pair mated for life. Birds don’t believe in feminism. The female is a mousey brown, only recognizable by her triangular head and bright orange beak. Of course, the male is a glorious red. I like them both, but it’s the male I look out for. He is the one believed to be a visitor from heaven. I don’t believe this, but I don’t rule it out either. I’ll welcome any sign from beyond.
This pandemic has brought death in closer as a threat than many are comfortable with. Friends have confided to me how much it troubles them, how terrified they are of death.
I don’t think I am afraid of death. It feels like I have touched it so much. What’s left behind, that nebulous energy that shows up in dreams and memory and feeling, doesn’t feel like anger or fear. It feels softer, warmer. I couldn’t define it as anything less than love.
Maybe that’s why, in the middle of all this global chaos, I still see so much good in the world. Yes, there are protests and frustrating policies and ignorance, but you have to look past that. I see a lot more kindness, sympathy, and offers to help than anything else.
Which is why I know I’ll survive all this. All of the sadness and uncertainty. Even if I lose my job. Even when I have to say goodbye to Pascale.
Right now, I’m looking for little snippets of peace and joy every day. Eating a lot of delicious baked goods. Talking to friends. Taking every opportunity I can to walk my dogs, and watch their happy tails softly swishing ahead of me. Doing my best to not be afraid.
It’s all I know how to do.