The recurring theme that we are all living through in COVID 19 is death.
Pandemics, by their nature bring destruction and are harbingers of death, like the Fourth Horseman riding through, which saddens and can devastate aspects of society. Viruses such as COVID 19 are natural. Caused by the unseen forces of natural selection, they are impersonal, and don’t pay any heed to the personal emotional trauma that they leave in their wake.
Unfortunately, COVID isn’t the only source of trauma we are all living through in this pandemic. Much like a virus itself hate and prejudice is another Horseman, who continues its steady march in 2020, and causes destruction that is both unnatural and very personal.
None of this is better represented than the killing of George Floyd.
A watershed is a turning point, historic moment, or dividing line in social life. I believe that the horror of Mr. Floyd’s calling out for his deceased mama got into the marrow of my bones and activated my anger and outrage. I know for myself that underneath these feelings is deeply rooted grief, and more than anger, it is the grief that is now making itself known to me, and I suspect many others.
With COVID 19 the worse-case scenario is that one can’t breathe and sometimes even with a ventilator life comes to an end. Our precious breath. There to regulate us, to check into and follow to stay present and alive. When we can’t breathe, we feel out of control and the primitive terrified part of us calls out for someone who has previously helped us survive. I remember giving birth to my son Greg and was terrified of the simple fact that I was at the point of no return. There was no going back in the birthing process. I had relinquished all decision-making power and control once the pain and intensity of labour began. I found myself to be at my most vulnerable, with an out of control feeling I had never previously experienced in my life. And I too cried out for my mom.
Mr. Floyd didn’t have to be deprived of his life. We are all in this together, and for me the pandemic that knows no geographic borders, race, creed or financial status, has made this infinitely clear. Common humanity. Along with seven new referrals, every client I spoke with talked at length about the Mr. Floyd watershed moment. The grief that seems to be our collective experience blew wide open for me. The past number of weeks, even before the horror of this death, I hadn’t been sleeping and had been spending time thinking about loss and dying. There were tears, gut wrenching tears, while I was out on my solitary garbage picking walk; on my countless trips to the re-opened nurseries to buy more flowers than I need, but craving the joy they bring to my sad soul. Tears and grieving as I continue to chip away at a 100 years of forest debris, so that the wild daffodils and trilliums don’t have to be suffocated another spring. Countless trips to the dump, where for some inexplicable reason I feel like I can breathe again, and find a solace to my pain. Crying, digging, raking, bagging, dumping. Repeat.
Sometimes death can be much more personal than witnessing the ongoing atrocities we continue to inflict on one another. When this happens, it can be sudden and without warning.
I received a letter in the mail from my friend Blue saying that this will be our last communication, because he is dead. I thought it was a sick COVID Captivity joke, and I was going to call him and tell him he’s an exasperating idiot, but I love him anyway, until I read the next sentence and realized he was really dead. The line rocked me to the depths of my soul – “I have instructed my sister to send this to you after I’m gone…”
WTF? You never told me you were dying. You never even told me you were sick with cancer. The shock of the realization of why he hadn’t returned my call on his birthday, and didn’t call me on mine, which he had never missed in my memory of our 42 year long friendship, hit me in a place internally I didn’t realize existed. Ironically, I had recently written a book chapter about him, while I was in the mountains, a place that soothes my soul, and he was in the same mountain range, one province to the east taking his last breaths. It is a hilarious chapter on resilience and enduring friendship, and I will dedicate that to Blue, who saw the very worst parts of me, and some of my better parts, and still loved me unconditionally. How I will miss him. I know I will feel his presence on Seventh Heaven, our favourite run on Blackcomb Mountain, where I can now imagine him skiing for eternity, like the Olympian he could have been.
I have been cycling through Kubler Ross’s stages of grief rapidly over the last weeks. Blue’s death and finding out about it in the way I did, during this stillness that has become the Great Pandemic Pause, has made me realize that in the last three years, during which I have experienced many deaths, I have never allowed myself to truly grieve. My dad, my sister, my aunt, to name just a few who have gone, and I miss them. I wish I could have one more hour with each person to say how much I love them, and share with them that my many trips to the dump have allowed me to realize that we have to rid ourselves of our prejudices and our hurts, and our perceived injustices and simply love more. We need to find more resilience, maybe forgiveness in ourselves, without disallowing heart-wrenching grief to be present. Grief reminds us that we’re capable of love and connection, so we need to have more compassion for those who have their own pain and unresolved grief that makes it difficult to understand their hurtful behaviours towards us. Most importantly, we must have compassion for ourselves and honor this pain that is love and continue to be gentle with our fellow human beings regardless of our differences.
We are all just folks on a journey of discovery together, in this wild adventure called life.
Cry, dig, rake, bag, dump. Repeat.