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It’s December and I am still in my home office listening tomy dog snore. He has his good and bad traits as an office mate. In March, whenKate’s Club offices closed, I would have never imagined that I would still beworking from home 9 months later. It feels both short and long at the sametime. The December program theme at Kate’s Club each year focuses onreflection. We reflect on our journeys through grief, the life of the personwho died, and the past year. December canalso be a time to reflect on the past year. I expect this year is a year mostof us would not necessarily like to remember. Everyone has experienced loss in2020. We lost traveling to see family or friends, celebrating the holidaystogether, graduations, family reunions, weddings, and much more. Many childrenmissed being in school and many adults lost jobs. Others experienced deaths ofloved ones to COVID, and other situations that involved death and loss. And tomake matters more upsetting, we missed gathering for funerals and memorials andeven saying goodbye to people we love. Some lost a sense that the world was asafe and just place and others always knew it was not. 2020 brought usunprecedented accumulated losses.
Yet, after I compile the losses in my mind, I then thinkabout the gains. This is not about saying “at least” which is a phrase I loathe.When someone dies, people like to use this phrase. “My dad died” well “at leastyou have your mom “or “at least you have memories “or “at least you were tooyoung to remember” or in the case of an older person “at least they lived longlife.” You get the picture. When we use “at least”, we dismiss people’s pain. So,this is not about saying “at least “but reflecting on the things we mightotherwise miss from this difficult year. Looking at these things can help ourchildren weather these hard times and help us all grow.
As I talk to bereaved families weekly, I learn they gainedtime together and time to slow down. One recent widower shared that 500 peopleshowed up for this wife’s online memorial. His children were able to see peoplethey would have never met and hear stories of their mother. Many families sharethey started movie nights, long walks, and rode bikes together. People tookmore walks and discovered new parks. Some families gained connection with thosein their house and those far away. We ate at home more and may have gained somenew culinary skills (I certainly did).
At Kate’s Club, we experienced a new way to reach grievingfamilies. We learned that by offering online programs that families (andvolunteers) can participate from anywhere. We learned that we could bringvirtual programs to families who would otherwise not access our services and itis another way to connect to grieving families. We even had a “Camp-at-Home”and were able to connect and do activities from our own homes. New friends weremade and post-pandemic plans to meet were made. We got to meet each other’spets and share with each other special things in our homes that remind us ofour people who died. We held a few small outdoor socially distanced programsand gave air hugs and elbow bumps to one another. We welcomed many new membersthat we have not met in person but yet feel like we know them. Reflecting onthese connections I feel proud and happy.
Another gain, I have noticed is a more open acknowledgementof grief. Kate’s Club’s vision is “A world in which it is okay to grieve.” Thisyear has brought an open discussion of grief and loss. I heard a story theother day on NPR on what it means for the bereaved to miss funerals or bedsidegoodbyes. They talked about the importance of rituals in mourning. This year weare talking about grief which is a healthy positive gain. Mental health has been pushed to the forefront and gettingsupport is becoming normalized. Even though we often have been connecting from“virtual boxes”, we are connecting! Even though we are alone, we have felt lessalone and that is a wonderful gain!
Author Bruce Feiler talks about “Lifequakes” as massive lifechanges that lead to transitions. The pandemic has been a large far reaching lifequakeout of our control and we may not yet know how it changes us. Many people whogo through grief and early loss find they have a greater appreciation for life.Perhaps, that will be the biggest gain from 2020. Now, I must take my officemate for a walk.
Valentine’s Day: Tips for widows, widowers, and grieving people facing the day of love without yours