Lately, hearing the word unprecedented has felt like a trigger. That and the word uncertain. I’ve been trying to figure out why I am so pushed by these words? Is it just the frequency that they are being used by politicians and newscasters? Or how they are showing up in advertisements for everything from furnaces to beer? Or maybe I’m just tired of being reminded of our global health and economic crisis? They are just words, right?
Finally after a good night’s sleep, I realized the source of my irritation with these words. I woke up recognizing this feeling. This isolation. The unexpected interruption of our schedules and plans and life. This heaviness. The uncertainty. None of it is unprecedented for me. I’ve been here before. I’ve done this.
This is what it feels like to become a caregiver unexpectedly. To be told your mother has Alzheimer’s. This is what it feels like to let go of what you thought you were up to and to embrace a new path. Only now, we are all experiencing it together.
I felt the same familiarity when I found my old, stretched-out sweat pants on the floor at the back of the closet last week. Ah yes, there you are my old friend. I thought I had outgrown you but here you are again. As I pulled them on, I understood that we were still connected as though no time had passed. We could pick up where we left off, even if the fit was now slightly different. A welcome comfort during a difficult time.
With this knowledge, I can now crawl out of the “Oh Shit, this isn’t happening” stage of grief, also known as denial and isolation, and get back to feeling productive. Dorothy said it best in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” I can lean into the practices that helped me stay balanced and sane as my mom’s caregiver for 15 years.
Make a schedule. Plan your meal times, your walk times and your zoom yoga and meditation classes. Plan tea time, your afternoon chocolate break, read-a-great-book time and phone-a-friend time. Get a shower on the schedule at least every couple of days, too! Just because you had to clear your calendar of all of the other things you were looking forward to doesn’t mean your day shouldn’t have direction and joy…and treats.
Shout in the woods. Anger is another common stage of grief and it will not be denied. It’s like Wilma, my pup, when she wants my attention. Relentless. Best to set time aside for shouting in the forest. Forest bathing, a contemplative walk on a quiet path can be soothing, and is highly recommended, but this is not what will help with your anger. Forest shouting is what you need. Get yourself to the woods and shout at the top of your lungs. Yell at your dead relatives, yell at God. Keep yelling until you have nothing left to say. The relief you will feel afterwards is immense. You may also get answers you were not expecting from within.
Let’s make a deal. Remember the game show with Monty Hall where he would offer $100 to anyone in the audience who had a raw egg in their purse? Well, bargaining is another stage of grief. It is an attempt to regain some sort of control, even though control is an illusion. If only I had an egg in my purse, I could be a winner! The solution sounds ridiculous but when we are grieving we adopt it as our goal none-the-less.
Restorative yoga can return you to a sense of ease where you give up on your need for control and give in to your need for deep relaxation. Poet David Whyte says, “To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right.”
Practicing a restorative yoga pose for at least 15 minutes every day, will help move you from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to your para-sympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Not sure what pose to try? Keep it simple: Lie on the floor, bend your knees and slide your lower legs onto the chair seat, making sure that the backs of your knees are supported by the chair. Take a light weight blanket under your head and cover with another blanket. Soft music or silence. Maybe your dog at your side or across your belly.
Give me laughter. Our current go-to laugh track is Schitt’s Creek, a Canadian sitcom about a family whose life is turned upside down when the husband’s business fails and their home and furnishings are repossessed. They are forced to move out of their opulent mansion and move into a motel in the dumpy town of Schitt’s Creek. Plot line sounds eerily familiar right now, doesn’t it? We tried to watch this series years ago but didn’t find it funny at the time. Our sense of humor has clearly changed as a result of these uncertain times! The Schitt’s Creek Family voice our collective fears, and worries and disappointment in such a hilarious way that it can’t help but lift us out of any grief and depression, at least momentarily. With 72 episodes available, Rocky and I hope that we do not run out before our quarantine lifts!
Silver Linings. If I had to choose the number one most effective practice for managing grief, it would be looking for silver linings. Once we get to a place of acceptance in the grief process, we start to see the blessings that have happened as a result of our new situation.
For me, it has been the connection with my yoga students who have showed up in my Zoom classes. Many of them, like me, would not call themselves tech-savvy. In fact, many had never heard of Zoom until three weeks ago. And yet, they have showed up week after week to share the practice we have all done in-person in the past. Not only have they shown grace and patience as I struggled to figure out how to offer the best audio and video zoom experience, but they have cheered my efforts. I’ve also been grateful that friends from Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and California as well as my cousin Katy in New York, have popped into my Zoom classes unexpectedly. Even my son Cody has taken classes from me the last couple of weeks, the first time since he was in third grade. This weekend, Rocky and the boys and I shared a Zoom happy hour for two hours! Before the quarantine, it seemed impossible for the four of us who live in different states to share much time together. Even scheduling a simple phone call used to be difficult, but now we have each other’s undivided attention.
Get out the games. Rocky has been working from our kitchen counter for weeks now. From his new “headquarters,” he has had to close all 24 stores and lay off most of his employees. Now, like many others in his position, he spends his days trying to negotiate with landlords and is doing everything possible to ensure there is a company to bring the staff back to eventually.
Every afternoon around 5:30 pm he says loudly, “Honey, I’m on my way home now!” Then he packs up his laptop, clears the counter and we take out Scrabble or Rummikub, our current favorite games. He pours a glass of wine and we get down to the important business of trying to kick each other’s ass. In those uncertain moments, the thing that makes us most happy is unprecedented high scoring!