Writing My Way Through Tough Times

Writing my way through tough times.

If we live long enough, we all experience heartache at some time or another. It might be in the form of a breakup, or it might be in the loss of a loved one. I experienced a few breakups as I grew up, just like most everyone else, but my first big, real heartache was when my daddy was diagnosed with and eventually died of pancreatic cancer in 2006.

He was officially diagnosed in February of that year, and he died on October 2 of the same year. Today is the 16th anniversary of his death…a tough day for me, and a reminder of the heartache I managed to survive. I suffered. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced…losing my daddy. I was the mother of a toddler, but I was afraid I was losing my mind. I made lots of plans, because I thought I needed to stay busy. I ran myself ragged. But I learned.

When my mother fell ill 11 years later, my friend, Angela, who has also lost her father, said, “Get ready. It’s going to be tough when you lose her.” I vividly remember turning to her, saying, “It’s going to be tough, for sure, but I feel like I learned something when Daddy died. I feel like I developed some coping skills.” And after Mother passed, I learned I had, in fact, developed some coping skills. I had learned not to run from it. I had learned from my experience with Daddy’s death that I needed to just drop out of the world for a little while and process it. So that’s what I did after Mother died. I have written about it before. I literally gave myself permission to recover quietly and cancelled all plans and went to bed for a month. Don’t get me wrong. I was functional. But I didn’t feel like being social, so I wasn’t. I did what I needed to do for our daughter, but for the most part, I stayed home. And after a month, I “pulled up my bootstraps” and rejoined the living.

For Christmas that year, I had received a gift from a friend. It was a book called My Future Listography: All I Hope to do in Lists. When I received the gift, I thought it was cool, but when Mother died five days after Christmas, the book took on more meaning. It’s a journal, of sorts, and it’s part of a series of Listography books. Each one contains lists to fill in, and this one is full of lists about the future. Examples of some of the lists: What countries do you want to visit? What films do you want to see? What fictional characters would you like to hang out with? But after Mother died, the book became good therapy for me. Sounds crazy, but it gave me things to think about in the future. It made me see past the state of gloom I was in and look to the future. It really helped me move through the grief. It helped me realize that the act of putting my thoughts out there could help me heal. To order My Future Listography, click here.

And because of that, I started my blog. Writing things down…or typing them, in the case of the blog…was therapeutic! My Future Listography had brought me through the initial trauma of losing my mother, and writing the blog helpted me continue to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Since losing my Mother on December 30, 2017, I have given copies of My Future Listography to lots of friends when they have been going through tough times…breakups, death of a loved one, or even new empty-nesters who are having a hard time. Sometimes, they look at me like it’s a weird gift, and maybe it is…but several times, people have called me later to tell me how much it helped them keep putting one foot in front of the other…keep looking toward the future. We know time helps with heartache, but knowing there is life ahead of the heartache can help too. When someone is in the middle of grief or heartache, they aren’t necessarily thinking about the good things ahead, but this journal can help them see what the future might look like.

I have a friend who went through a terrible breakup two years ago, and I gave her a copy after the relationship ended. There’s something about a relationship ending that can seem particularly dismal. It can feel like everything you believed about someone was wrong…a lie. Later, we realize that’s not always the case; sometimes, there are just extenuating circumstances that cause relationships to end. And as with my friend, sometimes we need to be reminded that there is a bright future ahead. She called me months after the breakup and told me the journal of lists had helped her. Now, I keep a few handy to give as gifts, because you never know when someone you love is going to experience something bad.

Sometimes, we just need a reminder that better things lie ahead.

The New BC

The new BC.

We all know BC, in historic terms, means before Christ, right? In modern terms, though, it means before COVID.

Now that we are approaching the one year mark on the COVID shutdowns, I look at my daily Facebook memories from 2020 and think, “Wow. How little we knew then.” I look at pictures of myself laughing with friends or my daughter playing sports, and I think, “We had no idea how our lives were about to change.” In fact, on this day one year ago, my post was about a friend telling me that when she was a kid, her school bus driver would stop at railroad tracks and let acid off the bus to run across the tracks…to wave the bus across. That was my big concern of this day in 2020. I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently, it was happening in lots of places. What I didn’t know was that life as I knew it was about to stop, and I wouldn’t be worried about how people waved buses across railroad tracks back in the day.

This morning, my daughter’s school lacrosse team had a game, and it was the first time students have been allowed to attend sporting events as spectators since this time last year. March 12 was the last day our kids went to school last year, and that anniversary is rapidly approaching. There were no spring sports after that date. Our little independent school opened in August, with a hybrid plan of alternating days for students, so at least they are in school half the time, and we had fall sports, but we had them without spectators. Same with winter sports…our school found a way for parents to attend (only two adults per player), but students were still not allowed to attend as spectators…till today.

Last night, my daughter and her friends were reminding friends that they should come watch the game and cheer them on this morning. And not surprisingly, lots of them showed up…even for a Saturday morning game! Girls sports, for whatever reason, don’t usually have a whole lot of spectators besides parents, but today? The turnout was fantastic! Maybe since they haven’t been able to gather in stadiums and sports arenas for so long, these students will support all their teams. I think they will be thrilled to have an excuse to commune…even while social distancing. At least, after a whole year of shutdowns and disappointments, these kids are getting an opportunity to have a little bit of normalcy.

Heck, our school has even announced the juniors and seniors will have a prom! That was quite a shocker, but it truly gave the students something to look forward to!

Hopefully, things will continue to move in a positive direction. Last year, we canceled our spring break trip at the last minute, but this year, we are going. In fact, we are going on the trip we paid for last year, so this year it seems like a free trip!

The past year has been tough on all of us…some more so than others. It was tough mentally for me and lots of my friends. It was tough financially for lots of people. Physically…lots of people got COVID and recovered, but lots of people died or lost loved ones. Our kids lost the experiences they are supposed to have as kids and teenagers. College students stayed home and learned online or sat in dorms and learned. They lost a year of “college experience.” People lost jobs and livelihoods…some of them lost everything they had. It was a tough year. We were told that we could “flatten the curve” of COVID by staying home for two weeks back in March 2020. Then that two weeks stretched to four weeks…six weeks…six months…and here we are at a year. I was about to lose my mind every time a vacation canceled last summer, but I knew missing vacations was minor compared to what some folks were experiencing. It didn’t make it any easier for me, and when I’d had enough (September), I got on a plane anyway. I needed it.

One thing I know is that starting on March 12, my Facebook memories are going to get more interesting. They will move from BC (before COVID) to photos and posts from the first year of the COVID era. While I have hated the shutdowns, and I have hated watching people get sick and some die, I think the posts that start popping up in my memories will be interesting. They will tell a story of the first year of COVID. I will see posts from last spring, when we were stuck home, and I was spending as much time as possible outdoors, because I couldn’t look at the four walls of my house anymore. They will also tell the story of a year unlike any other. Before it happened, staying home all the time sounded like Hell to me. And for the first few weeks and even months, it was especially tough. Then I found ways to make it more tolerable…gardening, taking road trips, mailing postcards, mailing letters, sitting by the pool, talking on the phone…anything to make it better.

My daddy used to tell me that once you start staying home all the time it becomes too easy to stay home all the time. If you stop driving on the interstate highway, you forget how to drive on the interstate highway. Stop going to the grocery store? You forget how. You have to take on the “use it or lose it” mentality, and thankfully, I remembered that throughout the last year. I would get into my car and just drive sometimes. But yes, I did notice as stores started opening that I was a little awkward when shopping. How does one forget how to shop? I even went into a new sandwich shop one time early in the shutdowns, and wearing a mask made it seem almost unnavigable to me. I couldn’t learn a new system while wearing a mask! So I left and went to my old trusted sandwich shop, where the ordering system was familiar.

Since then, I’ve traveled more and moved around more…sometimes by car and sometimes by plane…all while wearing a mask. I’m wondering if life will ever be what it was BC, or will we always wear masks? Will we always be afraid to hug or shake hands? That’s the part I really hate. I like hugging. I like shaking hands.

But right now, I’m just thankful. I’m thankful to have survived the first year of the COVID era relatively intact. I’m grateful to have great friends and family I love. I hope we move into the post-COVID era sooner rather than later.

As we start to move beyond the first year of COVID, I hope we will all remember how fortunate we are to have “normal” again. I hope we will all be grateful for “normal.” I hope those who have experienced hardship or loss can find a way to move forward. I hope we find ways to be joyful. I hope…I just hope we have hope.