As 2020 sent us into pandemic life, I was sitting fairly pretty, proud of my Generation X predisposition to be able to manage my own time, to treasure the quiet, and embrace independence. Working from home became a power source for me.
Then in the fall, I lost a high school friend. He was my age, in his forties, and he had a fatal heart attack. I got a phone call from a mutual friend, and we shared our shock and sadness. He’s not old enough for that, I’m not old enough for that. We just saw him and his wife at a Nationals game last year. I wished for a funeral in our hometown, so I could catch up with friends, share stories about him over food and drink. I wanted to celebrate him and let the people in his life know he had a fan club. There was no funeral.
Then in October, my uncle died from complications of Parkinson’s disease. That was a bit different. I have been watching him slip away for years, so I’ve been saying goodbye to his role in my life for some time. My mother had the responsibility of passing this news on. She had known him since before he married her sister. I wanted to make potato salad and cookies and gather with my cousins to share hugs and look at photo albums. Didn’t happen.
Finally, in December, we got news of Covid vaccine approval. There is hope!
Only weeks later, one of my best friends — Tiffany — died. She was younger than I am, and she had Covid. I got a phone call from her husband, who is still crushed. I sat on the edge of my sofa, with my husband watching me. I did that thing women do in pictures: I covered my mouth, I held my hand to my chest as if I was clutching pearls. I said “I’m so sorry, let me know what I can do.” I hung up and repeated the news to my husband, then I collapsed in his lap and cried like a child. I gasped for breath. I went to our room and buried my face in a pillow and wailed.
We were not distant friends or relatives. We were here-and-now friends. We knew each other for over 20 years, but she and I had been seeing each other all through the pandemic. First we had carefully distant cocktails in our backyards, then we determined that we could carefully inch closer. I was selfishly glad her travel for work had been cut, so I could see her more.
In the end, I was able to celebrate her life with other friends, in an online get-together. Her employers posted beautiful tributes on their websites. Her family had a drive-in funeral in the church parking lot. Those celebrations, those alliances with others who miss her, helped my grief.
Meanwhile, I have to move all the Tiffany memories to a different space in my mind. They were in a space for ‘Stories we will share in retirement.’ We joked all the time about what crazy old ladies we would be together, and now that’s not gonna happen. I have to move those memories to ‘That crazy friend I used to have.’ I will put some of those memories into ‘Stories I will tell her son one day.’ I’m working on that, like sorting out a closet.
Then, new stuff comes up. I’ll see a news story or a funny movie and think, “Tiffany needs to see this,” and like a record skipping, I get a jolt reminding me I can’t share it with her. I’ll wish I had her opinion on a political issue or an insurance plan, and I’m left hanging.
Grief is different for each relationship.The time we enjoy with our friends and family is special to each person. What we lose is different for each person. Do I have a special ability to deal with this, as my horoscope says?
Working from home has given me time and space to grieve, during which I can burst into tears at random moments if I need to. Other losses in my life have prepared me for this. Being raised to know that my feelings are valid regardless of how strange and unexpected they can be has been indispensable. That’s a gift that my parents gave me.
If you have lost someone, search yourself for what you need. You may need to take a run, beat on a drum, listen to music turned up to eleven, go for a drive, curl up with your cat, write in a journal, or just cry. You do you. There is no right way to grieve.
After this year, I can guarantee you are not alone.