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Living with an unbearable loss

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Moving forward into the life you create in the wake of loss

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Counting

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. Louise Erdrich

Life is hard right now and getting harder. Whether you crave solitude or abhor it, for most of us, it’s what we have. You may be grateful to be sheltering with your family or upset or angry or agitated or terrified. You may be happier alone, even now, or you may be struggling mightily against your isolation. The virus has upset the balance between community and solitude and robbed us of our power to choose.

It’s easy to get snowed under by the numbers, which seem to grow more quickly by the day, and all the other statistics the round-the-clock news shows throw at us. Sometimes I have to remind myself that every one of those numbers is a life arrested or a life cut short, and that the people who love the ill or dead are cut off from their loved ones which only adds to their pain.

During these dark days, I find myself on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram less and less. Even though I have more free time than ever, I’m loathe to spend it scrolling.

What catches my attention when I am online is the beauty and joy that other quarantined souls are creating …

  • the Pittsburgh couple who wrote a coronavirus-themed parody of Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound
  • kindergarten teachers who are driving by their students’ houses telling those sweet little people how much they are loved and missed
  • the young girl who had a dance off with her elderly neighbor across the street
  • children and grandchildren visiting their parents and grandparents in care homes, making signs, singing songs and pressing their hands together on either side of the glass
  • quarantined Italians singing and playing music on their balconies
  • Coco Johnson, the teenager who finished her last chemotherapy treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma and came home to find her entire street lined with friends and family holding signs and waving to her as she drove by

As my friend Regina so often reminds me, love and joy are all around us. Maybe in addition to statistics we should also be counting other things. Thirty-four more rolls of toilet paper. Seven eggs, enough for Molly to make us a Spanish omelet for dinner. Four more jars of hand sanitizer and a small container with a backup supply, homemade by Dan. One sun (finally!) shining in the sky and one small black dog who can’t get enough of walking with his momma.

I wish I knew how many days it will take until the quarantine is lifted, until it is safe for us to gather, first in small groups and then in larger ones. Perhaps one of the blessings of this time sheltering at home will be to learn how to fully settle where I am, how to be more present and less distracted. To connect with the people I most want to talk to and check in with those who are struggling, lonely or grieving. To watch what grows out of this crisis, the ways in which our creativity and resilience reshape the world for the better. To notice and be grateful for what I so often took for granted .. watching San Francisco Giants baseball games, finding whatever I needed and wanted at the store, weekly gatherings and daily workouts. To remember what is worth counting and let go of the rest.

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Kitty O’Neal
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