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“The truth is that life is a terminal condition. We’re all going to die, but how many of us will truly live?” ~ Kris Carr
Last week, I met two of my favorite friends for margaritas and Mexican food.
Since March, this was only the second time I had gone out to dinner at an actual restaurant. Walking onto this familiar dining patio felt awkward. I felt nervous. My friends felt distressed.
Our conversation topic centered around the unavoidable virus that has been hogging all communications in all forms in every part of the world since it appeared five months ago.
We asked each other rhetorical questions like: When will our kids go back to school? Will our kids go back to school? What would school even look like? Will the vaccine work? Will the number of cases spike again? Will we ever see the other side?
And as the margaritas flowed, the conversation stiffened.
Just before I decided I’d consumed enough tequila and participated in enough depressing conversation for one evening, one of my friends changed our dinner by saying the following…
“Yea, the past few months have been some of the hardest I can remember, but it’s also helped me realize a lot about myself. I no longer feel guilty about saying no to the things that now just don’t matter—and maybe they never did. I’ve learned I’m happiest with my family and close friends. I have my small tribe, and that’s really all I need. And it feels really nice.”
And that is what my son would call a Mic. Drop.
Because the truth is that my friend is right.
For most everyone these days, we are living in a time of loss—loss of our comfortable routines, loss of familiar faces, loss of going out in public without fearing other humans, and mainly the loss of our innocence. Because of COVID-19, we have been awoken to the harsh truth that nothing in life is ever certain. There are no guarantees. Tomorrow is not a given. “See you later” could actually mean see you never.
For so many, losing the assumption that life would always just be there in the same manner until we decided to change it has caused great, deep, powerful grief. Because loss is loss. And, in one way or another, we have all felt it. And it’s scary as sh*t.
I like control. No—I freaking love control. Life was so much easier when I was younger and still under the illusion that I was invincible and entirely in control of my destiny.
But that’s when God knocked me over the head with my cancer diagnosis and then again and then yet again. And maybe that’s what I needed to finally understand that anything could happen to any of us at any given time. I would venture to say that anyone who has personally or indirectly been in a situation where their lives changed in an instant, whether it was from a shocking cancer diagnosis or a sudden car crash, or receiving the dreaded 1 a.m. phone call—fill in your blank—those of us who have unfortunately experienced moments of forever change are familiar with the fragility of life and the fear that accompanies that realization.
And, no matter how much we wish it or want it or crave it, control for any human is just a shiny illusion. None of us have it, but we all want it. COVID-19 just put a spotlight on that undeniable truth.
I think it would be fair to say that COVID-19 has brought us to our knees. I think we’ve been broken down and humbled. I think we’ve stumbled and fallen and are struggling to find our way back up. But maybe, just maybe, that’s okay. Because what if that’s the point of all of this suffering? What if we are being forced to fall just so we have the chance to stand back up?
For the past six weeks, I have been battling a sinus infection. We are hopefully making progress in treating this beast of an infection, but it has taken several doctors and several procedures and several tests. Needless to say, there have been days where I have felt pretty crummy and haven’t been able to do much outside of my bed.
Ellie and Tommy are understanding, but they are still 12 and 10 years old, respectively, and therefore still wanting and needing mom to be mom. For most of Ellie’s life and all of Tommy’s, I have been a fraction of my old self. I have either been sick or tired or running on reserve energy. Yes, it gets better with time, but then another infection will come, or another surgery gets scheduled, and I fall right back down and right back into my bed. I hate that my kids have missed experiences because I was too sick or tired to take them. It kills me that their mom is sometimes not in the audience or bleachers or stands to see them perform. I shed tears thinking of the time I have missed with them—all because I was physically too weak to be what they deserved for me to be.
In many ways, COVID-19 has been a retreat back into my post-transplant socially isolated life. And on the days where I spend most of my time in bed, I can start to feel pretty damn sorry for myself and fear the emotional damage I must be inflicting onto my children. My thoughts can run wild, and they usually do for a day or two.
But the other day, something pretty cool happened.
I was in bed, scrolling through Netflix when I received a text from a mom friend. I haven’t seen this friend in a while and wondered how she had been doing in the COVID-19 world. This mom had been diagnosed with some pretty sh*tty health stuff a few years back and has had to learn how to adjust her life to adapt to her new normal, which is now dictated by her disease.
I’d like to share a few of her words with you:
“With my health stuff, I’ve been doing okay until about a year ago. Maybe the additional stress of work or older age, but most likely natural disease process. For the cards we’ve been handed, we have found a way to find the silver lining as best we can. The proof is in the smiles of our kids. The worst of it is not being the ‘me’ that my children remember and need. I can’t outrun them, but the love makes up for it. They have learned when I need to rest and why we’ve had to be so careful during COVID-19.
Maybe our children are the lucky ones because they will know how to keep moving on the days they think they can’t. Since I can’t be the me that I was before, I just have to love the me that I am now. Who knew our parents were right when they said, ‘I love you just the way you are?’ Now I just have to remember that I am loved just the way I am, and COVID-19 can kiss it!”
Yep. Whoa. Another Mic. Drop.
But y’all, here’s the thing. This mom is actively facing a disease that seems to be getting worse and worse. And yet her outlook, her vision, her attitude has remained so incredibly solid. This friend has been brought to her knees. She understands all too well that life really is a terminal condition. But instead of fighting it, she has danced with it. She has stood back up and, in her darkness, this friend is shining.
So maybe the world is not the only thing that’s changing right now. My two friends have shown me that we are also changing. I am changing. You are changing. This is our chance to fall down and stand back up. This is the time to let go of unnecessary guilt. These are the days to surround ourselves with our small tribes and let go of all the “should dos” and “need to dos.” Maybe this struggle is nature’s way of strengthening all of us. COVID-19—a challenge or an opportunity?
Life is like this right now. It’s living for the sadness of it all. It’s living for the loss of it all. It’s living for the love of it all.
It’s true—we are standing in the middle of struggle, but maybe, just maybe, we can stand up a little straighter and a little taller. We can stand with a little less guilt weighing us down and a lot more love for ourselves holding us up. And when we do stand, because we will stand, maybe this is our chance to truly live in the thrill of it all and in the glory of it all and in the hope of it all.
Because, as my friend says, COVID-19 can just kiss it.
In love and hope,