Monday, April 12, 2021

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Their grief

The email came on the evening of Easter. With "sad news" in the subject line, we learned that one of Maddy and Teddy's teachers died on Saturday in a car accident.

On the heels of losing Scruffy, I'm at a loss for how to tell them.

So today, following a medical appointment for Grey, we sought the ocean.


As they played, I watched the waves, allowing the rhythm of water catching on the shore to calm my spirit and unjumble the thoughts and emotions from all the loss from this past week. From this past year. 

From a lifetime. 

Grief is hard on so many levels and learning how to manage it for me has been an education. Learning how to help others manage it, especially the young ones, is a different level. I have zero illusions about what this will look like or how it will play out. 

What I do know is that I will punch anyone who tries to tell me that losing this teacher isn't a great loss. Come Monday, an entire elementary school will be grieving together and encountering a loss few could have imagined. In a blink, everything has changed.

So instead I'm left preparing to confront grief. Only this time, their grief and healing are foremost on my mind.

Monday, April 5, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Latibule

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.


"There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can't hope. The hopers would feel slighted if they knew."

~Rumi

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Body grief

 The feeling is a familiar one. Like the aftermath of being electrocuted or being beaten. My nerves feel raw and I'm sensitive to sound, light, even touch. My thoughts come more slowly, with brain fog clouding my judgment and perception.  The need to sleep is always there. And I'm insanely cold, despite it being a warm, sunny day.

Grief is a familiar companion, especially this time of year. My body always slows down with those first blossoms, reminding me of what was lost. But this year it's especially hard, both with the loss of this one and the news that Jaxson has the same disease, with me not being ready to let him go. And so the fresh wounds pile on the old. With me trying to distract myself in order just to get through the day.

Yet my body has other plans.

A massive flaw in Western culture is the blindspot to grief and grieving. Grief is inconvenient and uncomfortable. Grief is economically costly. For many, grief brings to the surface pain and toxic behaviors that many would prefer to stay buried. And there is no rule book for grief, despite the request for timelines and rules for engagement, as it is an incredibly personal process. 

Compounding all of this is that as much as we'd like to divorce ourselves for our grief, our bodies manifest it. The aches, pains, slowness, and fluctuating weight are all signs that our bodies are processing, even when our minds are not. It can feel like regression, especially when one is making strides towards healing, to experience these symptoms as usually, they aren't temporary. Every year my body reenters the grief cycle, which has been a struggle to deal with when my mind knows it has to perform counter to that.

One silver lining of this pandemic is the world has been forced to confront the language of grief. More research is coming out, and many are beginning to talk more openly about it (I recommend this, this, and this). Pop culture is even beginning to examine it. Yet with all of this, what we're still not focusing on is what grief is, what its purpose is, and why honoring it is so essential, especially with those who want so desperately to return to what was. And how fighting with one's body, forcing it to forget, is pretty destructive.

Sitting here and typing this all out, I recognize my default is to try to logic my way out of this grief. Life happens, it's for the best, no longer suffering. It's not your fault. And yet, despite those truths, I also realize that the only way to heal is to go through it. To push back on all the pressures and vocalize that right now is hard, despite others' disappointment or confusion. 

My body is grieving. That needs to be okay.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Eigengrau

A few weeks ago, Grey and I found ourselves sitting in the dark. The blackout came suddenly, leaving every house that didn't have solar panels in darkness for a couple of hours. Sitting in the dark triggered the memory of the first blackout I remembered, leading to a conversation with Grey.

It happened when I was a child living in a small southern-Minnesota town. I don't know what triggered the blackout (I suspect a storm) or how long it lasted. What I do remember was that it was so dark that the window looked blindingly gray. It was seeing the gray that caused me to panic, feeling disoriented and desperately searching for any point of light to make sense of what I was seeing. 

As Grey and I waited for the power to return, we debated this memory. "Dark is dark," he argued. The absence of light is black. And yet, once the power returned, we both learned that the brain is a funny thing, where it isn't black that most people see in perfect darkness, but a dark gray color that is the result of visual signals for the optic nerve. Humans actually need a bit of light in order to see darkness.

I've been thinking about eigengrau in relation to how most people have been weathering the COVID pandemic. Pandemic fatigue is very real, with many unaware of the extent they are suffering from it. But another level has been watching how so many around me struggle with parsing information (and misinformation) coming at them throughout this crisis. As a scientist, this parsing, assessing, challenging and constant re-evaluation is something my training prepared me for. I'm used to questioning everything that comes my way, particularly when the information is coming from trusted sources as I'm well aware of my echo chamber. And yet, this past year has reminded me that most people don't have this skillset, leaving them disoriented when trying to figure out how to navigate our world. 

The results have been the politicization of science, with people overly confident to effectively assess risk and harm. Relationships have been fractured, lies buried in half-truths have spread like wildfire, and distrust has grown. It's widespread and across educational classes. And it's been surreal to watch as I've also had my eyes on the data coming out about SARS-CoV-2 and how it weaponizes people's immune systems. Seeing the data on how exactly people are dying is sobering.

"Paradoxically, people need light to see darkness." This one statement has haunted me since I first read it and I'm beginning to understand the wisdom in this. Last year, our world was plunged into darkness. And those that were tasked with leading us out proved how incapable they were to do so. Those that have been the voices to advise these leaders either have been ignored, silenced, or have lied. All of it leading to disorientation and panic, combined with chronic fatigue. What is clear is that we need someone to show us the light. And we need that individual or groups of individuals to do so while pointing out the darkness.

Make no mistake: COVID-19 is real. I don't care if you have gotten the virus and came out okay, because others are dying or are very much at risk. Plus we don't know what the long-term effects of infection are (I suspect we will see a spike in infertility globally, as our immune systems are directly linked). But equally dangerous is this being plunged into darkness without any pinpoints of hope for finding one's way out. After living a year in lockdown and a pseudo-Zombieland, it's hard to ignore the impact.

Monday, March 29, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: For the pretty lady

 Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.


I'm not good at goodbyes. Especially the goodbyes that I know will leave me heartbroken. And yet this one deserves an extra special one. In 3 short months, she taught me so much.

The beginning of this story starts on a cold (for California) December night. Grey was driving home and had just turned into our street when a cat walked out into the middle of the road. Slowing, he figured she would finish crossing. Instead, she sat down in the middle of the road in front of the car, staring him down. Moments later, he would walk up to a neighbors house, assuming that she belonged with them, asking if they were missing her. Later, he would walk through the door to tell me the story about how he unintentionally homed a stray cat with strangers. 

And with that, Scruffy entered our lives.

Over the next couple of weeks, the neighbors and I began piecing together Scruffy's history. She came off the streets extremely thin, leaving us worried she was recently homeless. What we learned following a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism was that she had been living on the streets for 11+ years, having been abandoned with her siblings. While they quickly found homes through neighbors capturing them and adopting them, she spent her years roaming the neighborhood, making friends with a select few who would feed her, and finding shelter where she could. That wisdom came through with each interaction, with her quickly assessing people and deciding whether she would come to say hello too. And though the neighborhood rallied around her, she quickly picked her people, allowing me, Grey, Maddie, and Teddy into her circle.

The pandemic has been hard for many reasons, but one of the hardest is revealing people's true selves. It has been hard to read about all the selfishness and pettiness that people have been inflicting on one another during a time when community is most needed (even though we can't physically be together). Worse still has been watching those in positions of leadership fail to model love, compassion, and sacrifice needed to weather this virus. Scruffy coming into our lives did what so many leading failed to do. This small, elderly lady reminded us all of the importance of loving one another, even though we didn't know one another well, and why we need to work together. Compromise and empathy were essential for weathering this relationship over the past few months, as it was not only her health that was on the line. Yet those purrs, headbutts, and snuggles were worth it. The evening visits resulted in new relationships being forged. And above all, there was love.

This pretty lady died this morning on a beautiful warm California spring day. It was a good death and her soul left this world so peacefully. Though there are no regrets and am forever thankful that this soul came into our lives at the end of hers, my heart hurts so much today. I'm missing the scruffy one.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Roll with it

Day 4 of the school year has been completed, with Maddy and Teddy navigating distance learning. Due to our essential workers' status, Grey and I enrolled both kids into a learning pod at their school for the morning instruction followed by a pod for aftercare, leaving me to cover school instruction post-lunch. There have been so many balls in the air just with navigating how distance learning is happening for these kids  (Google Classroom, Zoom meetings, and Seesaw), so adding in this learning pod arrangement has also been another level.

Never mind the fact I've been teaching from 10 pm -12 am my time for the past 2 weeks, developing curriculum, running pilots, and managing the panicked state/lack of attention from my learners.

It would be logical to be insanely anxious about all of this, but looking at the schedule on Sunday and after having a short cry due to a house being in utter chaos, I found the Id part of my brain took over and the theme became "roll with it."

Yes, both kids have missed a couple Zoom meetings. Yes, we've been missing worksheets during lessons (which I've had to recreate on the fly). Yes, we're all exhausted and need a weekend to recharge. But the beauty of rolling with it, accepting that "good enough" is the hero in the story of what should be utter chaos and that recognizing how much the teachers, both at school and in their learning pods, are giving to make this work, is seeing the potential of what can be done and recognizing the changes we're long overdue to be made.

For the past 2 weeks, I've been taking a Virtual Trainer course with my coworkers. And what we've been confronting through the absence of in-person instruction is the recognition that many things we thought were working actually weren't working as well as we thought. It has been hard to see curriculum and practices that have been the labor of love for so many literally getting tossed in the waste bin, and I can confess I've had my moments of panic seeing things I thought were done going back into draft mode. But what's been coming out is something that wouldn't have been possible before; seeing the budding of projects and curriculum that was previously dormant.

A year ago, a paper was published about how paradigm shifts occur when star scientists die. The argument made by the authors is that change can't happen when those dominating a field or thought process are still occupying the stage. I for one am going to argue that the pandemic has ushered in a new form of death, shifting so many perceptions about life and how the world functions. The rules that existed for so long, with certain practices being best are in direct contradiction with keeping people safe. Survival means listening to the outsiders in order to find a new way.

I'll confess, I still have my moments. A midnight training on software really didn't go the way I hoped, leaving me in a bit of a panic. Sending Maddy and Teddy to learning pods leaves me with a since of guilt as others talk about how they are making the decision to keep their kids home (I commend them; it's not an option for us). And it's been a week of adjustments for all of us. 

But the beauty of rolling with it, accepting that there isn't a perfect, has allowed for so much good to come about even after 4 days. To hear the kids are better with masks and social distancing than most adults, to be learning new tricks for Zoom from them (they found the emojis for the chat function), and to be able to take what they are doing and incorporating with global training for a biotech company that is on the front-lines of this pandemic and learning that we're actually training better than before, has been something to hold onto. All of it "good enough" instead of "perfect." I'm starting to see the value in that.

 
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