In the 1960s, Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “five stages of grief” based on her work with dying patients. In case you have forgotten, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although some aspects of this work are now in question, she did bring to the forefront the idea that we work through significant changes of life in stages. Those stages may be different from event to event, and from person to person.
In many ways, I have gone through various stages of loss during the COVID crisis. I feel I was in a stage of denial at the start of the crisis. Before the Illinois stay-at-home order, I traveled to New Mexico convincing myself that the trip was safe since (at that time) there were no reported COVID cases in that state.
During the early phase of stay-at-home, I entered a fear stage fueled mostly by the panic I witnessed around me. It was impossible to buy toilet paper, then paper towels, then facial tissues. Everyday pharmacy items such as rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and ibuprofen became purchases that were only available at exorbitant prices on Amazon. Essential foods like flour, pasta, oatmeal, and rice were impossible to buy.
I had five adults living at home, and I’m a person who takes caretaking seriously. I did my best to adapt to other foods. Tom helped out by finding a big bag of flour for me, and I even bought a sack of pinto beans, “just in case.” My preparedness can be a point of ridicule in my family, but I had to be true to myself. I am hardly perfect, but I have become successful in life by moving past what other people think that I should do or what I should be.
I had a depressed phase around that time. Although I’m an introvert, I still need contact with others in my life. Luckily, I was able to safely expand my social connections and experiences to lift my down mood.
I moved into an “approximate” stage where I tried to “simulate” what my life was like before the pandemic. COVID Easter, COVID birthdays, COVID Mother’s Day. I pretended that I could have the same pre-COVID experience by recreating those special days sans outside adventures and people. In many ways, this strategy worked, but in some ways, it did not. I discovered the latter fact when I did the self-exploration that I chronicled in last week’s post.
Life seems to be moving into a new normal, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear path back to the way it was. It has been exhausting for me to rationalize that by (fill in the blank) date, I would once again be able to do those things that I used to do. As the numbers of infections and deaths have escalated, I have moved into a new stage of acceptance. I am no longer trying to approximate my former life. Instead, I am trying to live life.
I had an unstructured day. My friend, Tom, was busy, and Julie and the kids were doing their things. I spent the morning writing and making phone calls, but by the early afternoon, I was feeling unsettled. What I wanted to do was to take some street photography, but in this new era, that wasn’t a very practical solution. Instead, I went to our local Herrick Lake forest preserve. I have photographed Herrick Lake many times; there are only so many different shots that you can take. I thought that I had taken all of them, but did I? I decided that I would up the creative game by shooting only in black and white. Because of this restriction, I had to view the landscape in a very different way. My creativity was sparked.
The forest preserve is close to my sister, Carol’s house. I have been calling her daily, but I missed seeing her in person. Was I only going to have phone contact with her from now on? Carol is older than I am, and she is rightfully concerned about continuing her excellent health. I phoned her and asked her if she would be comfortable seeing me in person. She said she would be as long as I could maintain a social distance from her. We had a delightful time as we sat on her patio, masks on, and 8 feet apart.
On my return home I got a call from my friend, Tom. He was at a project close to my home, and he wondered if I could stop by. Tom is in my “bubble” of contacts, so there was no problem stopping by and giving him a hand with his job.
At dinner, I reflected on my day, noting how full it was and how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel like I was trying to pretend that it was a pre-COVID day; it was an enjoyable day.
My daughter Gracie sent out a group text to our immediate family, asking us if we wanted to have a 4th of July party. Julie and I had already planned to have a barbeque, but Gracie wanted to expand on that idea. She wanted to make some treats, play yard games, and have a bonfire. I thought it was a great idea.
Grace made some desserts, Will offered his frisbee and “Spikeball” game, Julie and I took over various dinner making tasks, Kathryn did some cleanup, and Will and I built a fire. I didn’t feel like I was substituting; I felt like I was experiencing a good day.
It is possible that this pandemic will have the same culture-changing power as the 911 event had on our country. Things may never be the same. I was willing to put my life on hold for months, but I’m not ready to place myself in suspended animation. Yet, I am acutely aware that to go back to pre-COVID behaviors would be both dangerous and foolhardy.
Life requires continual adjustment. There are things that I could do at age 30 that I’m unable to do at 67. With that said, there are things that I can do at 67 that I could not do at age 30. My goal has always been to live the best life that I can in any situation. I need to apply that same logic to my current life.
I have always loved nature, and I have always loved being in the country. I have taken trips where I am living in a space that is smaller than my walk-in closet. Places where the nearest Walmart is 4 hours away. Areas where there is no cell phone coverage. I have traveled to these places deliberately and savored the simplicity of my life. I didn’t feel deprived during those times; I felt liberated. I focused on what I had and what I could do instead of what I didn’t have or what I couldn’t do. I was happy living my life in the here and now. It was great.
I know that we will eventually develop a vaccine, and I’ll be the first person to get it. However, I don’t know if life will be the same as prior to the pandemic. I am determined to move forward and to live life. What can you do to enjoy your new “today?’
Some black and white shots of Herrick Lake.