My wife Kristin reminded me last night that we have our wedding anniversary coming up next week! Let me be real with you – it would have snuck up on me anyway. However, with everything happening with working remotely, the kids being home, and the pressure to practice healthy social distancing, it honestly slipped my mind. Really – that’s my excuse! But not my wife, obviously. Nothing gets past her.
After nonchalantly acknowledging her reminder as if I knew it all along, she joked that we may be celebrating by eating fancy steak dinners in our car served from the curbside delivery that area restaurants are starting to offer – especially since they are closing their dining areas and only offering to-go orders. And then it hit me – we can’t celebrate like we really want to.
There are so many occasions, celebrations, and events that people have planned – that you have probably planned – that now we can’t go through with or do the way we originally wanted. Birthday parties, special trips, anniversaries, graduations, religious services, kids’ sports events – even enjoying the professional and college basketball seasons – all put on hold, canceled, changed.
I get it. In addition to our wedding anniversary, we’ve canceled our original plans for one daughter’s birthday party, a special trip to New York for me and our other daughter, a trip to Denver for my wife, and most of my daughter’s track meets for the season. It stinks. And it makes us sad, and maybe angry. Not to mention all the other emotions stirred up by the current circumstances. Maybe you’re feeling like you’re beginning to lose things – a sense of normalcy, the thrill of celebration, the expectancy of fun and new experiences. And all that time and energy (and possibly money) you’ve spent making plans. It’s disorienting. And it’s unfair.
When you lose something, you grieve. We need to acknowledge that and call it what it is. Among many other things, we are in a time of grief for plans that have gone down the drain. Let’s think about that for a moment. You’re grieving the loss of expectations and dreams of things you would be doing just like you’d grieve the death of a family member, or a pet, or the loss of a job.
Try not to think of grief as a single emotion like sadness or sorrow. Yes, it’s perfectly normal to have some strong feels when you know you can’t celebrate your child’s birthday like you were hoping. But it’s helpful to think of grief itself as a process that involves complex emotions. And contrary to what some may believe, grief is valuable and healthy. It reminds us of what we care about. Grief helps us come to terms with the loss we feel and the emotions that follow. Which is why it’s so important to talk – and give our family members the chance to talk – about what it is you’re grieving. Giving words to what you’re feeling about losing that trip or that party or that graduation ceremony is healing.
That being said – grief is not a place where we want to camp out. The grieving process should help us to move forward at a healthy pace. So what does moving forward look like for you as you grieve plans made and lost for these next few weeks? Here are some ideas:
1) Don’t not celebrate. (Ok, I know that was a double-negative.) On the contrary, replace the plans you had with something. Can’t go to the jump-park for your son’s birthday party with friends? Celebrate at home with the family and a Nerf gun war and serve some ice cream. Graduation ruined? Conduct your own graduation ceremony, complete with a “Pomp and Circumstance” processional, a commencement speech by a family member, the throwing of the cap and lots of pictures. Baseball games canceled? Two words: backyard kickball! Make the best of alternate plans with creativity and a shift in your attitude.
2) Be sure to take pictures and selfies of whatever you do. Although the memories you expected to make aren’t happening, there will be a day you look back and remember this crazy time. Having the visuals of how your family persevered through this will provide strength for challenging times in the future. It’s a way of reinforcing the idea that “we came through that – and by golly, we even had some fun.”
3) Shift your focus from the plans you weren’t able to do and onto the people you are now with. So you’re eating anniversary lobster from the front seat of your sedan rather than a candlelit restaurant table. Switch your attention to the person eating lobster in the passenger seat next to you, enjoy the moment and just have some great conversation. Don’t forget to wear your lobster bib.
4) Finally, have hope. We know that times are uncertain, but I think it’s important to keep in the forefront of our minds that there is an “other side” to all this. Birthdays and anniversaries come around about once a year (from what I understand). The beach will be there after COVID-19 has run its course (I’m no doctor, but I do think it will run its course if we all do what we need to do and stay home). And let’s face it – we won’t have to watch professional bowling or darts on ESPN forever.
Share this hope with your family. You’re all grieving to some degree. Allow the grief process to move you forward, make memories, and focus on the ones you love rather than the plans that were lost.