Anyone else feeling fragile these days? I’m with you. If you’d like, why don’t you come into my living room and settle onto the other end of my couch. No need to change out of your comfy clothes — I’m in sweats. The soft, stretchy cotton seems like the perfect hammock for a fragile soul.
So, as you know, I’m a pastor and a spiritual leader in my community. I imagine people expect me to offer words of assurance and encouragement in a season of hardship like a pandemic. It’s not that I don’t have any of those words these days, but I also don’t want to pretend to be more than I am.
I believe it’s very important for leaders to remember they are human and to be honest in every circumstance. Being genuine and open about who we are and how we are at any given moment can be the most assuring and encouraging thing. So today I offer you my weary, droopy self.
How should we be during a global pandemic? Is there a “should” for this kind of thing? No one gave me playbook for this in seminary. I suppose there are some parallels I could draw from scripture for us, but today I’d rather offer the story of my own life, my body, and my heart. Maybe you will find solidarity and comfort there.
I’ve never experienced a compounded season of stress like this in my life. I imagine you haven’t either. Sure, I’ve been through difficult things in my life and I consider myself a fairly resilient person. I’ve matured through the grind of hardship and squalls of grief. But these days, instead of feeling mature and capable of navigating this new challenge, I feel weak and unstable.
Maybe this is what a car accident victim feels like walking for the first time after days in bed. Something as ordinary as walking — something you’ve been doing everyday without thinking about it since you were three-years-old — now feels strange and Herculean. In a bruised and weakened body, even the idea of standing and moving your legs forward and of carrying your own weight, is overwhelming and exhausting.
Everyone will have their own unique pandemic story. Someday we will tell these stories to the younger generations and they will listen, captivated and half-believing, as though the way we lived in these days was more fantasy than reality. And yet we live these strange days — with face masks and gloves, social distancing and stay-at-home orders — as our reality.
My pandemic story starts with a hospital and a wedding. On February 20th in America, news of the coronavirus was still playing in the category of world news. There was a mysterious virus wreaking havoc in a region of China I’d never heard of. I didn’t give it too much thought because my mind was focused on getting married.
Dennis and I had planned an elopement for Saturday, February 22nd. On the night of the 20th, he herniated a disc in his back while standing up from the kitchen table. He spent the next 24 hours in the hospital as the doctors tried to get his pain under control. It took six hours and lots of IV morphine, but they finally got his pain and blood pressure stabilized. (His BP was 199/100 when we arrived at the ER!) Reluctantly, the doctor discharged him Friday night so we could get married the next day. Dennis was adamant that we would have our wedding as planned. I would have married him in his hospital room and drab hospital gown.
Other than Dennis being injured, our wedding was everything we’d hoped it would be. With it being simple and tiny compared to the average wedding, there was no stress. We spent the weekend resting at a beautiful bed and breakfast at the beach. By Tuesday we were both back to work as usual.
Except nothing has been “as usual” since February 20th. Dennis continued to struggle with debilitating back pain as he waited for his surgery scheduled for April. That virus in Wuhan, China spread quickly across the globe. The retirement community where I work quickly phased into a full lock-down in early March. Wearing masks and armed with thermometers, we now daily screen every staff member, essential vendors, and resident for Covid symptoms. All of our in-person programming has been canceled and we’ve had to adapt everything for our in-house broadcast system. My job, which was once vibrantly full of human contact and pastoral care, is now reduced to ministering through live broadcasts of daily morning prayer and Sunday morning chapel.
As the virus covered the globe and grew into a pandemic, Dennis and I had to cancel our full honeymoon that was scheduled for late March. Soon after, we also canceled both our Florida and California wedding receptions planned for May and June. We have no idea if and when we will be able to reschedule those. Though that seems like such a small loss in the midst of such world-wide suffering and grief, it is still a loss for us. It feels like we haven’t had the chance to celebrate our marriage.
Around the time my workplace had a few cases of Covid-19, I started feeling unwell. Knowing my cycle and the symptoms, I took a pregnancy test and it was positive. I took three tests over the course of that week, but my husband wouldn’t believe it was true until it was confirmed by a doctor. I hadn’t found a GP since moving to Florida and no one was taking new patients with the pandemic going on. A local OB agreed to see me when I explained the situation. She confirmed the pregnancy with an ultrasound.
We were so happy to be pregnant. We’d hoped and prayed we would be able to get pregnant one day, but were cautiously optimistic because of our advanced ages. And so there we were, newlyweds, pregnant right away in the middle of a global pandemic, both essential workers (and thankful to be employed), but both exposed to the public everyday, and with Dennis still enduring vicious chronic pain. That is a unique set of stressors in an extraordinarily stressful time.
Dennis has asthma so is in “at risk” category if he were to get the coronavirus. Since it’s a novel virus, almost nothing is known about the risks to pregnant women and their babies. Though healthy and strong, I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable. I love my job and the people I serve, but I didn’t want to go into work and potentially expose myself to the virus and put my husband or baby at risk. It’s been over a decade since I’ve struggled with anxiety, but it was suddenly back again on a totally new level. All I wanted to do was burrow into our safe home and spend time caring for my family.
Dennis assured me everything would be okay. A realist, I knew he couldn’t possible know what the future held, but “everything will be okay” was exactly what I needed to hear every day, several times a day. He held me close every time I felt scared and reminded me of what I already knew — God loves us, God is good, and God is in control of everything, big and small.
So, like the rest of the world, we continued living each day as best we could. We’ve battled the strange fatigue that comes with living the reduced life forced upon us by a pandemic. Thankfully, Dennis was able to transfer to working from home, which brought him some relief from back pain. His surgery was scheduled for April 13th, the day after Easter.
Easter is meant to be the high point of the year for Christians. On Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the fact that his resurrection signals our freedom from slavery to sin and freedom to live eternally in intimate relationship with God. Easter is usually full of extra light and color, flowers and song. But the pandemic made it’s mark on our celebrations too. Our chapel service was still broadcast-only. There was no choir, no lilies, no joyful hugs, and no congregation shouting, “He is risen, indeed!” Though the message of the service and sermon were as hopeful and joyful as ever, it still felt odd. Even Easter was reduced from it’s fullest, brightest expression.
Personally, Easter was full of worry and blood. I got home from our Easter chapel and discovered that I was spotting. That afternoon, as we ate a special Easter dinner, prepared Dennis’ hospital bag for his surgery the next day, and played some games, I continued bleeding. Some spotting is normal in early pregnancy, but mine increased as the day went on, going from a dull brown to a bright red. I knew that at 7 weeks, I was likely miscarrying. Dennis held me as I cried. He slept fitfully that night, as it was hard for him to find a comfortable sleeping position. I didn’t sleep at all. I was in too much pain to sleep, so I spent the night on the couch holding a heating pad to my abdomen.
On Easter Monday we got dressed and headed for the hospital. I was still bleeding. I dropped my husband off at the hospital entrance. Due to the pandemic, I couldn’t go in with him or visit him after surgery. I drove home and called to make an appointment with my OB. Just before the doctor examined me, as I lay on the table in the ultrasound room, I got the call from the hospital that Dennis was out of surgery and doing well. Moments later, the ultrasound confirmed what I already knew — I was having a miscarriage.
I went home to an empty house where I wept and cried out for my husband. Though there are many people I could have called to come be with me, Dennis was the only person I wanted. I wept with relief that he was okay, and I wept with grief knowing that when we spoke on the phone that afternoon, I would have to tell him that we’d lost our baby.
We were separated for about 32 hours. I picked Dennis up from the hospital and drove us toward the pharmacy where we would get his prescriptions. He took off his gloves and used sanitizer so he could hold my hand. I drove and wept and managed to stay on the road only because my husband was finally holding my hand and telling me how much he loved me. We got home and just held each other and cried.
The past two weeks have been difficult. Dennis’ physical recovery is slow and painful. I’m doing the best I can to care for him even as I am recovering myself. I’ve had many friends who have told me about their own miscarriages, but no one told me how physically painful and depleting a miscarriage could be. I took a few days off of work to care for Dennis and to let my own body heal. I’ve since returned to work, but have yet to regain my energy or even the desire to do the job I love.
The past two months have brought stress upon stress upon stress. And the pandemic has brought wave upon wave of loss — big and small. I never thought much about what our newlywed story would be, but never in any daydream did it contain a herniated disc, 2 hospitalizations, a major surgery, a pregnancy and a miscarriage — all in the middle of a global pandemic. So, understandably, I’m feeling fragile.
My experiences have woken me up to the reality that though we are all enduring the large-scale losses and grief of the pandemic, we are all still living our individual lives and potentially enduring personal losses and grief, big and small. We’ve lost happy plans, jobs, time with friends and family, graduations, businesses, financial security… It seems like that list could go on forever and cover such a broad range of losses, and that’s heartbreaking.
I’m sure many of you have suffered losses that have been eclipsed by the constantly grating news of the pandemic. You might be keeping your losses private and I understand your need or desire to do that. I considered keeping our miscarriage private, but ultimately, I thought I would share about it so others who are suffering right now might not feel so alone.
Whatever thoughts and feelings are plaguing you, my friend, you aren’t alone. Your suffering is real. It doesn’t matter how your loss compares to the pandemic or to someone else’s loss. Comparison is fruitless in the midst of grief. Big or small, your loss is real and it hurts you and that matters. Please, please know that what you are feeling is okay to feel, and please take care of yourself.
I hope you have someone who will hold you like my Dennis holds me. Even when I feel like I could shatter in moments of acute grief, his arms and words remind me that I will be okay.
We will be okay. That doesn’t mean that we won’t experience hardship or illness, loss or grief. It just means that we will not lose everything. We have not lost everything even when a single loss is so overwhelming that it makes us feel like we’ve lost everything.
I need to remember that there is still so much life to my life. I may not feel very good physically or emotionally. Each day feels tethered to a new, unpredictable tide. But I am still living. I am still deeply loved. I know that the frayed pieces of my life will mend, my body will heal, the pandemic will end, and I will be okay.
We will be okay.
I get up and meet each day as it is. Some days, like today, have been filled with tears and exhaustion, despite getting a full night of sleep. Other days seem normal — so normal that I forget there is a global pandemic and that I lost a baby — because the sun is shining so beautifully and my husband can always make me laugh. I’m doing my best to give myself heaping doses of grace when I feel overwhelmed emotionally, and when I feel guilty because I feel good. (That’s going to make sense to some of you.)
So if you are feeling fragile these days, you are in good company. It’s not just me sitting with you on The Couch of Pandemic Loss and Weariness. There’s probably a million sisters and brothers in this club. We are all just one story away from finding each other and from getting through one more day.
Please, if you need to, reach out to someone who loves you and share your story. I pray you will be met with wave upon wave of understanding, love, and grace.
You are not alone. You are loved.