Our March blog was supposed to be about birthdays. Specifically, I was going to write about what it is like to have a birthday if you’re also mourning the loss of a parent — for me, a mom. I had lots of thoughts on this topic because I think it is a part of the “first year” that really catches kids/young adults off-guard. You’re expecting to be sad on so many days (her birthday, christmas, anniversaries) and in so many moments, but you don’t realize the profound impact a mom has on your birthday until she is gone.
However, after the last week, this does not feel like the time to write about this specific topic, for a lot of reasons — I don’t need to explain them to people at this point. I’ll return to it, maybe, at another time.
Instead, on Day 4/5/13 (whatever count you’re keeping), when I sat down to write, I was struck with something — thoughts of my Mom have become both different and not exactly normal since this epidemic started. I imagine things have shifted for a lot of people. For me, I have been thinking about how this moment is one that my Mom wouldn’t understand. How could she? She died in October of 2001 and this type of world crisis was not one that most people believed in outside of Outbreak (1995), a movie that I do remember watching with her. My guess is that other people who have had someone die even two months ago are experiencing something similar: how do you even picture that person in the world right now? For many of us, that very act, the act of picturing a person living alongside of us, is one that is coveted, cherished, and incredibly comforting on a daily basis. And right now, everything has shifted.
Normally, I turn to my mom’s example for so much in my daily life, “would she have parented like this?” ; “did she cook every night for us?”; “how often did she pack us up and bring us places?” ; “mom, you would love how your grandchildren are ____ (fill in the blank)” ; “wouldn’t it be awesome to call her and tell her this thing right now?” For those who haven’t lost a parent, you might think that this borderlines on compulsive, and I don’t know how to explain it beyond just saying that it isn’t. For me, I am not burdened by my thoughts of her, but instead, I am comforted at the idea that I am keeping her alive. And I use those consistent moments of her voice as a guide for living my daily life and routine.
But now we are living through something that I have no model for and a time that wouldn’t make sense to her. I didn’t watch her parent us through a time like this. I don’t actually know if I could come up with snow day activities that she did with us when I was 5, 4 or 2 (the ages of my boys right now). And I certainly have no model for how to explain to kids that they can’t, shouldn’t, won’t be able to hug people for a long time. And so I am left on this day, Day whatever of who knows how many days, feeling a bit disconnected and unsure of how to go about keeping her flame alive. We just funded a Dad with three little boys whose wife passed away in the early winter, and I can only imagine that he is grappling with an enormous amount right now, and in many ways, he might be thinking that their grief is the least of their concerns. I am not planning to solve any other this, of course, I am simply reflecting on the things that I know to be true for me and possibly others.
In addition, during the very act of writing this, I am shaking my head and telling myself that I should know better. There are of course so many things that I could bring into the patterns of life right now that my mom so very expertly taught us. Patience, kindness, empathy, simplicity, love — these are all daily values that she built as a system for us to fall back on. And so here I sit, in this new, uncertain, jarring human moment and I have to take those values and try to creatively blend them with reality. How am I going to make sense of all of this, keep myself sane, my kids safe, and my new rhythm live-able? What can I bring from before and adapt it to the now?
I’ve obviously chosen to write—one thing that I love to do. And I also like to“take action” (non-profit founder, kind of an obvious part of me). Ask anyone who went to middle school with me; if there was a problem, I assembled a team to fix it. Well here is my “take creative action” plan to live (and dance) through this moment — take it for what it is, one woman’s set of ideas.
My Take Creative Action Plan.
- Birthdays. We’ve got a big one coming up right now in the Boger family — our littlest, George, will turn 2 on Sunday, March 22. He is just at the age where he knows that he can ask for something on his cake—Elmo, and his joy in life comes from people singing the “happy birthday song.” So I’ve asked my local, town friends to make signs, blow-up old balloons, grab party hats, and decorate their front doors in general with old party stuff (hell, they can tape extra napkins and plates from old birthdays to their doors). On Sunday, we’re going to drive around the town and roll down our windows and listen to everyone sing at each stop. I am not doing this on foot because my kiddos are still young enough that they might try to run and hug a friend (ugh), but my hope is that George gets a lot of smiles and giggles out of hearing families singing at the top of their lungs for him. (Thank you Kristina Coccoluto, Chief of Community, for giving me a nugget that created the idea!)
- School. My kids are in preschool. I think that for them, they need to see faces, friends, and hear each other’s voices. I also think teachers are dealing with as much emotional and family drain as the rest of us, and so we need to help them out a bit at first. While they start figuring out how to make it all happen, I quickly threw our class on a “preschool morning circle” Zoom meeting yesterday morning. They each brought a favorite “lovey” that they sleep with, and they all sang a favorite class song. I was balling in the background, and the kids LOVED it. They loved “having a meeting” and they loved, loved, loved seeing their friends and teachers faces. They are already trying to find new things for the next meeting. We did one for the afternoon Pre-K class, and the teacher had a great idea — pick a spot outside of your house, and start sitting in it every day, and notice “signs of spring.” I think that you could do this from a balcony as well, or simply by walking to a favorite spot every day.
- Work. My calendar events got deleted, one-by-one last week, and I think that I spent a lot of time (Saturday and Sunday while the world fell apart) trying to put new to-do lists together but had them focusing on “late spring” or “early summer” or “how the hell am I going to do this all the same?” I threw them out on Wednesday and deleted upcoming events, phone conversations, etc., and I put new things on my work calendar. I went back to the basics of Runway — what makes it a unique organization and what brought people to our events every year with so much enthusiasm. We tell a good story, we focus on the moments of inspiration, joy, and hope that are out there in the world, and we bring communities together. So instead of trying to create a new plan, I am returning to what makes us special, and I am Zoom meeting with models (both new and past) every day that I come to the office. To listen to their story, record it, and then share it with all of you on our social media outlets and monthly updates. I’m also finding ways to pay online tutors to help our funded families and give their children access to consistent education. We have all ages of kids in our funded families, and we want to support virtual tutors who are taking a hit on their businesses. I’ve also put on my work calendar a task for every day in an area of the organization that never goes away — our data cleaning, our content creation, our board oversight, our granting of funding, our grant writing to get funding. Those remain weekly focuses, and they are helping me to pinpoint what my new “Monday” looks like.
- Community/Self. For now, we can all still walk around. I love the trend of rainbows in the windows (thank you children of Italy) to let other kids know that they are “in this together.” My sister (all the way in LA, but very much “in this with us via FaceTime”) thought of creating a scavenger hunt/bingo for kids to do on afternoon walks — find a flag, find a dog on a walk, find a sign of spring, find a blue house.” This will be our afternoon activity today in our rain gear — finding the ways that we create a game for our friends to play. So many community/youth groups are asking us to do these types of games with our kids, and I think that it gives us all purpose. And for me personally, I am dividing the day with my husband, even if it has to be two hours on, two hours off, and using it to work, exercise, walk, and connect with friends. We have our first “virtual dinner party” with friends on Saturday night after bedtime. And I am having some amazing and uplifting moments chatting with my sisters and cousins on every side of the country. The connection is necessary, the self-care is required. I’ve also not given up on chunky jewelry, Dudley Stephens tops, blown-out hair, and taking showers every few days. For me, the very act of “getting ready” is cathartic and necessary (don’t kid yourself, however, I have lots of leggings on).
Let me pause and just reflect that it is bananas that everything that I just wrote is a reality and not part of some crazy dream. How did we get here? Why are we here right now? When will this end? Ugh.
I loved an article that a friend sent earlier this week about recognizing this grief and allowing it to come and go when you need it to. If there is anything that I’ve learned about grief it is just that. You have to live with it not on the side of it. You have to let the emotions come and stay for a bit and then allow the next thing to pick you up. Two little boys were crying on my kitchen floor before our beach trip two days agao — for the loss of their friends and a school day. I sat there and cried with them — I mean, we have to. We know how to pick ourselves up and think to ourselves, “well at least we are doing what is right to keep as many people alive,” but for kids, that’s obviously not something that they can understand. I think they can see us cry, and they can feel validated, and then we can still bring them to the beach to look for shells.
Ok, last self action plan idea.
5. Share as much as you can. I love re-posting the information about zoos doing virtual tours. Of workout classes offering free barre classes. Of the firefighters reading books aloud for kids (p.s. this firefighter is a Runway model and survivor). Of the therapists offering parenting seminars (email me to get her name). Of the museum opening up their exhibits online. Of business owners teaching us how to create. I love it all. I think it will ultimately make us all better people if we are sharing intentions, ideas, inclusivity with one another. I will certainly be doing it on my instagram account, and I hope you’ll pass along all of the good stuff as well. Next to the good stuff, I will share and encourage others do so as well — even if it is just by text — the moments of total anger, sadness, frustration, and despair. My experience so far is that everyone is having those tough moments, and I don’t think that we have really faced the hard part yet, so there will be more to come, and more to share. Sitting with it by yourself is a tough choice, and it rarely helps. Grab a time with your best friends, have a FaceTime cocktail hour, and talk about the uncertainty and sadness that is out there. It’ll help.
And with that thought, the idea that this is only the beginning of a really long road, I will once again return to something that I’ve learned about grief. It is not in fact a long road at all, it is an eternity of loops, of good days and bad days, of good hours and bad hours. I am trying to book end a 48-hour cycle as much as possible with either a sunrise or a sunset, by myself or six feet apart from a friend. I would say that I could do it daily, but with three little boys and inclement New England weather, that’s just not a reality. And in those moments with certainty — i.e. there is always a sunrise and a sunset, somewhere–I am trying to be very much in that moment. I fear based on the reporting of some very smart people, that it is going to feel a lot different in a week and in a month for all of us. There will be a lot more suffering. And I know that this will be a continuous cycle of hope and grief, of laughter and of tears. I also know that I’ve survived some pretty bad loss, and I am ok. I know a lot of others who are similar. When you can accept what you can control and what you can’t, and when you can lean on others for support, you can get through a lot.
Hang in there world. And thank you (world) for providing us with these incredible moments this past week.
- Grandchildren surprising their grandmother at the airport
- A “solo” toast with friends.
- Workout instructor teaching outside an apartment building
- Olaf (voice of) doing story time
- Penguins roaming free in a zoo
- Italians singing together from their apartments
- Taking out the trash with a dinosaur
- Imagining the world with celebrities
- Rainbows on windows — global effort
- Happy Birthday to a 95 Year Old Grandmother