In this time of COVID, grief has been all around us. In some ways, I feel like the whole world is catching a glimpse of the range of emotions I’ve felt in the years since losing my family: pain, loss, anger, fear, lack of control. The pandemic has been a strangely equalizing force. We are in a collective season of loss. A few weeks ago, my husband went over to his parents’ house to watch the football game. This would have been a normal occurrence in normal times, but he had not been over there since the start of the pandemic. He came downstairs in our house the next morning after a terrible night of sleep, and I asked him what was wrong. He went on to talk about how everything had just gotten so real all of a sudden. That being with his parents made him realize how much we were missing out on each other’s lives. How they were missing out on seeing our kids grow up. How sad he was about the whole situation. Instead of the sympathy he was expecting and deserved, I bore my teeth and lashed out in anger. “At least you’ll get to see them again when this is over!” I raged. “Do you know how it feels to know you will never see your family ever again?”
Whoever coined the phrase ‘time heals all wounds’ could not possibly have lost someone they loved. Time alone does not ease the pain of loss, which I can attest to 14 years later. Carrying this weight of grief reminds me a little of Frodo bearing the ring in The Lord of the Rings, which we have been watching this holiday season. (Confession: I have not read the books, I have only watched the movies, and I will probably butcher all quotes but hope to get the point across just the same.) Sometimes I feel like Frodo (beyond my need for second breakfast, and occasionally elevensies). I feel that I have been called to live my life without my parents or my sister. No one can live this life for me, I certainly didn’t choose it, but it is my calling alone. At times, I am filled with rage. I look around and see so many others with families intact–appropriately aging parents, siblings, stories, memories–and I feel such deep loss. Why me?! Often this is hardest and most pronounced around the holidays. I acknowledge that many who still have intact families of origin don’t feel fondly toward them, which is a different burden to bear. But I loved my family deeply and was deeply loved by them. I have incredible in-laws and extended family, which sometimes makes it even more painful. The stories that are told around the dinner table will never be my stories. There is no love that can replace the family that raised me.
The end of the last Lord of the Rings movie is filled with so much rich metaphor (well, the whole trilogy is, really). Having completed his task, Frodo is called to move on to the next world. His time as a hobbit in the Shire had come to an end, his task had been accomplished. But he still had trouble leaving. He stood with his little beloved Hobbit friends, and felt the pain of leaving them, never to return to this life again. Then his best friend Sam, the one who carried him up the mountain to Mordor, speaks these words to Frodo, “You cannot always be torn in two. Your part of the story will go on.”
This is the part I want to live into. Was it not for all of the comparing I do to the lives of others, I think I could feel more at peace with the hand I’ve been dealt. I have a beautiful family and a supportive community of friends. I have a loving husband and two incredible boys. So why does my heart still feel torn in two? I want to turn to Gandalf with the words of Pippen, “I didn’t think it would end this way”. But Gandalf wisely turns to the little hobbit and says, “Death is just another path,” as if it were really no big deal at all.
We hold so tightly to the past of what is known that we have trouble reaching out into the future that is unknown. We long for safety, it’s innate, it’s in our biology. But what is safe can change over time. We really can find a new normal. Although time has not healed the wounds that loss has delivered me, it has transformed me. So that is the hope I want to offer you–you whose dad is missing from your table for the first time this year, you who are far from your family in space and time because you moved across the country and Christmas no longer exists as it once did, you whose marriage has hit a rough patch, you who can’t be with your loved ones because of COVID—allow this grief to transform you. Allow yourself to feel torn in two. And also know that your part of the story will go on.
My favorite scene in the whole movie is when Pippen secretly crawls up to light the beacon as a call to arms, a cry for help. And one by one, across the lands, the beacons roar into flames. Warriors are called into action (including that bad-ass woman warrior who kills that big creepy black thing to avenge her uncle). Help is on the way. You are not alone. So, this is me, lighting my beacon of hope. I am giving you permission to light yours. To be real with how hard this Christmas may be for you, and to have hope that this season will not be the end, but only a new beginning.