Looking for a Balance Between Loss and Gratitude in 2020

“I’m sorry” not in the “I did something wrong and I’m asking for forgiveness” kind of way but in the “I wish this wasn’t happening” way. I find myself thinking and saying this all the time during the last five months.

Five months that in many ways feel like five years.

people at food bank
Every day we wake up is a chance to find the light, the hope and the kindness. (Twenty20 @garickvanstaden)

I’m sorry that my son’s senior year of college was spent in his room

I’m sorry that your senior year was spent studying in your room at home and not your room at college. I’m sorry that you had no formal graduation ceremony where you walked across the stage to receive your diploma.

We hope we made up for it, even just a bit, when we decided to do a ceremony for you at home – the one where we played Pomp and Circumstance, Dad did the graduation program and led the ceremony, I was the “esteemed” guest speaker and you were the Valedictorian – first (and only!) in your class at Bentley University Roswell Campus. With your dogs as your audience and guests – there to recognize your amazing achievement of finishing undergrad in just three years!

Your diploma looked quite official – it should, I worked on it for two hours to get it “just right” and when you looked closely, instead of Waltham, MA it said Roswell, GA – that made you smile. You could tell we were trying really hard to make this makeshift ceremony mean something. Not to replace what you missed or to make light of it – just the opposite – to give you some happy memories to associate with something lost.

At the end when you said, “I know what you both put into making this special for me, and this means more to me than any large, impersonal ceremony ever would have. I will always remember this,” I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer.

Relief – that you enjoyed it and that you understood what we were trying to do for you. Sadness – that it wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. And gratitude – that we got to celebrate your achievement together and mark the occasion in a special way.

Something tells me you’ll be holding onto that unofficial diploma right alongside with the one that arrived in the mail a few weeks later.

I’m sorry that all the special events for so many were cancelled

I’m sorry that so many didn’t get the ceremonies, celebrations, and special occasions that they looked forward to for years. I’m sorry so many special events have been postponed, downsized or outright cancelled. I’m sorry that instead of travelling this summer and starting work in early fall, that you are still at home – since Spring Break – and not out in the world.

You’ve looked forward to and worked hard toward that goal for so long – it’s hard to see it pushed out even further while you’re stuck in limbo. I’m sorry you’re still having to live at home but so grateful that you are safe and healthy. I’m sorry and if I’m honest, I’m sometimes angry and frustrated because it’s all out of our control and we don’t know when it will end and that’s the worst part.

I’m sorry for those who are suffering

I’m sorry for those who are sick and suffering – many alone at home or worse, in a hospital or nursing home. I’m so, so, so very sorry for those who have died – alone – and for their loved ones had to bury them with very few in attendance (and some over Zoom or drive by).

For those who are exhausted on the front lines of this pandemic – so many – working so hard, I’m sorry. For those not working but want to be and those working overtime – all of us just trying our best to get by.

I look around and see so much suffering that it makes me want to withdraw and look away but I also see people being creative and adapting to the way things are (while trying not to think too much about the way things are supposed to be). It gives me hope when I see kindness, gentleness and generosity in people. People trying to connect and stay connected in such interesting ways I would never have imagined – and it’s inspiring.

I also see the divisiveness and cruelty in the world which is sometimes too much to bear right now so I can only take it in small doses and then have to look for something hopeful again.

Throughout this time I’ve been striving for “equanimity” – I thought I understood what this word meant but it really came to be my goal during the pandemic when I read this definition – “mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” That’s exactly what I need – what all of us need.

Serenity and peace of mind might seem out of reach right now but at least we can strive for composure and evenness of temper – balancing the hard stuff with happy stuff.

I’m sorry for the parents who have to make impossible decisions

When I think back to the times we dropped our sons off at college, they were so bittersweet – and so hard their freshman years. I cannot imagine what parents are going through now – with all the added uncertainty of how long campuses will remain open – going through all that emotion just to go back weeks or months later to pack them up and bring them back home.

Or wondering if they will get sick far away from home. Or having to decide not to send them in person or deciding to wait a year. So much more is at stake and so many more strong emotions are involved.

I’m sorry these parents and students are navigating these waters with no precedent, no one to talk to who’s been through it before, and no way to know if they are making the right decisions. That goes for all levels of school reopenings – everyone is just doing the best they can with the information they have – for their family, their child, and their personal situation.

I’m sorry for the students of all ages who have been apart from their peers for so long. I’m worried about their mental health, our mental health, in addition to our physical health.

I’m looking for things to be grateful for every day

I’m sorry for so much right now but I balance that with all that I am grateful for – and some days I’ll admit, I have to look hard at the end of the day to find things to be grateful for. But I know in my heart that we all have much to be grateful for.

And every day that we wake up is another chance to try again – to find the light, the hope and the kindness. When we feel overwhelmed by it all – we have to find ways to reach out, to connect, to support and to ask for help.

I’m sorry for what the world is going through – I’m sure we’ll all be glad to say goodbye to 2020. But I am hopeful for our kids that they will be resilient, adaptable, tolerant, and creative – because they’ve had to be.

I look forward to the time when we can hug, huddle close together and celebrate in large numbers but until then, I hope that we all find ways to connect, reach out, be kind and spread love. I may be sorry about the way things are but I’m so grateful at the same time – equanimity – it takes some practice but it’s the balance that we all need to get through this.

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About Tracy Hargen

Through her writing and work as a mental health advocate, Tracy Hargen shows people the importance of talking openly about difficult issues and getting help. Her family’s very personal journey with depression can be found on CBS This Morning. Look for her work on Grown and Flown and in the book Grown and Flown: How To Support Your Teen, Stay Close As A Family and Raise Independent Adults.

Read more posts by Tracy

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