A reader of my blog recently sent me a quote that totally resonated with me:

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.” – Cheryl Strayed

In the middle of a global pandemic, fear vanquishes our psyche and spirals us into an eddy of anxiety.  Fear is the overriding emotion that overtakes us, as we desperately shelter in place to avoid the virus.  We swerve to avoid others as we walk.  We wear masks and gloves when outside, which help our minds and our bodies which crave exercise.  We use Zoom for teleconferencing as a way to reach out to others and have hastily adjusted to this new reality.  Does anyone ever ask someone to stand up and see what they are wearing below the waist? We order via Instacart to avoid the crowds in grocery stores.  We meditate to calm the rising panic.

As a widow, I had learned to cope with losses.  I had learned to cope with the loss of a partner.  I had learned to cope with the loss of companionship.  I had figured out how to cope with being alone and enjoying my own company.  I had indeed mastered the art of telling a different story to myself to avoid the loneliness. 

But then the pandemic hit and all my resilience flew out the window. Grief is a standard response to loss, but with the global pandemic, we are all feeling grief. We are feeling grief at the loss of our freedom.  We are feeling grief at the loss of companionship.  We are feeling grief at the loss of our jobs and financial security.  This is emotional upheaval to the max and all of us are flailing while trying to be good citizens.  Predictability and certainty are long gone.  There is no clear separation between work and leisure which has given rise to an ethos that is indefinable. We go through each day feeling like we are in a nightmare and want to wake up from this insanity.  We are desperately trying to right ourselves and take back some form of control over our lives.  Grief is an isolating experience in the best of times.  But in these abnormal times, quarantining exacerbates the feelings of lonesomeness.  Being stuck inside is not as bad as being stuck in a story inside our head, especially in the nighttime hours.  Negativity rears its ugly head in the middle of the night and plays havoc with one’s brain.

I think about the movie Groundhog Day.  Bill Murray is given thirty-four chances to relive his day and break free from the monotonous routines of his life.  He moves through his life on autopilot but he learns to live and grow, and be reborn as a more caring person.  The character Phil is given multiple chances to practice good deeds.  The opportunity to redo and learn from experiences, symbolizes the redemptive and restorative possibilities in life.  I definitely feel as if I am trapped in the movie Groundhog Day, as every day is the same.  But if I think of my endless blurry days as a learning experience, it helps me to breathe deeply and figure out how I will make it through this pandemic alone.

I inhale slowly and try to remember when my husband Peter died and think back to the time I could try to restore myself through self-care, by showing self-compassion, by accepting love from friends and family, or just by merely putting one foot in front of the other and learning how I can ably muster up the strength to move forward.  With the pandemic I don’t have the closeness, touch, or hugs I so crave.  Social distancing is an anathema for widows.  I have to figure out how to write a new story line which will take me on a different path.  With the pandemic, I have to tell myself a new story that will downplay fear, and embrace hope.   I have to go back to square one, and rewrite history.  The good news is that I did it before so I know I can do it again.

To quote the song We Did it Before and We Can Do It Again written by Cliff Friend and Charles Tobias the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

We did it before and we can do it again
And we will do it again
We’ve got a heck of a job to do
But you can bet that we’ll see it through

Treat yourself to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner singing this song on CBS Sunday Morning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckc4R2TET6o

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And if you would like to buy my new book: https://www.amazon.com/Jokes-Over-You-Come-Back/dp/1981137866/

October 15, 2019, Los Angeles, CA – Cookbook author and television chef Laurie Burrows Grad, 75, sits down to a roasted chicken dinner in her Los Angeles home. Grad’s husband of 47 years, Peter Grad, died four years ago. To cope with her grief, Grad has written extensively about grief and grieving, and her new book, “The Joke’s Over, You Can Come Back Now,” navigates her first years of widowhood, and includes nine recipes with advice about cooking for one. (Sally Ryan for The New York Times)