We are living in wild times. I called a friend the other day to talk about how the weather is warming up, how I’m craving a braai with good conversation, good food, good music, hugging friends and furious dancing. Experiences that I completely took for granted pre-Covid. “I think we all did,” she muses, by way of connecting over this sense of loss we shared.
My uncle passed away last week. In the contemporary culture, we have normalized ‘getting up and getting going’, even after experiencing something as devastating as death. I pushed through the funeral preparations; we all did. Ordering, booking, purchasing, confirming. There was a closeness in the busyness. My cousin was in charge of sanitising the podium and microphone at the funeral. She was meticulous. Sanitising hands, spraying, wiping after each person had spoken about the light that my uncle was in the world.
After the funeral, I was ‘back’ sending emails, logging into virtual meetings. I was doing what we do – keeping it going. But on a random night, a few days later, I became acutely aware that the space my uncle occupied in my life was empty. He just wasn’t there anymore. This thought sat heavily in my chest, crept up my throat and came out of my eyes.
We never really think about death, never really allow it to take up space; we never really sit with the discomfort or the self-reflection that follows, and how our own mortality tends to push through to the front of our minds. We busy ourselves with daily rituals, cast our attention to the mundane activities that make a life, until on a random night, we remember. Mourning is a peculiar thing.
I think about how our world has changed, how the illusion of control and structure has been upended since the pandemic has raged through our communities. Jobs have changed, healthcare and education have been shaken, even standing in line at the grocery store isn’t the same anymore. We have lost so much, even in the little things.
But I’m trying to be kinder to myself and others. It’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to miss the small things, like pushing past a stranger to order a drink from the bar, or the big things like the ‘not-thereness’ of a beloved friend, mentor or spouse. It’s okay to miss the commute from home to work and hugging an acquaintance you haven’t seen in a few weeks when you bump into them at the mall.
It’s okay to be aware of it, to take things one day at a time.
But is there an ‘upside’ to all this loss? I think so. I think, at least today, that I appreciate those I love, just a little more. Today, I double-mask, wash my hands, touch elbows, in the hope that I can spend some time with them today, so that I can spend more time with them tomorrow. Because even in all this loss, there is an opportunity to slow down, to come back to the centre of what is important in life, and to appreciate it. There is value in relishing when one’s sense of taste returns, in the satisfaction of taking a deep breath that lands at the bottom of the lungs. There are moments when we can be grateful for life. Despite everything, there really can be light in the mourning.