Last week I got the news that my best friend from Australia couldn’t visit me this summer for a trip we’ve been planning for almost a year. I’ve only been able to see her three times since I was eight years old, which made canceling her visit beyond heartbreaking. After we talked, the reality of the situation set in (like really, truly set in)- until she called, I had been in denial about how long staying home was really going to last.
I’ve been taking everything day by day, but this week I sat down with my planner and crossed out all of my plans until June- day trips, restaurant reservations, Hamilton at the Fox (which was my Christmas gift for Ryan), and so many canceled trips and visits with family and friends that live far away.
It was devastating to have to go through and cancel everything- Ryan and I had just two weeks in Atlanta together before all of this. And this weekend, I was looking forward to Mother’s Day in Atlanta with my family together- I never expected to have to go this long without seeing them after moving far away. I had so many wonderful things planned- and just like that, they were gone.
My experience might sound really similar to yours- or maybe it’s completely different. I know that everyone is facing a different reality right now, but one thing is the same- this is not the reality any of us knew before the virus, or chose to have. Staying positive can be really hard during situations like these- times when things you were looking forward to were ripped away, and it is completely out of your control.
A lot of you may not know this, but I have some experience with this. My life was put on hold for the past five years after I was rear-ended in a car collision. I stopped for a school bus making a right hand turn my last week of high school, and everything for me was put on pause. I never went back for the end of high school- I barely made it to graduation. Just this year, six years later, I was able to start truly living my life again, or as close as I’ll ever be able to. 2020 was going to be my first full year without any major limitations since 2014. But it got taken away.
I spent five years while I was supposed to be enjoying college going to doctor’s appointments five days a week, on about fifteen medications, and struggling to keep up with school even part time. Rushing a sorority, having a double major, studying abroad, even just joining school clubs, weren’t an option for me. The effects of my traumatic brain injury almost lost me my scholarship, and I was in intense, debilitating pain for the better part of five years. I barely graduated on time- it was only because I took extra credits and extra online classes that I did. I didn’t feel like myself, I was miserable, and I knew that my life was never going to be the same because of something that was completely out of my control, let alone my fault.
For five years I couldn’t go on any rides at the fair for my birthday, ski with my family at Christmas, go on plane rides longer than an hour- family vacations were ruined, and a trip to see my best friend in Australia that I had been saving up for since I was ten got cancelled at the last minute after a doctor ruled it out. I cried on the way home from the neurologist- I can remember sitting in that office and hearing those words like it was yesterday. It’s been a few years since the worst of my symptoms, but the pain of what I lost as a result of the accident is still there as if it was yesterday.
And now, that same visit is on hold again. The juxtaposition is not lost on me- just after my life was back on track, the same trip is being postponed because of circumstances neither of us could ever have seen coming. And I’m not going to brush over how hard this is- it’s doubly painful to get your life back after six years only to have it get taken away again.
I’m not sharing this to get sympathy, but because I know what it’s like to give something up. In fact, this is pretty hard to share. But my past health struggles are a part of me, and they have shaped how I view similar situations now. They have taught me that life isn’t fair, which can be the hardest lesson to learn as you grow up. But once you do, you realize that what matters is how you react.
From my experience, I sit down and I just let myself be upset. It’s okay to be sad about things being cancelled. I know that in the broader sense of things, I have it easy right now. But that doesn’t make the loss of time with loved ones any less real.
So, last week, I sat down and really processed what I was feeling. Every time I’m upset, I think about this quote from my favorite book, Tuesdays with Morrie. If you don’t know the story, it’s about Morrie Schwartz, a college professor that is dying from ALS and sharing his wisdom about life (everyone should read this book). Chapter twelve is about feeling sorry for yourself, and Morrie says, “‘I give myself a good cry if I need it. But then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life. On the people who are coming to see me. On the stories I’m going to hear. On you—if it’s Tuesday. Because we’re Tuesday people.’” I love this perspective- you sit, you mourn, you get it all out, and then afterwards, you move on.
So last week, I sat, and I cried, and I moved on. We have to keep looking forward, and focus on what we can do today. I remind myself over and over again that almost everything that isn’t happening right now is being postponed- not canceled. And there is a difference. These wonderful events will still happen, and we can still look forward to them.
After canceling my plans, I didn’t just sit and continue to be upset- I began to look forward and find hope in the future. I figured out how to reschedule everything for later in the year. Who knows, maybe we can celebrate Mother’s Day in September this year. Looking to the future was a reminder I needed that this situation we are in isn’t permanent.
And in the meantime, we can find creative ways to find joy in the now. Sometimes it can be really hard- but honestly, it is all we have. So I’m finding quarantine dates that are socially distanced. And I find that being grateful always gives me perspective; I know that in the broader perspective I’m incredibly lucky- I have a job where I can work from home, my health is finally okay, and I have plenty of family and friends to call every day.
One day things will be different- and unfortunately that day is not today. But this reality is not forever, and one day this will seem like a distant memory. I remember when I couldn’t recall what it was like to not be in pain- but these days, I wake up in the morning and I don’t think about how my neck feels at all. What was once my entire life for years is finally a memory. And this reality that we are all facing will be, too.
So I look forward to the summer of 2021, when my best friend can finally visit, and I will continue planning for Mother’s Day, celebration date TBD, knowing that when these visits finally happen, I will appreciate them that much more.