I haven’t written a blog post here in over two years. It’s not out of a lack of will, or time – it was out of a lack of necessity…
After I lost my son Rees in October of 2012 I started writing right away (well as soon as our power was restored after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy). I consistently updated the blog for many years, sharing our family’s journey through the grief that brought us down and the kindness that lifted us up. My feelings and experiences were laid bare to the world – raw and unfiltered.
With every post, so many people reached out to me thanking me for lifting their spirits and reminding them that there is a pervasive goodness that permeates our society that too often goes unnoticed. In reality, I always felt undeserving of their thanks as the blog was my outlet for my feelings. It honestly felt self-serving; and the fact that it helped others was lost on me completely.
I often got asked why I stopped writing and I really didn’t know the reason. I would often just say that “I’ll get to it, just not right now”. The urgency just wasn’t there anymore and I never really stopped to think why. I honestly didn’t know the answer until this past week that found the world I thought I understood turned upside down.
Just one week ago I was going about my normal life as was, I assume, most of the world. Being a biologist with a background in genetics I was aware of the potential threat of COVID-19, but I wasn’t too concerned. I did however sense a growing fear in my friends and family and tried (and failed) to provide some perspective for them in a few sentences. A cousin of mine reached out and asked me to try again and really explain things to help alleviate the fear of others and I resisted (I did eventually come around and you can read the post here) .
I wasn’t ready to write again. It had been so long since I had really written anything that I simply felt my writing was no longer relevant. I rationed that I wasn’t really a writer now anyhow, I was a speaker. I still shared my story, except now it was in person,to schools and over 300,000 students all over the country. I didn’t write anymore because the need was no longer there…
And then, in a blink of an eye, it all changed. Schools started closing everywhere and the cancellations came in. School programs that were booked more than a year prior were cancelled – and even if they re-opened this year they wouldn’t have the time for the assemblies. I couldn’t share Rees’ story anymore and it felt like I was losing him all over again. I remember feeling like my voice was ripped from me.
It was in that moment that I realized why I had stopped writing: My voice. In the past four years, as I spoke to more and more people, my voice allowed me to share Rees and our message directly. I stopped writing because I was speaking. The message was still getting out, just in a different (and what I felt was a better) way.
Well that’s gone now. At least for the time being. Like so many of us, I face an uncertain immediate future. No school shows means no work for me, which means no income for the foundation. No income means there will be a time, very soon, where we may not be able to pay the bills. Couple this realization with the nebulous threat that COVID-19 poses and you have the recipe for fear. It’s reasonable and understandable to be afraid right now.
I am not afraid.
That’s not to say I am ok. I’m not ok. Uncertainty abounds. Like many of you, I don’t know how I will make ends meet if this continues. The world pulled the rug out from under me and that’s painful. No, I am not ok with that – it hurts, but I’m still not afraid. Why? The answer is simple. I’ve been here before…
The world pulled the rug out from under me when Rees drowned in that pond as I prepared for Hurricane Sandy. A single moment is all it took to rip my future from me. I most certainly was not ok and I was afraid. I recall thinking how could I possibly make it back from the worst loss one can experience? All seemed lost. I was ready to give up and let the darkness swallow me, like that pond had swallowed my little boy.
The darkness didn’t win. The kindness of others in our time of need was the light on the path my family and I found ourselves on. Our community rallied around us to collectively lift us up. Others who experienced this loss reached out and shared their perseverance (and pain) with me. For the first time in my life I realized that I was not alone on this dark path. Even though I was most certainly not ok, I need not fear for I had someone to lean on and guide me through that darkness.
That is why I am not afraid today. Yes, that darkness is back but, just like before, I know I won’t be navigating it alone. I may be isolated here in my home, but I’m here with my family. Together. Rather than focus on what I have lost, I choose to focus on what I have gained. The world has granted me time to be with my family with literally no distractions. Where others may see a punishment I see a gift. It’s a perspective I don’t think I would have if not for the experience of losing Rees.
And the truth is you are not alone either. It’s ironic but this experience which has literally isolated us all has figuratively brought us together. A stronger, more cohesive society will emerge from this shared experience. For those afraid, please take some solace from someone who has faced the darkness: it’s ok to be afraid, but don’t let that destroy your hope. Fear arises from the unknown whilst concern comes from understanding.
No, I am not ok. But what I understand, from experience, is that’s ok. The light eventually pierces the darkness. The darkness is needed to appreciate the light. If there is no light in your world right now, be the light for someone else. We will persevere. Those aren’t hollow words – they are facts. That’s why I’m not afraid. We will get through this. Separated together.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have some family fun time to partake in. My family is my light. What’s yours?