The week of emotions

I tend to think in terms of weeks. Days are too short, and months are too long. But weeks are just right.

When I lived in North Carolina, my favorite week was the first week of April, as the dogwoods were in bloom and all of nature seemed to be showing out. In the winter I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s, as no work gets done and it seems a time of reflection on the year that is ending and limitless hope for the year ahead.

This week we are currently in, the week between the 17th and 24th of October, will forever be my emotional week.

Today is Tuesday. A year ago this past Sunday, my dad called me to let me know he had tested positive for COVID. He was unsure how he had gotten it, but he was the Emergency Management Director for his county, and was responsible for getting PPE and emergency supplies to all the first responders, so he no doubt got it at work. He never ran a fever, he never lost taste or smell. All of his symptoms were primarily gastrointestinal and trouble breathing. When he tested positive, they got Mom tested.

A year ago today, my mom’s test results came back that she too was positive for COVID. It’s hard to remember now, a year later, but at that stage of the pandemic, three day turnarounds for test results were pretty standard. When they called to let me know, Dad was a little short of breath but otherwise sounded good. In a typical dad move, he was worried about how the county was managing without his doing his job.

A year ago tomorrow, our foster son was unexpectedly sent back to his family against pretty much everyone’s recommendations. After living with us for 9 months, we had less than an hour to pack all his things and to say goodbye.

I will have more to say about our experience with the foster system later, but the short version is that the system all that happened in was horrible for everyone.  If you were to design a system to traumatize children, break the spirit of people who want to help children, and demoralize social workers, it would look a lot like the foster care system in Mississippi.

A year ago this Thursday, my dad died just after lunchtime. My brother called me and told me while standing in the yard with his children, watching them take Dad out of the house, and while watching Mom see Dad leave the house for the last time, with everyone appropriately distanced because the consequences of this virus were obvious and were going down the driveway in the back of an ambulance that had the lights and siren off.

Later that day Mom’s oxygen levels would drop, and the ambulance would take her to the hospital where she would have been admitted except they had patients on gurneys in the hallways because there were no beds. They had a waiting list to get a gurney in the hallway. Instead they pumped her full of oxygen and fluids and then sent her home.

My brother drove her home at 2AM, with her in the backseat and the windows down and everyone wearing masks. She slept that night, or tried to, in the small house I was raised in and that her and Dad lived in for more than 40 years, in the bed they had shared, knowing that if she survived this virus she faced a lifetime without him.

My Dad and I shared many attributes in common, but what tenacity I have, I get from Mom. Her strength amazes me constantly.

A year ago this Friday, I would get up early and drive three hours to drive to my hometown to see my mom and brothers. We were all distanced and Mom moved slowly to sit on the porch. No one could help her, and there may be more compelling definitions of hell, but watching your mother sit on the porch 15 feet from you mourn the death of her husband and your father and not be able to hug her or even physically touch her is as close as I’ve personally come. Driving back home that night, I wept, off and on, for three hours.

And then, 12 years ago this coming Sunday, I married Renee, which has consistently been one of the best decisions of my life. No rational person would have thought us likely to make it, and we were the opposite of “financially stable”. When we woke up the day of our wedding, there was less than $20 in the bank account. I had this vague “ministry” thing I did that paid me less than a thousand dollars a month and Renee was on disability for her heart condition. For our honeymoon, we stayed in a borrowed condo a friend owned at Carolina Beach.

We are, on the surface, an unlikely pair. But it works out more often than not, largely because we decided it will.

And that is how I got through this week last year, and how I will get through it this year and all the years in front of me: I have decided to. I have lightened my commitments and given myself permission to be absent from things and told friends I may need more support than normal. And, importantly, I’m sharing this with you folks.

A paradox of life is that sharing things that make us joyful increases the joy, while sharing our burdens makes them lighter.

I can’t explain why it works that way, but I’m really glad it does.



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One thought on “The week of emotions”

  1. What a time for you and your family. I imagine this particular week will be painful and challenging for the rest of your life. But I’m glad you shared it, because plenty of other people will remember that they are not alone in their suffering, their separation, their grieving, their losses and loves.

    You are a deep blessing in the world. Thanks for being who you are.

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