It finally got to me. I had kept my nose above the water, for the most part. Washed my hands. Stayed at home. Did my part. But when I had that conversation with my parents, the anxiety hit me.
My parents are in a small town in South Dakota — and days prior to our conversation, had their first confirmed case of COVID-19.
This wouldn’t be so scary if my dad wasn’t still actively working in the medical profession. And have a history of terrible pneumonia. And be on the team of volunteer medical responders for our state.
If the hospitals were flooded, my dad would be one to step up and do what needed to be done.
This spurred two emotions in me:
1) Pride, at the bigness of my dad’s heart; and
2) Fear, for his health and the health of my mother.
After I hung up the phone, the anxiety hung on me like a wet fur coat. It felt heavy, with underlying tones of dread.
So that night, after carrying this coat around with me for a few hours, I decided to take it off and take a better look at it.
What was I afraid of?
Lurking beneath the wet fur coat of dread
It wasn’t that complicated, in the end: I was afraid of death.
Perhaps my death; or, the death of someone dear to me.
But was that really the worst thing possible? I had faced death before. And I was a firm believer in the continuity of the soul after death. I may not be able to tell you what heaven or the afterlife is like; but my experience of the divine yields a wholehearted trust that whatever it is, it will be filled with laughter and expansiveness and love.
So, death is a transition. It’s a “moving away” to the Far Country. It’ll just be some time before we get to see each other again.
Painful, yes. Unexpected, shocking, far too soon. But also a reunion waiting to happen.
“We’ve been through this before,” some part of me chimes in.
“The tragedy would be to have lived a life safely, with mediocrity.”
Yes, true, I reason. Perhaps it is not so much death itself that would be the tragedy — interiorly speaking. The tragedy would be to have lived a life safely, with mediocrity.
If I died young, but had given life everything, I would call that a life well lived.
And if loved ones were to die?
The real suffering would be for them to pass without being able to tell them what they mean to me.
So, then and there, I began to write out what I would want to say to those most dear to me.
It felt very purposeful. I may not have control over external circumstances, or the choices others make. But I can calmly regard my fears, turn them over in my fingers, and speak directly to them.
I will not pass without letting those I love know how dear they are to me.
Perhaps this next week, you can write one short note each day and send it to someone you love. Instead of sending out worry and anxiety into the universe, perhaps we can send love, appreciation, graciousness.
“Instead of sending out worry and anxiety into the universe, perhaps we can send love, appreciation, graciousness.”
It doesn’t have to be elaborate; an email or text or phone call will do.
But if you’re sheltering in place without much to do, I’d recommend getting creative with this. (I say this from my experience of spending 18 months mostly bedridden: there are many creative ways to make simple things meaningful.) Handwrite a note. Snail mail is a thing. It’s a great, tactile exercise for the sender, and it’s a packet of joyful surprise for the receiver.
Try making your own card. Get your kids to join in and send crayon-scribbled, glittery notes to friends and grandparents. (Please don’t skimp on the glitter.)
Or, one of my favorite low-energy ways to be creative with the art of letter-writing: make your own envelope. Take a magazine page, old calendar, or your kid’s painting and fold it to make a custom envelope. It’s fun to be sorting through the mail and be greeted with scenic photography or finger-painted cows as the packaging. Make a stack of them to use for days to come.
Here are my own notes to loved ones:
To my partner in crime:
You have given me so much joy, so much life! You add color and fun and excitement to my days. Thank you for believing in me, making me laugh, and geeking out with me over Greek words and mind-blowing vistas and well-written sentences. I am delighted by the sparkle in your eye. I revere your sacred vulnerability. I cherish our naked communication. I cannot decide if your heart or head is bigger. (I mean that in the best way possible — and it might be your heart, despite what your Enneagram says.) Your gift of self has been one of the most cherished gifts of my existence. All I can do is live my life in gratitude.
To my mother:
I am speechless. You have loved and supported me through my weakest times. You have given me your strength, your intellectual curiosity that is intrigued by everything, your love for people and connection, your laughter, your love for the outdoors, your confidence that walks to the beat of your own drum. I am so grateful. I can only hope to pass on a fraction of your gift.
To my dad:
Your passion and wonder for the world is in my DNA. Your undying support was the safety net that gave me the confidence to fly around the world and dare greatly. “If you EVER need me, I will be there. I am only a quick plane ride away from Italy.” You fight tirelessly for what you believe in, and I pray I can call on your unflagging perseverance when I question if anything I do will be fruitful. I love you and know I am loved by you. I am so grateful.
To my best friend:
How to give thanks for 29 years of friendship? Sometimes I think you know me better than I know myself. I am in awe of your resilience. You love deeply, and I don’t know why I got to be the lucky one to grow up with you, discover faith with you, pretend to be bridesmaids in Perkins with you, hold hands through grief with you. You wove me into your family and now you can’t get rid of me. You’ve shared your wisdom (from the throne — still waiting for a compendium to be made) and your inanity. Sometimes they were one and the same! You’ve given me the kind of companionship most people only dream of. I can say with 100% confidence that I would not be the person I am if you were not the person you are. Save my spot when you get there.
How about you? How can you face your fears through concrete action?
Kelly Deutsch is a personal growth coach, international speaker and author of Spiritual Wanderlust: The Field Guide to Deep Desire. When she isn’t exploring the interior life, you might find her wandering under Oregonian skies or devouring red curry.