anxiety,  COVID life,  motherhood

Did I go through hell for nothing?

One week ago was Father’s Day. Instead of the immense sadness I thought I’d be feeling over the loss of my dad, I was angry. Like raging angry. I haven’t been this angry in a very long time.

I’ve been slowly realizing that COVID and my dad’s passing have been and will be forever intertwined, and because we’re still experiencing the effects of the COVID pandemic, I feel like I am still stuck–no stalled–in the grieving process. I’m still waiting to be physically with my family, so we can cry and hold each other like we should have been able to do at my dad’s funeral. Instead, the closure of the Canadian border has been extended again until July 21. (Fun fact, the US/Canadian border hasn’t been closed since the war of 1812). I’m starting to doubt if it will open even then. And while my sister has finally been reunited with her husband in Saudi Arabia (just a few days before Father’s Day–his company was finally able to get him over the border from Bahrain to Saudi), it’s now looking like the Saudi border may be closed until the pandemic is over.

June, 2019–back when it wasn’t the dumpster fire of 2020

I just want to hold my sister and cry with her. We weren’t allowed to do that because of COVID. Even if my Canadian family–or my sister–were able to cross the border when my dad had passed away, they wouldn’t have been able to attend my dad’s funeral. They would have had to undergo quarantine for 14 days before they could venture into public. My dad was buried less than a week after he passed away. I read a story recently where two Canadian sisters living in the US went back to Canada to say goodbye to their dying father under COVID restrictions. They had to quarantine for 2 weeks. If they broke quarantine AT ALL, they would be subject to a million dollar fine and potentially face jail time. That’s how serious crossing the border is right now.

Brunch last year for Father’s Day
My sister and I last year in Colorado

And then I see on Facebook and Instagram friends posting how excited they are to attend a wedding of 150-200 people. Or I see people posting pictures of family reunions. I see people posting pictures of birthday parties with extended friends and family. I see people complaining–not just complaining, ranting on how wearing a mask is a violation of their rights (talk to my sister who was separated from her husband for four months because he got stuck in Bahrain on the flight home after visiting his dying mother after Saudi Arabia closed its borders because of COVID. Let’s talk about inconveniences and rights, eh?) and I get angry. Raging angry. Like I said, I can’t remember the last time I was this angry.

My sister and her husband have been separated for 4 months because of closed borders due to COVID. I stole this from her Insta, one of their “virtual dates.”

I’ll be honest. There’s jealousy with that anger. I want those exceptions to apply to me too. I want to go back to April and have all of my extended family at my dad’s graveside. Not just a graveside service, I want to go back and have a memorial service because we weren’t allowed to have an indoor gathering of people because of COVID. I want more than 10 people to be there. I’m angry that all my family (besides my mom and I) live in countries that have far stricter rules in place than my friends’ states have here, and jealous that my friends can do whatever they want. The province in Ontario, Canada, just allowed a few weeks ago for 10 people or less to gather together. My Canadian relatives are encouraged to “bubble” if they want to socialize with people outside of their household. “Bubble?” Who has been given that recommendation here?

My sister, cousin, and I Zooming in from Saudi Arabia, Toronto, and Fargo. We Marco Polo every day, and it’s been so good to have them to talk to, especially about the struggles I’ve had recently.

I’m jealous that my cousin and his fiancee have to postpone their wedding until next year and that you still get to attend the one you’ve been talking about on Facebook. I’m jealous that you get to go visit all of your grand kids (not just the one family you would be “bubbling” with) whenever you want and my mom wasn’t able to have all her grand kids with her when her husband passed away. I’m angry and I’m jealous, because I am still stuck in this holding pattern of not being able to physically grieve with my whole family.

I’m angry that everyone is going “back to normal” when nothing is changed–the virus isn’t gone. Why can we suddenly go back to normal now? Why did my mom and I have to go through hell to bury my dad, hounding doctors to check the labs to make sure my dad didn’t have COVID so the funeral home could prepare his body? Battle COVID restrictions every single step to even have the funeral? Why couldn’t we have our family with us? Why couldn’t we take our masks off at the funeral? Why were we only allowed to have 10 people at the grave site? Why did we have to go through all of that if it wasn’t necessary? Why was everyone concerned about protecting each other from COVID then, and why isn’t it a big deal now?

Right now, COVID is with me in all sorts of ways I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to be angry with my friends. I don’t want to have the triple guessing over every decision I make about what’s safe and not safe for my family when it comes to social distancing and activities. I’ve had to make choices I’ve really struggled with to let my kids participate in outdoor running groups–they desperately need the social interaction, but they also carry trauma from the entanglement of COVID and the funeral too (W especially). I’ve struggled to make decisions about going to the dentist, doctor, chiropractor, massage therapist. The Fargo Marathon has announced that they are still going to hold the race at the end of August but still hasn’t posted what kind of safety precautions they will be taking. I’m going to have to make a decision on that too. Even after 6 months of training, I’m still not sure I’m going to feel safe or “right” doing it.

I’m exhausted making decisions over COIVD. I’m exhausted over being angry over COVID. I’m exhausted being stuck in this holding pattern of grief, just waiting for the day where I can physically grieve with my family.

Steve asked me the other day what it will take for me to feel “safe and okay with the decisions I make with COVID.” I don’t know, but I know I need to define that for myself. I’ve lived through years of J’s anxiety and PTSD. I’ve watched him slip into cycles of perseveration over stressful events. I’ve seen how his anxiety turns to aversion, and more anxiety. I see it happening in myself. I feel like I need to be strict in my COVID choices to honour all the sacrifices everyone else is making and the things they had to give up–I had to give up–for the public health and well-being of others. I am MORE than over COVID. I’d love to fly to Saudi and see my sister, go to Canada and see my family. I want to participate in marches and rallies, I want to run the marathon I’ve been training for the past 6 months, I want to have a big celebration for my 40th birthday this year.

Me and my dad up in Winnipeg, Canada Day weekend, 2018

I know that because my father’s death and the trauma COVID added to that, it’s making things harder. It’s a strange thing to try to balance the trauma, the reality of the pandemic, and the gaslighting by some people saying that COVID isn’t as bad as they say it is (tell that to the doctor that was freaked out at my mom because he thought my dad had COVID), and trying to see things for what they really are. I feel like every day I’m fighting a mental battle to balance everything.

Steve’s right. I have to decide what rules and circumstances will make me feel “okay” about COVID, even with all of the confusion from my community and the confusion in my brain. I need to decide so that I don’t get into the perseveration/aversion cycle I’ve seen happen so many times with J. Maybe it’s trauma, maybe it’s paranoia, but I don’t feel like we can just go back to normal like COVID never happened or that it’s some kind of hoax.

For now, this is what I’ve come up with for me:

  1. Outdoor socialization is fine in small groups.
  2. Running by myself or a partner is okay
  3. If we go to an indoor public place I will always wear a mask.

As for the large public stuff (the Fargo marathon, going back to school) I’m not sure. Like I said, I don’t feel personally ready for that until I can see some real plan or strategy going forward. I think I will go even more crazy if the kids are home in the fall, but I’ll be equally crazy if they go back to school without any plan in place.

I never thought in a million years that I would have to mourn the death of my father during a pandemic. I never would have guessed how much trauma a pandemic could bring to grief. And I never would have thought how angry I would feel over it.

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  • Crystal

    Oh Sarah. I wish I could give you a hug. I have all the same questions and fears but at least mine haven’t been punctuated by the death of a loving parent. It is interesting you mention ptsd for the kids because I bet you are struggling as well. That whole situation with your dad, everything covid ontop of such a terrible situation, it just was too much, too much for any group of people to be expected to handle. I’m so sorry. I’m glad to hear at least now that your brother in law has made it home. That situation just blew my mind. I hope things start to look up a little and that your are able to compete in your marathon.

  • Jennifer Phillips

    I’m so sorry to hear of your father’s passing. That’s incredibly devastating and on top of pandemic anxiety and stress, too. Please be gentle with yourself. Grief is rocky and unpredictable, and yes, I had a lot of anger too before and after my parents died, without a pandemic.

    I had a scare back in April, tested negative (I was sick from November to April with only few weeks’ break in between respiratory stuff. I’m taking major doses of vitamin D to correct deficiency now.) I wound up testing and doing self-isolation for 3 weeks– for the second time this year. First time was in February, and I wouldn’t be surprised if THAT was COVID. I was so sick and leaving the house would have made me sicker anyway (bronchospasm from cold) so i wasn’t gonna call 911 unless I actually turned blue.

    Yes, this anxiety wears on you. I think being on social media in an election year would have made it so so much worse. Because COVID is disproportionately hitting minorities, too many of these people denying COVID don’t know anyone who died. I do. I think they will before the year’s out, especially with how badly this pandemic has been managed at the national level.

    It’s collective grief out there– whether it’s losing jobs, housing, or just the things of life taken for granted, to greater and more painful losses. I hope it encourages greater compassion overall, but numbing will also happen.

    Rage? Why shouldn’t we be angry?! It’s fully logical. The challenge is to convert rage into something useful.

    Again, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • sarahwbeck

      Hi Jennifer! Thank you for your thoughts and condolences. I really appreciate it! I agree, there’s a lot going on right now that’s anxiety and anger inducing. Stay safe and healthy!