As the summer closes, I’ve been reflecting on the ways these last three months changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This biggest change to our family’s summer plans was the cancellation of a cross-country road trip I’d planned with my children. They wanted to finish the trip Rob’s death cut short last summer. I wanted to return to Washington for the anniversary of his death. I held out hope through the spring’s quarantine; but when summer rolled around, COVID-19 travel complications felt daunting. I changed the plan, and we stayed in New England instead.
People have asked me if I’m disappointed about how my plans changed this summer. They know how much I wanted to be on the road and back in the place that still feels like home. Honestly, the answer is complicated. Yes, for a million reasons, I wish I’d been able to take that trip. I’d planned six months for it, and my heart was set on going. But I’ve learned more about grief over this summer. Enough to also say no. No, I’m okay with not having been in Washington on the year anniversary of my husband’s death. I’ve made peace with the way things played out. This might come as a surprise until you understand the nature of trauma.
The trauma of the night we learned of Rob’s death is written indelibly on my family’s hearts and minds. There are some things I choose not to share publicly, details of that night that will forever be in our silent, sorrowful keeping. That night was painfully sacred space. The year that followed was incredibly taxing. Trauma begets significant physical, emotional and psychological consequences. It can take a long time to come to grips with the pain of the things we have endured. It can be incredibly hard to turn toward that pain again. We often don’t know how hard until we start.
Over the last year, my children and I have sought professional support for grief and trauma. I am fully aware that revisiting places or timelines of trauma and loss needs to be done carefully and in a fully supported way. In our journey with grief, I have always wanted the healthiest outcome possible for the five of us. After a summer grounded locally by COVID-19, I now understand that it’s not as simple as saying I wished I could be in Washington this summer. I didn’t realize it when I called off our trip, but I’ve come to see that this unexpected, additional season to process Rob’s death has been beneficial for our family. I didn’t know it, but we needed this extra space.
Space to Grieve and Grow
Our family has grown and changed a lot this summer by staying put. Growth I wasn’t seeking and change I didn’t expect. It’s been a weird, hard summer in a lot of ways, but a healthy, good one too. In the quiet moments of this staycation, we’ve had unique opportunities to face afresh some of the sorrow of Rob’s death and begin to work through it. I’m still getting to know grief, and I didn’t see the need until it was before us. I realize now that staying put gave us some distance to begin that important processing work. This summer has offered us space to grieve and grow.
Over the summer, I’ve watched as my family’s grief has changed shape. We’ve dug in deep and talked about things that really hurt. We’ve also started to talk about the life we want to build together as a family going forward. This summer, we’ve realized we’re not just a mom and four kids. The five of us are still a family, even without Rob here. Grief transformed our family, and this summer has been a metamorphosis of sorts. We’re coming alive in new ways even in the midst of death. While we aren’t making any big plans, this summer’s intentional grief work has allowed us to look forward to the autumn and to the future with hope. It hasn’t been the summer I plotted out, but it’s been a good one after all.
Take Care of the Basics
I often think about what Rob would want me to do in this season. After almost twenty years of marriage, I know pretty clearly what he’d say. Take care of yourself. Take care of the kids. Do what you need to do. Don’t make things harder on yourself. Take care of the basics. When I think about these last three months, I realize I’ve done just that. My children have enjoyed an unplugged summer of sun and fun. I’ve found joy in exciting new projects (forthcoming!). I sold our home and moved to a more manageable space. Travel didn’t go according to my plans; but I think Rob would say it was a summer well spent, even if I didn’t make it to where I hoped I’d be.
This summer, I failed to execute a trip I carefully planned just for us, just for Rob. However, Rob isn’t waiting for me out in Washington, tapping his watch wondering what’s taking me so long to get there. He’s not restless or impatient or embittered that I changed my plans. He always told me I was the best trip planner. I know he’d understand my decision. More than just understand, I know he’d love me for the choices I made for our family instead. To me, that’s all that really matters.