Distance. This is a topic coming up right now in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are calling for “social distancing”.
But this is a topic that isn’t new to me or to any grieving person. We are all too familiar with the effects of distance. Distance is perhaps the cruelest consequence of loss. It is a distance we would never choose and yet we had no choice. Each day our person grows more distant and we feel helpless and overwhelmed. Each day, we are experiencing an increasing sense of distance from their touch, the sound of their voice, their gaze, the connection and intimacy we once shared, the ability to recall shared memories, the everyday banter, the daydreaming…
Then there is the distance from the life we knew. Distance from our identity as a wife/husband/mother/father/sibling. Sometimes there is the distance from the home we shared that we had to give up because we could not afford it on our own. Distance from relocation because we couldn’t face remaining in the town we once lived in together. Distance from the friendships that disappeared because they didn’t know how to hold us in our pain or because their presence in our lives was too painful a reminder of what we lost.
The tricky thing is that in some ways the distance in time from the death of our loved one often means the intensity of the emotions of grief has faded. In many ways, that can bring comfort. Yet it is in their fading, in the ever-expanding distance from the horizon of the life we shared, that we are pained once again. The distance from the anguish of our grief is another sign that they are gone. That we are “successfully” constructing a new normal. That is a good thing. AND. That is a really hard thing.
So today, as we move into an ever-changing “new normal” as the COVID-19 takes its course, I want to encourage you to check in on those in your life for whom distance has already been a cruel companion. Now is the time to go old-school and bring back letter-writing. Send them a card. Heck, even just send a text. You can also pick up the phone so they can hear your voice. Or go new-school and do a video-call like Skype or Zoom so they can see the love and concern on your face, not just in your voice. We all feel a little powerless in the face of this pandemic, but here is one thing you can do…for yourself and for your friend who is grieving. This is one simple and beautiful way to soften the consequences of distance.