Thanks to friends sharing opportunities, I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon to get the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. With all the requisite hemming and hawing and ethical complications (why should I get a dose when others in so much more risk don’t seem to be able to get access?!), I am SO FORKING RELIEVED.
Now, there is a personal timeline: first shot tomorrow, second shot the day before Easter, full immunity by mid-April. The timeline means that I will get to go see the exhibit of Egyptian mummies at the North Carolina Museum of Art while they’re in town. It means that my congregation might actually be able to worship in person sometime this summer. I can visit people in the hospital again, and meet people for pastoral lunches and do my in-person job actually…IN PERSON. It means that I can go to the beach with my fully vaccinated parents to help my dad celebrate his retirement. It means so much, and all of a sudden, the SO MUCH is coming into focus.
Bringing the relief into focus also brings the grief of the last year to bear. Seeing a clear path forward gives us permission to see with clarity the path behind us, too. Given the opportunity to imagine living day to day without being focused simply on survival opens up space for all those pesky and energy-sucking emotions that we’ve put on pause all year long.
I’m not a therapist or an expert in trauma responses. There is plenty of better analysis and advice than I can give, but here’s my amateur, pastoral take: we’re going to need a lot of time and space to recover from the trauma of this year. Even more so than in the middle of the pandemic, we are going to find ourselves crushed with postponed grief and delayed trauma responses. As things begin to open up and safety feels more certain, our systems are going to take advantage of the extra brain and body space and lift up all the difficult emotions that our focused-on-survival selves didn’t have time or energy for over the last year.
I’m feeling it – as soon as I scheduled that vaccine appointment, I started crying. I have had no energy for productivity all week. I tried to set aside blocks of time this week for long-range visioning in both my jobs, but as soon as my schedule cleared and I sat down to do some planning, I started crying. All that was there, when I tried to gather my wits about me to think about the future, was grief and exhaustion – a full years’ worth.
If I am feeling this enormous weight as someone who has weathered the last year in the safety of my work-from-home, financially-resourced life, imagine the weight of those who’ve experienced compounding traumas of grief, tornadoes, evictions, job loss, exacerbated mental and physical illness, lack of running water, or daily being on the frontlines of pandemic triage. Collective grief is wild and wily, and we are in it.
So, I’m trying to slow down and make more time and space for all that overdue processing – for myself and for others. And I am trying to be mindful that everyone grieves differently, and my inclination to slow down and make space might be in direct opposition to someone else’s trauma processes of speeding up and digging in. Time to be extra gentle, I think, and extra kind.