Wednesday, November 25, 2020

How to take care of your Self during difficult times (hello Covid Thanksgiving)



Today I decided to post a few shots of past Thanksgiving tablescapes in all their luscious fall beauty, but not for the reason you think.

Yes, I do like to share my ideas in case you might need some inspiration for your own tables.

But I also wanted to use these photos as a lesson about perfect-looking images and how they can camouflage really tough days. I’ve always thought the best thing about these wonderfully staged images is that they can inspire our creative energies, and the worst thing about them is they can set us up for disillusionment when we’re back in the real world with all its variegated imperfections.  

Here’s the truth.

I haven’t given any thought yet to my Thanksgiving table and here it is, the day before. That doesn’t mean much unless you know me. And while some of my delayed reaction might be lumped under the heading of ‘another bizarre COVID-19-related experience.’ That’s not completely truthful.

Yesterday, I had a really hard day. Just so hard. If you’re trudging through the holidays after a recent loss of a loved one you know what this means.

I haven’t had one of these days in a while. It began with an insidious headache, mild but lingering in my soft temples all day, that was my first sign. And of course, somewhere in my head I heard the voice of Cheryl, my colleague from-my-old-therapist-days of the past telling me, “Leslie, did you know that Gestalt therapists believe a headache is really pent-up tears?”

Yeah, Cheryl thanks for sharing this, and by-the-way do you know that thirty years later-- every time I have a nagging headache I cannot get this bit of body-mind wisdom out of my head?

Because yes, for me, ‘the headache thing’ is generally true. Yesterday was a day when I couldn’t shake the low-grade headache that was accompanied by a sorrow, so dense and heavy in the center of my chest that it hurt. That’s where I feel my heartache in my body, and in the beginning this chest pain was so bad my doctor sent me to the sweetest cardiologist, who did inform me that yes, you can actually die of heartbreak and there’s a name for that which I choose not to remember.

My heart, it hurts so much. It hurts.. oh God.

In the beginning I would say this out loud to Jim the way a sick child does, because I have to name what’s happening to me as a way of getting through it. I’ve learned that now. And so when the headache came yesterday morning with my coffee, I was also aware of a slow, wave of pain and longing for my boy, beginning to roll over me. What is that word that describes missing someone so intensely that it physical hurts? I don’t know it yet in alphabetical letters, but when I feel it---these bodily sensations and emotions take me to the edge of tears all day. 

I'd describe it as a state of being held together by wispy threads of fragility that feel almost otherworldly. Maybe this is what Father Greg meant when he told me that God is always holding you in the palm of his hand, even when you can’t feel this.

I don’t know.

But at the end of the day –after going to two stores to find a turkey small enough --I walked into the house with my Whole Foods turkey, promptly took two ibuprofen, called Jim to tell him I was going to take a nap, something I never do. And I flopped on my bed.

I don’t know how long I lay awake before my uneasy sleep, but I watched the light from my upstairs window move through shades of musky gray. At some point it was dark and instead of jumping up and cleaning the morning dishes and throwing a quick dinner together, I stayed on top my fluffy comforter and watched videos of Patrick on my IPhone, smiling and even laughing at his silliness. Remembering how funny he was and loving his voice

Jim came home and I cried some more and we made a salad and salmon together, watched some more of Queen’s Gambit, and afterwards we walked Stella under a cold blue sky. And because the hurt in my chest still felt red and raw, I became that patient who has gingerly left her hospital bed, and is shuffling her feet down the cold linoleum hallway in order to regain her strength.

 Baby steps. One at a time.

Yes, it had been a tough day.

In addition to learning how to move through the holidays without Patrick—Jim and I decided to follow CDC recommendations against travel, so we’re staying cozy and safe at home, which means a stunning reversal of traditional Thanksgivings past, and for the first time in our lives we won’t be home with extended family and friends. Nope, it will be just us three bodies and one beautiful spirit.

And yes, while we can acknowledge our personal choice in the matter, if you’re like me, it’s been a long, tiring road of looking on the bright side of this COVID-19 period. And it’s ok to recognize that there’s been a substantial amount of letting-go experiences that so many of us are having to accept right now. What that means is, that we’re all carrying around a lot of small, stinging losses and grief. And it’s ok to sit with that.

On this day it didn’t help that my mother called me and threw one of her fits, another one of her dramas. That’s another tangible loss during the holidays that’s important to acknowledge. The very real experience of loss that comes in the form of people that cannot show up for us when we need them.

During regular life when we’re feeling strong and intact, dealing with these family members is easier than during a year like this one.

Just saying. Stay aware or your expectations, it’s ultimately the thing that protects us.

After my hard day I woke up to brilliant sunshine pouring through the clouds and even though it didn’t stay around long, it showed up like a beaming smile of redemption.

Today. Hooray! I had no trace of a headache. I got my grocery shopping done by 8:30 am, where I had fun in the flower section picking out pale pink roses and shiny orange mandarins for my table. Michael called and said, “Love you Mom.” And I couldn’t help but want to write this post for anyone out there who might be coming into these holidays with a tiredness or feeling glum or nursing some disappointment and maybe you don’t even know why.

Here’s my advice. Be gentle with yourself. Stay aware. Drink lots of water for physical and symbolic cleansing. Take intentional ‘breathing’ breaks. Listen to your body and notice where your body stores tension or sadness. And when all else fails, take a damn nap even if it means leaving the kitchen a mess or postponing a trip to the grocery store.

Last night when I was crying on the kitchen stool, I told Jim, “I’ll feel better in the morning. This is just a hard day.”

And do you know what?

 I did feel better.

Because You and I are going to be just fine. No matter what life brings us.

And your Thanksgiving this year—no matter how small and different and odd it might seem as a result—will be beautifully imperfect.

Remember, we're all in this together my friends.

Sending all my love to you,


sweet violets said...

Thank you for that !!! God bless you and keep you well......xoxo

Karen said...

My heart breaks for you for this challenging walk that will forever be some part of your life. You do us all a service with your words and I admire your ability to share so clearly the things you do to get through a hard day.
I wish you and your family a warm and delicious Thanksgiving.

Susan~aredheadonthego said...

Longing for your boy...that really does say it all. I have had low grade headaches lately which I don’t usually get. It just may be pent up tears.
I lost my Dad this year and Thanksgiving was his day! So there’s that and yet there are so many smaller yet mounting things going on in the world that seem to give no relief. And so we need to create that relief; laugh, be a little glass half fullish, make new memories! Life is really just about the creation of memories, both good and bad. If we stop making them we have lost. Tomorrow may we all make memories, followed by a nice nap. Happy ThanksGiving Leslie!

Kim said...

Leslie, I cannot know the painful loss you have been feeling. I can only imagine, and my heart goes out to you. Truly. I think about you often. I do, however, understand the "loss that comes in the form of people that cannot show up for us when we need them" and I struggle with this one perhaps more than a grown woman should. But you are wise, and I took notes while I read this post, and I will keep my expectations low. And if this fails, and the day is hard, it's true. I always feel better in the morning. So thankful for you, your kind heart, and your beautiful writing. Sending love.

annie said...

I had to take a few deep breaths just to read this...and wipe away the tears. There's a reason you are such a gifted writer...I am sure that for anyone that has suffered a great loss, this helps them immensely. It makes me want to be kinder to everyone I meet because we never know... I wish I had words of comfort, but what could I possibly say? Sending you love!

Deborah said...

Hi Leslie, This is such a heartfelt post, that brought me to tears. I thought that while I am reading your words, it doesn’t really seem like I am really reading but walking right by your side feeling every word as if it were a actual physical feeling. Your words float on the paper and fly off the page right into the readers heart. I am grateful that you can share such a beautiful message on the eve of Thanksgiving. You have taught me the true meaning of Thanksgiving which will stay with me for a very long time. Sincerely, Deborah

michele said...

Thank you for bravely allowing us to experience the colors of your ache. They're beautiful. Today was a hard day here. The spiritual journey is so spiral like which for me means the ground never feels as solid as I'd like. My foot is too often slipping. Like you, I know tomorrow will not be perfect but will be better. I think such knowing is evidence of our faithfulness and a gift of being not so young anymore. Hugging you just now. Stroking your cheek. Reminding you of the infinite - of that spaciousness hiding in the silence where souls converge and have purpose outside of time and beyond the body. xox

Leslie Harris said...

Thank you so much for reading my post and leaving such kind words. It means a lot.

Leslie Harris said...

Thank you Karen for opening your heart to my grief, I’m so grateful for your support. I hope you have a beautiful day tomorrow with your family.

Leslie Harris said...

Susan I’m so sorry about the loss of your Dad this year, and it makes so much sense that he would be on your mind as we approach Thanksgiving, his special holiday. And thank you for reading my post and taking the time to share your own perspective on life, I especially loved the idea about being a “little glass half-fullish.” I hope you have lots of people around you right now who can support you through your first holidays without your Dad. Happy thanksgiving to you and your family.

mdickson said...

Leslie another beautifully sad heartfelt post from you. I'm glad you woke up to a headache free better day. I'm thinking a Thanksgiving with just the three of you might just be what you need this year! Love you, Mare

Carla from The River said...

Hi Leslie,
Thank you for sharing. It has been a difficult year. And just when I start to feel things are starting to shift for the better, something else happens.
I always appreciate your posts.
Love, Carla

Anne said...

I wish I had had your insight when I was experiencing great grief. I understand the headaches being tears thing, and yesterday I just woke up feeling heavy and I cried a little. I've had a recent insight into the dynamics of the relationships of the people I have lost, and that makes it harder than usual this year. They really weren't there for me, ever.

Sarah said...

Leslie, I remain in awe of you. You are and have always been so honest and enlightening with your words. Our virtual friendship spans many years, years before your life changing loss. You will be fine! It doesn't happen over night, nor is the pain ever going to disappear. I think I shared that a dear friend lost her daughter a little over a year ago, leaving behind a 7 year old and a new baby. My friend, like you, remains stricken with grief, and like you, continues to forge ahead one day at a time. My heart breaks for each of you and everyone dealing with such a loss. Sending you hugs of comfort and love, Leslie. I'm grateful for our friendship.

La Contessa said...

WAS it warm and beautiful ...........?
As I sit here trying to come up with some idea for a GIFT for that ITALIAN I found my self thinking about YOU!I am behind in reading your posts only because I have slowed down on the COMPUTER!

Linda @ Itsy Bits And Pieces said...

Oh Leslie, I think it is so wise to do just what you need to do for yourself on such hard days. You are so kind to think of helping others with their hard days, too. You have such a gentle, loving spirit...xoxo

mollie's mom said...

You are so kind and thoughtful to share with us - again and again- the hard thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I read your words and think "aha" to myself "this explains my feelings/mood/thoughts today" and it is very healing to read your words. Loss is such a strange beast - everyone deals differently and that makes it harder to get through. I cannot imagine the number of people you have soothed with your honesty. I'm so very sad that you are in the situation that you have this to share but I appreciate that you do share indeed. Stay well - in all ways. Marcie

Melanie said...

Those bad days are like the waves in the ocean that totally wash over us, aren't they? You can't fight just have to roll with it, tossing and turning in those waves, until you're thrown back on dry land, exhausted and breathless. But grounded. And yes, "joy comes in the morning."

Thank you for your beautiful words, as always.


Sophie said...

This post makes me think about my grief progression. It has definitely evolved. Thank you for sharing Leslie.

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