[Hello from July 2, 2023. This one sat in my drafts for a long time and I just saw it tonight. I am eminently more “okay” today than I was when I wrote it. We aren’t post-pandemic but I just went to the crowded Market Basket today and while I was masked, I wasn’t anxious. I am living in between the world that has moved on and the world of awareness that there are many for whom “moving on” will never be an option. But personally, I am greatly healed from all of my losses and I can tell that I am by my dreams, by my ability to enter the day without feeling in a soul-fog, and by my sense of wholeness. I hope you are also doing well. I hope this post will encourage to share the story of how the pandemic is/was for you. I feel that I am in a process of integrating it all, and maybe you are too. – PB ]
This blog was locked up for awhile due to tech issues, and that’s not a bad thing. Writing is not something I can not do; it has always been my primary way of making sense of my life and feelings. Even if writing doesn’t explain or resolve anything, it always feels valuable to me to respect my life enough to record some of it. The same goes for our shared lives; I write my impressions and reactions to the times we’re living in as often as I record my own much smaller concerns.
And we sure as heck have been living through some times. We talk all the time now about trauma, which I appreciate for its clinical clarity: trauma is psychological and physiological. The more we know about it, the better we can address healing. It helps to know about the vagus nerve and brain chemistry and how our bodies manifest shock and loss. It is also important to address the soul in pain — how do we accompany the soul in is own underworld experience? I can’t answer that but I have a lot more experience in doing it now.
In November of 2019 I started a sabbatical. I traveled to England, France and Spain. While in London I attended three operas based on the Orpheus myth. I felt drawn to the Orpheus and Eurydice as related to my earlier passion for the Persephone myth. I wrote my master’s thesis at Harvard Divinity School on Persephone and Jesus as twin avatars of resurrection and the use of the Persephone story in pastoral care to women. When I saw the Anais Mitchell’s genius work, “Hadestown” on Broadway in July of 2019 it re-activated a fascination with these mystery religions and the Queen of the Underworld. Get the Original Broadway Cast recording! It’s amazing!
After I tracked Orpheus across London and France and spent some time in Spain (Monserrat! Girona! Barcelona!) I spent Advent of 2019 at home in Massachusetts, worshiping with a monastic community and attending holiday concerts and outings; a real treat for a parish minister who is usually too busy that time of year to attend services. A dear friend stayed with me and my beloved beagle Max for a month. Early into the new year of 2020, I flew to Arizona to attend an intensive training to become a certified spiritual director. While out West I road-tripped out to California to see the opera “Eurydice” and then came back to Phoenix after a brief stop at the Grand Canyon.
I flew home on February 20 or so, went to visit my sister in Connecticut, and then life went kaflooey. My mom had had a health crisis but she was stable, so we thought, and I was planning on going down to visit. But you remember what happened. The weird cancellations and closures. I followed the news and announcements from our governor and thought, “Wow, I can’t fly to North Carolina? I mean, I guess I can drive!” But no. Then it was no driving. You might touch the gas pump and die coughing the next day. The next day it was don’t leave the house. It was don’t touch anything.
On March 25, my mom died. I almost want to say she “up and died,” because that was what it felt like. My siblings and I had a group conversation with her on the phone from the hospital. We sang “Bushel And A Peck” (a song she had always sung to us). On a private call a few hours later I told her I loved her and her last words to me were “I don’t trust you.” She was lucid, believe me. It was a very intentional dig, consistent with her treatment of me for years. What can you say to a dying woman? Certainly not, “Mom, you don’t trust ME because you’re chronically dishonest yourself. It’s called projection.” Did I mention that we had been estranged?
I told her to be at peace, I would always hold her love with me and hoped she would know she went with mine. You know why I did that? Because my mama raised me to be gracious, to understand that people’s nastiness is their problem, not mine. Oh, the irony.
During my mom’s last days, I saw a Tshirt that said, “It ran in the family until it ran into you.” It has become a motto. I broke many generational patterns of abuse, but even as that was hard and painful, I was able to do so largely because of the loving mothering Shirley was able to give me during the years she was emotionally healthy, committed to recovery and sobriety. And my childhood, during which she suffered with substance abuse disorder, depression, eating disorders and a terrible marriage, she also made a valiant effort to be a good and loving mom. She was sad and scary but also magical and wonderful and gave us some really good stuff for our life backpacks.
Shirley had a hard time aging. A really hard time. Not my story to tell, but it was hard to watch. It is hard to watch someone who has worked so hard to heal their wounds and to befriend their demons slide into bitterness and dishonesty. I am glad that she did not have to endure a drawn-out decline; she wanted more than anything to avoid that, and perhaps that is why she did not share medical information with us. Children are wont to push parents to do everything possible to ensure maximum longevity, but that was not my mother’s goal. I respect that. Here’s my girl. We were in NYC. I took her to see three Broadway shows. We had a blast. Here she is at a bistro in Union Square showing me her lipstick.
Almost simultaneously with mom dying, I returned six weeks early from my sabbatical to help my congregation cope with the shut-down. A time of utter madness for all industries and when we wanted to complain, we just thought of the essential workers and health care sector and the educators and zipped our lips.
I hope I will never forget the wild experience of bringing a church program online. Only my music director will ever know the true chaos we managed on multiple devices while producing a beautiful worship service over Zoom. We were up until 3AM learning new technology, editing videos, scrambling along with the rest of the world to try to figure out how to function under bizarre and unprecedented circumstances.
Two people I will always remember who cared for me in those first weeks of fear and loss: my dear friend Michael who drove up to Lynn from the South Shore just to hug me. We put a big fleece blanket over him and one over me to protect ourselves. It was so scary but he knew that my heart was broken and I needed human contact.
And Jim, my gum-chewing neighbor who has lived in the triple-decker next to me for thirty years or so, texted me a day or two after mom died. This is what he wrote, “Hi Victoria, I will be getting your groceries so get a list to me by Thursday. I will be going to Market Basket, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods, so feel free to let me know what brands of items you prefer.”
“I WILL BE GETTING YOUR GROCERIES.” He was informing me, not asking me. Listen, I was in such a daze of sorrow and discombobulation, I went with it! This was a genius tactic, because if he had said the usual, “Do you need anything,” I would have responded with the usual, “Oh no, I’m just fine, thank you.” I wasn’t fine at all, and Jim got my groceries for weeks. When I went to square up with him financially, he waved me off, chewing gum. “Naw, we’re good.” He didn’t give me a choice! So he gets muffins (I’m a bad baker but I really make an effort for him) and my eternal thanks.
I should also mention that I have an amazing neighborhood and that we did, and still do, a brisk front porch Tupperware trade. Soups, casseroles, bottles of wine, bags of bagels, borscht (me), and yes, the traditional cup of sugar when requested.