Reflections on 2020: Unexpected Gifts

It’s December and I am still in my home office listening to my dog snore. He has his good and bad traits as an office mate. In March, when Kate’s Club offices closed, I would have never imagined that I would still be working from home 9 months later. It feels both short and long at the same time. The December program theme at Kate’s Club each year focuses on reflection. We reflect on our journeys through grief, the life of the person who died, and the past year.  December can also be a time to reflect on the past year. I expect this year is a year most of us would not necessarily like to remember. Everyone has experienced loss in 2020. We lost traveling to see family or friends, celebrating the holidays together, graduations, family reunions, weddings, and much more. Many children missed being in school and many adults lost jobs. Others experienced deaths of loved ones to COVID, and other situations that involved death and loss. And to make matters more upsetting, we missed gathering for funerals and memorials and even saying goodbye to people we love. Some lost a sense that the world was a safe and just place and others always knew it was not. 2020 brought us unprecedented accumulated losses.

Yet, after I compile the losses in my mind, I then think about the gains. This is not about saying “at least” which is a phrase I loathe. When someone dies, people like to use this phrase. “My dad died” well “at least you have your mom “or “at least you have memories “or “at least you were too young to remember” or in the case of an older person “at least they lived long life.” You get the picture. When we use “at least”, we dismiss people’s pain. So, this is not about saying “at least “but reflecting on the things we might otherwise miss from this difficult year. Looking at these things can help our children weather these hard times and help us all grow.

As I talk to bereaved families weekly, I learn they gained time together and time to slow down. One recent widower shared that 500 people showed up for this wife’s online memorial. His children were able to see people they would have never met and hear stories of their mother. Many families share they started movie nights, long walks, and rode bikes together. People took more walks and discovered new parks. Some families gained connection with those in their house and those far away. We ate at home more and may have gained some new culinary skills (I certainly did).

At Kate’s Club, we experienced a new way to reach grieving families. We learned that by offering online programs that families (and volunteers) can participate from anywhere. We learned that we could bring virtual programs to families who would otherwise not access our services and it is another way to connect to grieving families. We even had a “Camp-at-Home” and were able to connect and do activities from our own homes. New friends were made and post-pandemic plans to meet were made. We got to meet each other’s pets and share with each other special things in our homes that remind us of our people who died. We held a few small outdoor socially distanced programs and gave air hugs and elbow bumps to one another. We welcomed many new members that we have not met in person but yet feel like we know them. Reflecting on these connections I feel proud and happy.

Another gain, I have noticed is a more open acknowledgement of grief. Kate’s Club’s vision is “A world in which it is okay to grieve.” This year has brought an open discussion of grief and loss. I heard a story the other day on NPR on what it means for the bereaved to miss funerals or bedside goodbyes. They talked about the importance of rituals in mourning. This year we are talking about grief which is a healthy positive gain. Mental health has been pushed to the forefront and getting support is becoming normalized. Even though we often have been connecting from “virtual boxes”, we are connecting! Even though we are alone, we have felt less alone and that is a wonderful gain!

Author Bruce Feiler talks about “Lifequakes” as massive life changes that lead to transitions. The pandemic has been a large far reaching lifequake out of our control and we may not yet know how it changes us. Many people who go through grief and early loss find they have a greater appreciation for life. Perhaps, that will be the biggest gain from 2020. Now, I must take my office mate for a walk.