We found our first dandelions of the season this week.
For many of us it has now been about a month since we began feeling the effects of life during a pandemic. The NBA shut down, well-known people were diagnosed with COVID-19, and our schools were closed. We all learned the term ‘social distancing’ and needed to quickly figure out what that meant and how that would apply to our daily lives. Everything is different now, and the bottom fell out from under us overnight.
Has it really only been a month?
These are strange days for all of us. We’ve all lost so much. We’ve lost our normal and now live in a world where we each potentially pose danger to each other. So many have lost their jobs and financial stability. Too many have lost their health, lives, loved ones.
And it’s hard to wrap our heads around, but we’re still at the beginning. This is hard, and it’s going to be hard for awhile, and we’re never going to be exactly the same again. Some people will have an easier time transitioning back to close to their old normal, but a lot of people will be changed forever, and there will be a lot of work to do as we rebuild coming out of this.
This is a weird time for our family. In three weeks it will have been four years since we lost Jude to influenza B. Our world was turned upside down in a heartbeat, and we would never be able to go back to how we were before. The ground had shifted beneath our feet and nothing felt okay or safe anymore. Walking down the street left me shaking. Taking Isla to the bus stop where I’d have to make small talk was a nightmare. Grocery shopping with one empty seat in my cart. Buying clothes for only one little boy, and not two. Sirens racing to the hospital, blocks from our home, stopped me in my tracks every time. That damn song from that damn movie that came out that day, playing on repeat, endlessly reminding me of the worst day of my life. Thomas sleeping – or was he dead, too? We were never sure in those first few months. We couldn’t trust sleep anymore.
Things that should have been completely fine and safe and *happy* were suddenly my personal hell. I didn’t know if or how it would ever get better. If we’d ever feel safe again, or even some kind of normal. It didn’t seem possible. I didn’t even feel like a whole person anymore.
Now, four years later, we’re all going through a pandemic together. Our lives have shut down and we don’t know what the future holds. We can’t see our friends and family, and every close encounter or common surface could put us at risk. Public places aren’t safe. We can’t have small talk with our neighbours. Sirens racing to the hospital may be for COVID-19. There is nothing else to talk about. We are all surviving. And the only new movies are straight to home, including the sequel to that same damn movie with that same song (WHY, MAKE IT STOP).
Four years later, we’re living in a global version of what our lives became when we lost Jude. It’s weird.
And we look ahead again now, but we can’t see what’s ahead of us. We don’t know how safe we are, or when we’ll start to feel safe again. We don’t know when we can start living our lives normally or some sort of new normal again. We don’t know when this will be over and we can start to really live again, or what that might look like.
We’ve all been shaken badly. For a long time we’ve been lucky. We live in a time when most serious infectious diseases are controlled, or at least mitigated, by vaccines. We haven’t had to live through a time like this, when a hug or handshake could put so many people at risk. Our family, along with thousands of others each year, learned that too well after losing Jude. We’d done everything we could to protect him and thought that was enough, but as communities we’ve taken public health for granted, and all our flu prevention efforts weren’t strong enough to protect Jude when he failed to develop immunity from his own flu shot. That means all of us, locally and beyond. We haven’t seen a time like this before and tend to gloss over the ~3500 Canadian and ~36,000 American flu deaths each year.
This loss of safety and confidence in community health that’s happening now for all of us, happened for our family in August 2016, when we received the final autopsy report and learned Jude’s cause of death. We lost the fear that Thomas and Isla would die suddenly in their sleep, but gained new stress about every fever and cough. We no longer knew how safe it was to send Isla to school, knowing how quickly illness circulates in a classroom and how devastating it can be. We couldn’t live that way, with that level of fear. It isn’t practical or healthy and we needed to find a way to move forward without letting fear of preventable illness dominate the rest of our lives.
We started learning everything we could about the flu specifically and infectious diseases in general, about vaccination and illness prevention. We talked to everyone we could learn from, first to understand what had happened to Jude, and then hoping to be able to communicate effectively on the topic. Maybe, just maybe, if people could understand how serious this was we could effect change and help prevent other families from ending up like ours through simple steps that we can all take, that would make us all healthier.
We soon made the decision to speak publicly about Jude’s death, launching For Jude, For Everyone on October 18th that same year, with great support along with immediate backlash. We’d expected resistance to what we were sharing, but were still caught off guard by the refusal to listen to experts on the topic, the insistence that universal vaccination was an overreaction to ~3500 (and ~36,000) deaths, the claims that ‘doctors know nothing’ and suggestions that any number of home remedies were more effective than a vaccine that already reduces cases by 61%, despite only 34% participation. It was jarring and unsurprising at the same time, that while many or most people will listen to experts, some will outright reject what they have to say.
When we lost Jude we had an advantage. While our personal working knowledge of the flu was limited, there were others who knew all about this preventable illness, experts who could guide us through the science and the years of work that had already been done to combat a very complicated, unstable disease. Our own learning curve was steep, but the information was there. Now we’re all learning about COVID-19 together, and we’re doing it as quickly as we can to minimize the loss of life from an infectious disease the world has never seen before. There are some who have much better background knowledge and more expertise about infectious diseases than the rest of us. Part of the hard part now is the helplessness, the fact that for many of us, the most useful thing we can do is sit on our couch and stay out of other people’s way as much as possible, and trust that these people who have dedicated their lives to understanding illness will find the answers to help us protect ourselves and each other, to find our new normal and get back to life again.
And there will be life again. We will laugh, and we will come together again. There will be hugs, concerts, and sports. Our kids will play together at the park and our friends will come over for dinner. It’s going to take time for it to be safe, and it might take longer for it to *feel* safe after that, but we’ll get there. We’ll recover from this – but we have more hard days ahead first.
Feel how you need to feel right now. There’s no right or wrong and don’t let anyone tell you how you’re feeling is wrong. It’s okay to be angry, scared, hopeful, sad, okay, filled with grief, or anything that you’re going through. It’s all legitimate. We’re all going through this, but none of us are going through this in exactly the same way, and so none of us will have exactly the same feelings about it. If you’re struggling, please reach out to talk to someone. None of us can sit in the same room right now unless we live under the same roof, but that doesn’t mean we have to be alone.
Check in on your friends and family.
Check in on your friends and family.
Check in on your friends and family.
I’m repeating that because it’s so important. The people who checked in on me when I was drowning kept me going. The people who continue to check in are everything.
Four years ago I was 33 years old and didn’t know how to keep breathing, but knew that I had to. I stared ahead at the decades likely still waiting for me and had no idea what to do. I couldn’t picture the next month or year, or even the next day. Everything was awful. Everything hurt. But there were kids who had to be taken care of and there was work to be done, so I got up, and I kept doing that every day. It didn’t feel good and I often wished I could go to sleep and wake up months later, but the only way forward was through.
I’m 37 now and we’re all still here, all older, and we’re okay. I’m not completely fine and I’ll never be fully whole again, but I’m okay, and sometimes I’m even really good. Thomas is six and hilarious, and talks often about his missing other half with love. Isla is nine and has grown up so fast, still the little girl who curls up in my lap but also the big kid who is gaining understanding for the world around her, and her part in it. And Craig and I are holding on tight, to each other and the family we’ve built, knowing how precious every moment of it is. We don’t take any of it for granted. We can’t.
In four years we’ve found our new normal. Nothing will ever be as good as it should be, but we’ll take as good as it can be, all things considered, and that’s okay. We don’t know now what the next months and years hold for all of us. We don’t know how long it will be until our kids are back to school, until everyone is back to work, until we can buy groceries again without fear. We can’t see through the fog right now and that’s hard. We do know that more people are going to go through worse days before this is over. As I hit publish we have lost 1195 Canadians to COVID-19, and our neighbours south of the border have had 34,705 reported deaths. Tens of thousands of lives gone, and tens of thousands of families who will never be the same. While all of this has unfolded, we’ve stopped talking about the flu, but it’s also been a horrific flu season. We don’t have those final numbers yet, but there are a lot of families just like ours this year because of that, too. We should expect the numbers to continue to rise for awhile, and for times to get harder, and we need to make sure we’re taking care of each other while all of this is happening. That’s the only way through. And we should also keep in mind that it will get better, with time.
It won’t always be like this.
Four years ago in the spring, in the weeks before he died, Jude discovered dandelions while we were waiting for Isla to come home from school.
‘What’s this, mama?’
‘It’s a dandelion.’
Delighted, he pointed to his giant, funny lion hat I’d made him, his eyes lighting up. ‘Dandelion? Lion hat? ROAR!’ He collapsed into giggles, and then would laugh and roar at every dandelion he saw. For some people they’re weeds, but for me now they’re roars and belly laughs. I hear him in every one.
We’ve gone through the worst days of our lives since then, but the fog cleared, eventually. We carry our scars and heartbreak, but we’re still here, and there’s good on the other side. Not perfect, but okay and sometimes very good, and that’s enough.
We’re going to be okay.
But there’s more to get through first, and it’s all hands on deck.
Check in on your friends and family.
Stay home unless going out is essential. Listen to public health officials. It’s their job to help us stay safe. Maintain at least 6 feet/2 metres from anyone you don’t live with. Every time we make a choice that puts us at risk, we’re also making a choice that puts someone else at risk, and that increases both the risk for our healthcare workers and the burden on our system. I know this is hard, but everything we’re doing now has already made an incredible difference, and if we keep going a lot more of us are going to survive this. We’re doing great, everyone, but let’s try to do better. Let’s save as many lives as we can. It might be you or your loved ones we’re protecting. Our family deserved better four years ago, and so does every family now.
Things are tight for a lot of people right now. If you are able to give, there are places that need support. I’ll include links at the bottom to support the efforts to fight COVID-19 and fund our food banks. If you don’t have enough to eat right now, please take advantage of your local food bank and stay well.
And thank you, always, from the bottom of our hearts to all essential workers right now. Everyone in our hospitals, doctor’s offices, grocery stores, transit, everything that’s open. Whatever happens when this is over, I hope we’re all better at learning what essential really means and are better at prioritizing what we really need to live and stay well. We’re so grateful for each and every one of you. Please stay well.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Conquer COVID-19 – Conquer COVID-19 is comprised of physicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and other volunteers who are working together to ensure frontline workers responsible for the health and wellbeing of Canadians have access to masks, gloves, and other supplies that are essential in treating patients and minimizing the spread of the virus.
Food Banks Canada – Each year leading up to Jude’s anniversary we honour his memory by finding ways to help other families. Earlier this year Isla learned more about food banks and wanted to find more ways to help, and during the pandemic the need is great. We’re supporting her goal of helping Food Banks Canada here, but please also consider donating locally.
Feeding America – Give here to support American food banks.
Children’s books about loss and grief – Too many children will be learning about loss right now, and we’ve found books to be an incredible resource in having these big conversations with our littlest people. Two years ago we reviewed these 17 books with pictures and recommendations for who we think each book is right for. If you aren’t in a position yet to be having these conversations, consider having one of these books on hand. We’ll all experience loss in our lifetimes. Thank you always to Heather Reisman at Indigo for her initiative in creating greater access to these resources throughout her stores. This is a gift.
‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief‘ – ‘If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We turned to David Kessler for ideas on how to do that. Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief.’
‘6 ways to help loved ones grieving deaths during the coronavirus pandemic’ – Losing a loved one is hard enough under normal circumstances, and these are not normal circumstances. Here are some ways to help when someone you love is going through loss during the pandemic.
Apply for Canada Emergency Response Benefit – Application and updated eligibility.
Learn more about COVID-19 (Canada) – Current situation, risk, monitoring, and self-assessment.