-Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan, LCSW
Today I looked into the eyes of a friend who is losing a loved one to COVID_19. It was through the safety and screen of our technology as we Facetimed. I felt a pang of guilt, of uselessness. Despite the distance, despite my inability to do much of anything helpful for her: provide, heal, accompany… I offered my kindness, care, and concern. I listened to her thoughts, and I prayed for peace for them.
Another friend, a co-worker, posted on her social media that her 90 year old mother is now hospitalized. And another posted that her father had passed. Our world is grieving our people and processes of supporting them while in isolation. When we would once come together to celebrate and honor the lives that are lost, when the consolation of a hug or bread broken with family would help us to heal, what are we left with?
My husband was deployed to Afghanistan last year. There were times after my children went to bed, and we hadn’t been able to hear from him, when I struggled to pick myself off the floor. I am a healthy, professional, overall optimistic and strong woman. I’m with the first to offer help, but among the last to ask. When loneliness and grief strike, it can make mere gravity feel paralyzing. What I needed most in those moments, was someone to remind me of the positive: I will move through this. This heaviness is not permanent. There is much love in my world. I am strong, but I can also feel broken. I needed positive thoughts. And what I needed most was to believe, in me and a world of compassion.
This crisis is creating a void, an emptiness of space that would have been filled with social interactions, events, our common routines that we ground ourselves in. When a void is created, we have to be so careful what to fill it with. Sorrow, worry and despair are often the firsts to flow through. They are heavy, and they take up much space. Once they get in, they settle. Some may turn to mechanisms that help to drown out or board up the despair, but it is still trapped inside.
As I look at the comments in social media threads, I hesitate to write what comes to mind, “My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family,” not because I don’t mean them, but because of the scrutiny that comes with them. But this sentiment, I know, comes from a place of love. Love that needs to be shared. As a student of the human mind and behavior, I know that it is our thoughts that trigger our feelings and our actions. I think, therefore I do. If my thoughts come from a place of love and kindness, while I may not be able to solve all of the problems of the world, I can contribute to the goodness of it. Perhaps I can help fill that void with something good and real. Just think about the last time someone made you laugh. Your enjoyment came from a shared thought about something, from a connection.
So I type away and leave it there. But not really. I don’t just leave it there. I say my prayers, which shape my thoughts, which lead to my actions. I let that love I have for humanity shape my work with families and students. My children go with me to mark up our Church’s parking lot with prayers. They see how others follow suit and how an empty parking lot becomes a sounding board for hope. Then it shapes their interests, their beliefs, their actions.
And I see essential staff with belief in the greater good gearing up to face the unknown to help others, and they give us hope.
And I see families making face shields to protect the workers to give them protection.
And I see folks staying at home day after day to contain the spread. And those who go to work so others can stay home to provide essentials.
And I see chalk marks on the ground, the markings from our future immunologists, nurses, doctors, teachers, deliverers, leaders..because they are our hope.
And I know that thoughts and prayers can save us from despair.