Tag Archives: grief

The losses we don’t name

One thing I’ve heard repeated a lot this year is that Covid has clarified what is important. This doesn’t resonate much with me, in part because I have never really struggled with perspective—certainly not since watching my mother die prematurely from a prolonged and horrific disease—and also because I haven’t reached the same conclusion as most of the people saying it. For many, Covid has reinforced the importance of family and other close relationships. For me, it has reinforced the importance of random encounters with semi-strangers.

I’ve ridden the bus four times since March 12. This is, of course, an indication of my privilege. Every member of my household is working or schooling remotely. We bike for groceries (a practice we started three years ago, when Red Apple closed). With work, school, and food covered, we don’t have any essential trips. So, out of respect for bus drivers and other essential workers who must ride, and out of respect for load limits, we’ve been staying off the bus. Truth be told, except for daily walks around the neighborhood (and occasional work at the park where we volunteer), we spend most of our time inside.

I’m profoundly lonely, but not for the reasons you might think.

Yes, I miss my family and close friends. I haven’t held my youngest nibbling, who turned one last month, since she was barely out of the newborn phase. I haven’t spent time indoors with my siblings or dad since the first statewide stay-at-home order. I haven’t hugged or shared a meal with a girlfriend in even longer.

Despite all of this, I have managed to stay connected to my people. We Zoom. We talk on the phone. We meet for walks. We email, DM, IM. I send letters (and bus stickers!) to my nibblings. I text ridiculous memes to my brothers. I Marco Polo with my bestie. I communicate with nearby neighbors via group email and text. (My neighborhood even gathered for masked, distanced outdoor movie nights over the summer.)

So, while I certainly would prefer to be present with my beloveds in the ways I am used to, I am still very connected to everyone I was in a definable relationship with before the pandemic. (I am also deeply, deeply grateful that everyone in my immediate circle is still healthy.)

The people I am missing desperately are the people I never call. The people whose numbers (and sometimes, names) I don’t know, but who I am in relationship with nonetheless.

I miss the school crossing guards. The front desk folks at the library. The bus drivers. The bus regulars. (I saw Miss Ida walking down Yesler in September and almost cried with relief and joy.) The dance school receptionist. The Real Change vendor. The not-immediate neighbors I’m on waving/”How you doin’?” terms with.

These are people who bring texture and connection and beauty to my life. I have always valued these relationships, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on them until overnight, all of them were snatched away. I don’t know if these folks are OK. I have no way to check on them or offer support.

I am not a “people person.” I am a deep believer in community and a lover of humans, but I am also a shy, introverted homebody. Left to my own devices, I would live my entire life in my head. My daily travels—walking a kiddo to school, picking up a library hold, stopping for a paper and a quick chat, greeting (and then thanking) a bus driver, running into an acquaintance on a ride—are my way of connecting to my community. They help me remember I’m not alone.

So yes, I miss my loved ones, but I never really lost them. The network of humans that held me up pre-pandemic might never return.

And that loss is profound.

Missing the bus

Back in the Before Times (aka, two months ago), when I actually went places, I would sometimes rent a Zipcar for the day, usually to visit family and friends who live outside of reasonable busing distance. Of course, when it comes to buses, I’m not above pushing past what is reasonable, but other obligations and service limitations do occasionally constrain my ability to spend an entire day traveling 23 miles.

I digress.

On those Zipcar days, every time I found myself driving near a bus or rolling past a full bus stop, I would feel a pang, even a bit of FOMO. Seeing a bus when I’m not riding hurts my bus chick heart.

This is how I feel every day now when I go outside—usually to walk in circles around my neighborhood—and I see 3s and 4s and 8s and 27s and 48s rolling by, often completely empty. Except these days, it’s not a just a brief pang. It’s an ache, a cracking open, an interior crumbling.

It’s grief.

As a naturally anxious person who has lived through many of Metro’s ups and downs, I have rehearsed a fair number of transit disaster scenarios in my head. But never, not even in my worst anxiety spirals, did I imagine the current reality: that the bus would become a vector of a global pandemic, that anyone with the option to stay home would be asked not to ride, that loving your community would mean not riding the bus.

How can I explain what the bus means to me? I have been writing this blog for 14 years and still have not managed to put it into words.

The bus is my stability, my comfort, my assurance that the world is as it should be. It is my opportunity to be with other people I would otherwise never have the chance to meet.

On the bus, I am invisible but also seen, alone but in community, moving but sitting still.

I can participate in conversations or (my specialty) observe from the periphery, absorbing, empathizing, integrating all of it. Or I can tune it all out and look out the window to watch the world.

When I am on the bus, I know that I belong. To my city. To humanity. To the ancestors.

I know that this is bigger than my personal loss. Drivers are risking their lives to transport people who must travel. Major service cuts are limiting those people’s access to food and jobs and medical care. The economic crash caused by this disaster will make it near impossible for Metro to restore service when it’s finally safe to ride again.

But the thing about the bus is that it is both personal and collective. My loss is the community’s, and the community’s loss is mine.

And right now, it feels like a cyclone has hit, and we’ll never get back home.

On heartbreak and clean teeth

Two years ago Saturday, I met my foster son, known on this blog as HBE. That first night was difficult, in ways that are hard to fully appreciate unless you’ve instantly become the mother of a traumatized stranger, shortly after swimming lessons and right before dinner. The most difficult moment for me happened after all three kids were asleep, as I sat on the floor unpacking the large shopping bag of HBE’s belongings.

Until that point, I hadn’t thought much about HBE’s history. His relatives and relationships had been reduced to a handful of sentences on a DSHS form, which I had read only 24 hours earlier. But here was proof that he had real connections to other people: a stuffed dog, a box of favorite snacks, pajamas. At the bottom of the bag I found a tiny toothbrush, carefully wrapped in a paper towel.

Earlier that evening — when we learned for sure that a 16-month old would be joining our family — Bus Nerd had gone to the store to buy supplies, including a toothbrush. We had used that toothbrush to clean HBE’s teeth at bedtime, before I was faced with this evidence that someone else cared for him, someone who had likely brushed his teeth mere hours earlier, at the beginning of a day that turned his world upside down.

I set the toothbrush down and wept, for all of us.

On July 20th, 2015, HBE was reunified with his relatives. Nine months after unpacking his things, I was the one doing the packing. To keep focused on something other than my sadness, I took my time, making sure to include everything he might want or need: a photo book of our family, clothes for now and later, bath toys, favorite stories, the stuffed pig he slept with every night. The final item I packed was his toothbrush. As I slid the plastic baggie into the front of his suitcase, the tears began to fall. They haven’t stopped.

HBE’s other toothbrush is still in the kids’ toothbrush cup in our bathroom. That one I saved, in case he ever returned for a visit. We haven’t laid eyes on him or heard his voice since he left our care 460 days ago. But the toothbrush is still here. It is the evidence that we care.

toothbrush