Cam’s birthday in October was beautifully spontaneous and smooth. We slipped out of the hospital to the beach, forgetting about cancer for a while over his favourite grilled vegan sandwiches. He died several months later than I calculated, as I lay asleep in bed next to him, peacefully and unlike all the scenarios I had imagined. When my grief hit, it also did not go to plan. I shattered through the so-called ‘stages’, and added a hundred more. My world had fallen apart and shortly afterwards the rest of the world followed suit. I was being asked to grieve during coronavirus, to nurse my heartbreak in uncharted times. My pain was heightened by isolation and any fragile sense of security I had left was threatened by a pandemic changing by the minute.
I never saw coronavirus coming. My imagination didn’t stretch that far. If it did, it would predict that grieving in isolation would be impossible without the comfort of my friends, a gym, or cinemas in which to suspend time. Surely there are things you thought you couldn’t live without either, but here we are a few months in and for the most part still standing, though not unbruised.
Lockdown has been tough, long, and lonely. We have all lost something in this time - some of us big things, like our jobs, and some small reliable things like a weekly yoga class. There has been so much grief to go around, and we’ve all had to find a way through with new routines and different expectations. I live in quiet days in which I process my emotions, broken by a phone call with a friend or a breath of fresh air and a jog. Some of the things that have been lost now won’t come back, for others the verdict is still out. It is a time full of questions without clear answers. A time when we are having to let go of certainty and do the best we can with the extraordinary and unpredictable each day.
This week, I had an email from a former colleague of Cam’s who shared a photograph of him in the film studios he worked at. Even when he was sick, weak and crippled by chemotherapy, he would wake up, make a peanut butter jelly bagel and head to work. He never gave up. I can’t fully comprehend how he did it or what it must have taken, but I can read his expression in that photograph. It says through his light smile and strong eyes that he’s not giving it all to cancer, nor playing out a future that has not yet happened. He is owning his creativity and that moment.
None of us know how or when coronavirus will end. I can’t predict what my grief will look like tomorrow, or in a year. The future is uncertain for all of us, but I’ll try and approach it by being a little more Cam. It means weathering the worst storms by gathering what you’ve got now and keeping going. Perhaps that’s my own brand of mindfulness after all.