‘Surviving and Thriving amidst COVID-19’

‘Surviving and Thriving amidst COVID-19’
By Mairead Carroll

“Allow yourself to sit with your deepest hidden emotions, become friends with the shadow part of you. Sit under the moon and stars and fall back in love with yourself again like you did when you were three, riding wild with a carefree ease.
Write away your worries onto a page and make paper aeroplanes with your written dreams and send them up to the sky where they land safely onwards and upwards on pillowed clouds of possibilities.”

– Words from my COVID-19 Diary, May 2020.

I was delighted to be asked by Book Hub Publishing to contribute a reflective piece on ‘Surviving and Thriving with COVID-19’. The virus that came into our lives in March 2020 uninvited, like your most dreaded visitor, has well overstaying its welcome and literally pulled the rug from underneath our feet. My rug was pretty worn out anyways and frayed around the edges from all the running, racing and frazzled chasing and juggling of diaries and activities.

I found my footing again landing safely and rediscovered the joy of walking barefoot in short grass on our leisurely walks across the Curragh Plains, avoiding thistles, unrushed wandering with the warm summer breeze. It has taken time to tread lighter, to slow down my hurried step, to stop the sorting and clearing out of cluttered wardrobes and all that nervous energy of fearful unknowing and dumping of clutter and spices over five years old.

Patience, acknowledgement and acceptance of your feelings and telling yourself all those same words you say to uplift and encourage your best friend are the greatest gifts you can shower yourself at this time…and always. As unsettling and worrying this time has been with COVID-19, there has been a silver lining for me; time to rest, recharge and question, Who am I ? And to appreciate that the little things really are the big things. I am grateful for having time to admire the forgotten flowers in my garden and to marvel at the revisiting starling gather the dried grass for her young, their nest safe in our garage gutter.

I made a promise to myself in April as I watched my tulips of red and yellow open out in delight to the welcoming spring sunshine, that I would never miss the season’s surprises again, as I had done these last few busy years. We will build a snowman with the first fall, prioritising this before getting my children to school for 9am, as the snow is usually melted and disappeared by home time for them.

I would really love if, somehow, a few of these words could wash a little of your worry away, that a sentence could cover your shoulders like a blanket of fleece and protect you from the summer night’s breeze. I would dance for joy if a paragraph could make you walk across your kitchen floor to put on the kettle with a lighter step…For I, too, have taken comfort from words written by other writers, at this time like Dr. Maya Angelou, Seamus Heaney and Billy Collins to name a few as well as from conversations with my father or my retired neighbour’s uncomplicated chatter on my bog walks. I haven woken up to a sprinkling of positivity and cheer from my friends on Twitter and Instagram, awake before me, spreading their light and uplifting the hearts of others at a time when I am sure they have cried and struggled too. I have danced across my kitchen floor to Van Morrison’s ‘Bright Side of the Road’, with my sweeping brush while my children and dogs look on, amused and, no doubt, confused.

Doing what I love everyday is something I believe makes even the toughest days better. For me, singing, playing my fiddle, writing poetry and making time for fun with my family are all ways that make the ordinary days extraordinary. Running down the bog amongst nature, even on the days when I didn’t feel like it, proved that it was exactly what I needed to do. I found comfort there in the quietness and the cool stare of the cow, standing strong in her field. I felt held between the bushes of gorse and blackthorn. With lines of primroses and daisies at my feet, the birds cheered for my running through uncertainty and to ease my fears that I may not get to hug my parents again. I gained strength from the busyness of the bee knowing exactly what she had to do and where she had to go. The flying pheasant and swarms of midgets and horseflies all played a part in my story in my striving and thriving. Venus shone down on me on nights I felt afraid and disappointed of dreams on hold and fearful of stepping into the known. My dogs have sensed this from me too. My kids have offered me ‘unasked for’ hugs on these days. These are the very best kind of hugs when they hold on for that extra minute just for you. I have given them those hugs on the days they needed them. I have listened to their heartbeats as well as our two dogs, Josie and Danu. Their unconditional love has gotten us through the lonely days when we missed our friends and family and we needed some much needed cheeky playful affection and fun.

As grateful as I am for my good health, having close family nearby and having the most loving honest friends, I have had days where I struggled with overwhelm, feeling like I wasn’t doing enough or worrying that I would pass the virus to my mother as I handed gloved and sanitised, her weekly medication and grocery shopping. Being vulnerable to our loved ones is our greatest strength. This allows them to be vulnerable too.

I have almost cried in Centra over them not having their own brand of dishwasher tablets as well as in Tesco for buying tinned peaches instead of pears for my mother’s favourite pear and almond tart she would bake for us as a ‘thank you’. I miss my town, the idle chatter on the streets about music and football. I miss the banter in the local coffee shops and the silent, distant queuing at Lidl leaves me cold and wanting to cry.

“Sometimes you have to cry to make room for more laughter”
– Words from my COVID-19 Diary May 2020
It is ironic how unresolved grief can creep back into your life at different times and find its way back into your tears again. It has taken me sixteen years after the death of my youngest brother John, who died from Cancer, to realise that I have more tears left to cry. It has taken COVID-19 for me to find this to be true, the missing piece of the jigsaw. That inner knowing that you are avoiding a hurt or loss but you run from it anyway, a constant niggling feeling that only dissolves away when you stop and sit with yourself long enough to let feelings bubble up and transform into tears.

Once I started writing this piece, peeling back the layers like an onion, I lost words I had planned to write in the stripping back to the core. I found forgotten grief in the writing; the tears began to rise and fall onto paper washing and soothing away the loss buried beneath the busyness. I have welcomed these tears, as this much I know to be true, tears heal and I am thankful that writing has given me permission to cry again even after sixteen years.

In my writing and self discovery these last few weeks, I now realise that I have been wearing an invisible cloak of grief for too long, buttoned up tight, holding on to grief as a protection and safe keeping of my love for John…or so I thought…until now. The problem with holding on to grief is that it steals the sunshine from your sky. Holding on to what no longer serves you stops you from dancing with a lighter step. Letting go of my unresolved grief for John has allowed him back into my dreams and conversations with my mother as we sit eating ice cream, sharing stories of John again in the summer sun in the garden we played tip the can in.

I was dancing a hornpipe, heavy-footed until now. But, I am ready to unbutton that coat and throw it across the floor. I am ready to dance a jig and write and cry some more.

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