This past week included the fifth anniversary of Mom’s passing back in 2016. I wasn’t quite sure how I would handle this fact; five is a “big number” to get through, but the day also happened to be a day off for me because our parent campus scheduled our Fall Break for that exact day. From all the other deaths I’ve experienced over the years leading up to Mom’s, I knew that time did make the anniversaries less painful, but that there would be some pain involved. I couldn’t even really think about how I marked last year’s anniversary because that was marred by the repeated avalanches I was feeling in the leadup to that November’s election, with that and the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic competing for attention in my head, all while I was trying to teach and research and just keep a level head in the face of so much chaos.

When the anniversary came last week, I definitely felt a weight as the day began; I started wishing that I’d had classes to teach that day, just to give me something to distract myself with. In the leadup to the moment on the clock when I received that fateful phone call, I did my best to just accept the emotions of the moment and feel what I needed to feel there — as much as I know that Mom wouldn’t want me fussing over her, I think she’d respect that some grief is inevitable at moments like that — and then, after the moment had passed, I managed to do pretty much all of the other things I’ve been doing on Fridays here, minus the teaching. It was a difficult day, to be sure, but I got through it, and coming through the other side, just like I did five years ago, has helped me feel some sense of momentum building now that I’ve gotten through the worst of it.

I was never certain that things would go that easily for me, though, which is why I’ve made a point of making posts on social media in recent years when the anniversary of Mom’s passing has come up, just to let everyone know that I’d be going through some heavy stuff and I’d appreciate at least a modicum of moral support. I honestly don’t remember if I made those posts last year, but I really don’t remember much about last year’s anniversary since it was wrapped around all those other things going on in the world around us. This year, though, I just didn’t make those posts. I didn’t even really acknowledge the anniversary until the end of the day, when I posted a Tori Amos cover of one of Mom’s favourite songs on my main social media accounts before I went to bed, because I just didn’t feel comfortable mentioning it.

Trying to measure how much more, or less, difficult things are right now feels like a fruitless exercise. Even if I can accept the basic premise that political and pandemic concerns aren’t as sharp right now as they were at this time last year, it’s still true that a lot of the people around me here in Wisconsin, and a lot of my friends back in Toledo, are hurting an awful lot right now, maybe even more so than at any other point since the pandemic started. We’re all facing tremendous amounts of uncertainty here — myself included — and even for those of us who feel like things in this immediate moment may be as close to “okay” as could be expected at a time like this, we’re still agonizingly aware of the fact that whatever comforts we may have now could be yanked out from under us in the blink of an eye. That makes it almost impossible to appreciate even the slightest bits of normalcy we may be able to claw out for ourselves now.

I don’t have that anniversary hanging over my head any longer, so maybe, at least in that regard, I’m doing better now than I was at this point last week. There’s still a lot going on in my life right now that is pushing me to my limits, though, and I worry about how I’m going to resolve a lot of this stuff, but I still can’t bring myself to ask for more than the most basic of moral support from the people around me. My only comfort in all of this is knowing that a lot of the people I care for are doing the same thing, so I’m far from alone, but I can’t help wondering if maybe we all need to be more vocal about our problems here, regardless of how trivial we may think they feel in comparison to the problems of others. If the world around us isn’t going to significantly improve in the short-term — and that seems like a very safe assumption to make — then maybe some of us need to be pulling on our release valves here before the burdens we’re carrying make us implode. Even for those of us who feel like we’ve had a lifetime’s worth of practice for the historical moment we’re currently living through, we probably can’t keep turning inward forever and not expect some very bad things to result from doing so.

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