“Do you know what the best thing is, Dr. Beck?”
“What’s the best thing?”
“The best thing is that there have been over three months of the virus and no one I know has died. I was sure some people I knew would die and I was getting ready for it.”
Since I had this conversation six hours ago, I’ve been wondering, ”Can a person get ready for someone to die?”
When the pandemic started in March, I remember feeling certain that someone I knew would die and, like my patient, I started preparing my brain for the inevitable sadness. I have done this before, when my younger sister was in palliative care and I would visit her every two weeks in Nova Scotia.
When I think about getting ready for grief, I think of a small box, a compartment in my brain. As I contemplate the sadness to come, the box takes shape: is it round, like a hat box, or rectangular, like a shoe box? Is it fancy or plain? Made of elaborate pounded metal or cardboard? All these elements of a grief box vary, but one aspect of the box never changes. The box has a lid. It can be open, and then shut! It can be shut to keep the grief and sadness and anger from spilling out into the other parts of my brain and overwhelming me.
Many people I have loved have died: two brothers and one sister, my father and mother, all my aunts and uncles, many cousins and friends. As I contemplated this image of the box to hold grief, I realized that each of the people I have loved who died has their own box.
I realized: all through the pandemic, I have been designing boxes in my head to honour people I thought might die, boxes to contain my grief, so that I could continue to be strong.
My father died of cancer when I was twelve. I was the oldest child in my family and a neighbour said to me, “Be strong for your mother.”
I have been. I have made a life of being strong and I did it with boxes.
(Note about these pictures: I have also built boxes at times. Below are two views of a box I built about 10 years ago. The poem Let No Charitable Hope was written by Elinor Wylie.)