To say this past year was full of challenges, disappointment, loss and straight-up confusion would be an understatement. We have been tested in ways we’ve never encountered before and navigated difficult roads that may seem impossible to navigate.
This past June my grandfather passed away at the age of 89. He was my best friend and losing him was a fear I carried with me for years, as his health slowly started to decline; the idea was a catastrophic, world-shattering event and one I thought I would never survive.
Yet somehow, I did.
There could be a few things I can credit this to, but I recently noticed the implementation of small hobbies and routines into my schedule helped me to process, pick up the pieces and maybe occasionally distract myself. These activities aren’t specific just to grief and loss of a loved one but can also be useful during any difficult time in our lives – job loss, separation, a global pandemic and national quarantine.
In 2017, Meryl Streep quoted Carrie Fisher in a Golden Globes speech by saying “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” I think about this quote every single day. Every time I read it, it blows my mind even more. The simple act of creating can slowly begin to the put the pieces back in place… gets me every time.
After he passed, my family was faced with the daunting task of emptying my grandpa’s house. Everything in his home has been exactly the same, not a piece of furniture moved or décor changed, in more than 30 years. It’s the house he designed and built and every generation in our family grew up in.
My sister and I decided to photograph every detail of his house: the layout of the living room, the three short pencils on his side table he used to do crosswords, the bright red carpet and his closet full of flannels. I don’t think either of us have looked back at these photos yet, but I know we are beyond grateful to have them. They let us not only hold onto the memory of what his house used to be, but the way we were able to channel our grief in this creative release.
In recent months, I also took up woodburning. My grandpa was a carpenter and as he got older, we had many conversations of how he could continue working with wood as things become physically harder for him. I brought up the idea of woodburning which he shot down as quickly as I brought it up, probably saying something like “I wouldn’t even know what to do.”
I was able to collect some wood from his workshop while cleaning his house and can hear his voice every time I finish a project “Oh wow, that’s really great Tor!”
I feel one important thing to remember about this is there isn’t one specific way to be creative. Whether it’s taking photographs, painting, scribbling, gardening, reading a book or writing one, whatever you feel is accessing your creative spirit. Making art isn’t specifically reserved for the artistic; anything can be art, and anyone can be an artist.
Adapting rituals or habits
This is far harder said than done. We’re all guilty of setting a routine and, three days in, already falling off track. I have no advice on how to stay on track. But a handful of habits can help you feel like you’re in control of at least one thing, especially when control feels completely lost. These habits especially helped me personally in the early days of quarantine.
My grandpa drank tea every afternoon at 4:30 p.m. My Nannie was British and pushed her tea-drinking habit on him and eventually, our entire family. When we were suddenly quarantined and he was unable to come to our house every day, I started making myself a cup of tea every day at 4:30 p.m., like I was sure he was doing at his house.
I’ve heard it said many times this year to “move your body every day, for those that aren’t able to.” After the first week of quarantine was spent sitting down all day and doomscrolling through Twitter, I remembered again that the only thing I could control was myself. So I started working out every day, no excuses, because what else did I have to do? During and after the process of my grandpa passing away, I somehow never fell off track. It still shocks me but looking back I know I felt the same way I feel now – it was the only thing I had an ounce of power over.
I also have spent a lot of time outside: hiking with my cousins, walking my dog, kayaking for the first time. Being able to find a secluded waterfall with my sister, with no one else around, gave us a moment to take off our masks, put down our grief and breathe.
This habit has been talked about on a Project Best Life blog before, and I agree with every word of it: there’s no “right way” to journal. I’ve been brain-dumping into a notebook since I was a freshman in college and I find it to be the best way to process my emotions. I write down every thought that comes to my brain, no matter how dumb and pointless it seems in the moment. Once my brain goes blank, I read back what I wrote; sometimes it actually is as dumb as I thought, and other times it’s a stop-in-my-tracks revelation that I need some time to sit with.
Don’t be scared to write down everything from the trenches during difficult times of your life. Although these can be hard to look back on, you’ll be glad to have it all there, both to process the events and to remember it in time.
My main takeaway from the ways I’ve dealt with the insane emotions that we as a society have experienced this past year, has been to not feel guilty about the way you process these emotions. Grief ebbs and flows: for a loved one, for the way things were, for your life pre-pandemic. It’s not a groundbreaking statement but it’s true. Sometimes things will seem fine, and other times you won’t know how you’re expected to carry on. Any healthy ways that you feel help you on your journey aren’t incorrect. Just because these ways may not work for someone else, doesn’t mean they aren’t valid. As long as you are taking care of yourself, respecting yourself and your boundaries, and allowing yourself the space to grieve and heal, you aren’t doing it incorrectly.