Before the days of TikTok and cell phones, teenage girl sleepovers looked different from those of today. One common 90’s sleepover pastime was to levitate a girl in the group. She would lie down on the floor completely dead weight, and we would gather around her, each putting our fingers lightly under her. We would try to lift her and inevitably fail and giggle at how difficult it was. Then we would chant:
Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Light as a feather, stiff as a board.
Like magic, with only a few fingers from each surrounding girl, we would lift her effortlessly. She would levitate, and we would gasp and marvel at the accomplishment. During one sleepover or another, we all had a turn as the girl who is levitated. We were all as light as feathers.
Many years later, as an adult living through a pandemic, I feel so heavy. I have felt it coming on for a few weeks, slowly creeping up inside of me. Some slight hints of anxiety, a pit in my stomach. Nights laying awake in bed unable to fall asleep. It is a reminder that I can choose to ignore my grief, but it will find me and make itself known.
This will not be the first Christmas since my brother died. He died a little over 3 years ago, which makes this the fourth Christmas. As much as we say that grief has no timeline, we all secretly believe that it does and then chastise ourselves for falling outside of our own pre-prescribed expectations of normalcy. The first Christmas will be sad. The fourth Christmas will be normal.
Nothing is normal this year. This year is abnormal and difficult in so many ways. We have decided that we will not have a family gathering for Christmas this year. We will visit over zoom from our respective homes and keep each other safe because we can’t afford to lose anyone else. This was our collective and rational decision, and I didn’t realize how hard it would be until I started having trouble falling asleep. Then one day, I didn’t want to get up early and go running. I justified it easily, knowing how much warmer my bed was than the snow outside. I cried a little that day but brushed it off and told myself that I would go on my group run the next day. Again I had trouble sleeping, and I rolled over early in the morning and sent a text to the group that I wasn’t coming.
An hour later, still in my pajamas and teeth unbrushed, two friends from my running group showed up at my door with a piece of cake and a Christmas card. We stood in the doorway, keeping our distance, and I could feel the hot tears forming and pushing their way out despite my internal protest. They weren’t cute thank you tears, they were gushing and wouldn’t stop, and my face was contorting, trying to fight against them, trying to hide, and clearly losing. I honestly couldn’t even understand why I was crying so much. A mixture of love and gratitude for these amazing friends standing in front of me, guilt about staying in bed and missing out on something that I know would have made me feel better, embarrassment for not containing my emotions, and of course, the big looming holiday that I will spend without my family. After some awkward goodbyes, I closed the door, and the tears refused to stop. They stayed with me even as I peddled furiously on our exercise bike, trying to chase them away. They came back as I finally brushed my teeth. They returned as I drove out to an appointment.
Eventually, they left me with a headache and some soul searching. What was that all about? I pushed some fear aside that perhaps my IUD had failed and left me at the mercy of pregnancy hormones when I most certainly do not want to be pregnant again and settle on the more logical conclusion- suppressed grief and pandemic holidays.
The holidays without my brother James have not been depressing and somber times. We laugh a lot, and somehow our closeness with each other lessens the pain. Alone, the weight of his loss is heavy. Together, he is still there; his loss is still felt, but it is distributed among us, and it becomes not heavy but light. Not a weight but an essence. He is present and palpable when we are all together. This is what I will miss the most during our distanced holiday.
I think back to that childhood magic of weightlessness. That is what I yearn for, to be lifted, to be light. On closer inspection, though, maybe it comes down to me. When it was our turn to be levitated, we would stiffen up “stiff as a board,” shifting and redistributing our weight as our friends simultaneously lifted. I cannot just lay here as dead weight. I must shift. I must redistribute. For me, that will mean engaging in exercise even when I don’t want to. It will mean pausing the daily to-do list and opting instead for a puzzle. It will mean acknowledging the things that make my heartache and the things that make my heart sing. If I can put in a little bit of the effort, perhaps I could be lifted to the ceiling.
Shift. Redistribute the weight that will always be part of you. Be light as a feather.