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The Exquisite Pain of Covid Cancellations

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

AisleTalk Associate Therapist Aleigh Huston-Lyons writes about the experience of cancelling her wedding amid the Covid-19 pandemic through the lens of her identities as bride and therapist.

I sunk into the wine-red couch in our living room, heaving sobs and trying to catch my breath. Knees pressed against my chest, I squeezed my head in my hands like I was trying to pop a balloon. I willed the disappointment to condense into something smaller, more manageable. I felt a tiny gnashing monster inside my chest, attempting with all its minuscule might to push its way out. My partner sat beside me, rubbing slow circles on my back and directing me to breathe. I wanted to scream.

We had been here a few times before, on this same squishy couch in a similar position. Once after a diagnosis; once when the pressures of a job, graduate school and an internship overwhelmed my system; once following a death in the family. But we hadn’t discovered — as so many others have — that a grandparent had contracted Covid-19, or that a job had been lost. No, we had simply made the decision to cancel our wedding.

A week earlier, as I considered the possibility, I had maintained a level head. “It’s just an event,” I said to myself. “We’ll do it another time.” “Everyone is healthy, I have my life partner beside me, and that’s what matters.” I had been calmed by my own ability to keep the potential need to postpone in perspective.

And yet, when it became evident that no, June would not be the time and no, in fact, 2020 would not be the year, I was caught off guard by my own sadness. It knocked me to the floor. I blinked and could no longer see my blue-sky future with any clarity. The picture that I had so carefully crafted — this moment of lifetime commitment, where we would merge our family and friends from around the world in one place for one, life-affirming weekend — had disintegrated in the insidious fog of coronavirus that’s descended over our planet. The momentum, the anticipation, the excitement that was building to a crescendo within me was now buried six feet underground.

As I write this, I feel acute self-judgment that I am being overly dramatic. Insensitive. Self-indulgent. Yet, as a therapist, I know that what I am feeling is grief. I feel the loss of a moment, of a dream, of a creative child coming to life. And it is completely out of my control.

Grief takes root inside of your body and short-circuits your ability to problem-solve. You have no personal power over what has been lost. You generate energy intended to turn back time, to deliver a re-do, to reimagine reality, and that energy has no place to go. It creates a tension that pulses within you. It aches for what was. What I am experiencing, and perhaps what you are experiencing, is the death of a milestone. This grief is an exquisite pain, and it is allowed.

My best pain prescription? Sit with it. Get to know it. Ask it what it wants you to know. What does this pain tell you about yourself—your hopes, your fears? Hear its story as a therapist would: without judgment and with the reassuring comfort that all feelings are valid. Speak your lost moment into the room. Allow sobs and rage to surface as they come. Then, perhaps, express your grief to someone who loves you. Ask them what they have lost. Feel connected by heartache for what has been taken from us all.

One of the unspoken devastations of the coronavirus pandemic are the stolen moments across the globe. There are no baby showers, no quinceañeras, no proms, no college graduations, no 50th anniversaries or 70th birthday parties, no surprise flash mob engagements or shaking of hands after you’ve defended your dissertation. No hugging in waiting rooms as babies are being born. No funerals.

All that is known is that the future is unknown, and it looks dark. Planners cannot plan; adventurers cannot adventure; spontaneity has been kneecapped and life-as-we-knew-it has received a haymaker to the head. So, we grieve. We feel our feelings. We join virtual hands over the silver lining of all of this—that none of us are alone in our loss. For me, it is a wedding. For you, it’s something else. In reading this you are grieving with me. Know that I grieve with you in return.

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