Bittersweet: Grief mingled with Gratitude

Today* my students cleaned out their desks completely, wiping out the last fragments of pencil shavings and stacking textbooks on top. They stuffed zip-up binders and sparkly pencil cases, Kleenex boxes and dog-eared grammar books into their backpacks alongside a folder of answer keys and yet to be completed tests and quizzes. It felt like the last day of school, like June. We even played ball today.

But it isn’t June, and we aren’t finished our studies. We’re just homeschooling, again, the third time for the 2020-2021 school year. Like my students. I have mixed feelings about this.

There are so may losses, so many things to grieve.

  1. The ball field is only now dry enough, and we won’t get to play together anymore.
  2. We won’t get to hash out their current-event opinion essays over sandwiches and potato chips. Instead, they’ll write them in the echo chambers of their own homes.
  3. We haven’t been able to sing together for months, and now we for sure won’t be able to.
  4. Women finally show up in the history textbook, and we don’t get to talk about them! The filles de marie or King’s Daughters bravely sailed across the ocean to marry a stranger on the other side of the pond in New France. This is drama! And I can’t share their story.
  5. I won’t get to hear J’s sarcastic comments or have M make some long comment, straight-faced, only to realize that he’s intentionally making an absolutely hilarious joke.
  6. We won’t get to travel together on a bus and explore new places in our end-of-the-year field trip.
  7. My tomboy girls won’t get to tease me with stories of torturing spiders anymore.
  8. I won’t get to open their journals and read their opinions and personalities in the hastily scribbled words of a morning free-write.
  9. What if I’ve made my last art with this creative, free-spirited class?
  10. What if Grade 8 writing class never gets to finish those children’s books their engrossed in illustrating?
“It shouldn’t have been this way.” Written spring 2020, but it still works in 2021.

Yet even in the midst of all these losses I find flashes of gratitude.

  1. My Grade 7 students are a spirited bunch, and I’m tired. Very tired. I’m much more patient via video screen.
  2. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a break, and their brains are ready for a lighter load. Stress and uncertainty takes its toll on children, too.
  3. We’ve made some beautiful art together: wild autumn bouquets for our mothers, hand-made Christmas décor, texture palettes, Ted Harrison imitations, and stained glass Easter windows.
  4. We’ve had great discussions, including some memorable ones about nonresistance and the importance of meat in every person’s diet. (There’s no connection between the two, in case you’re trying to find one.)
  5. We are all SO READY to be out of our masks, to stop washing and sanitizing incessantly, to not have to carry the mental measuring tape of six feet every minute of the day.
  6. We were able to have our class campfire lunch, complete with a dice relay and several rounds of “Never Have I Ever.”
  7. We had six glorious days more than the public system did, six days in which to learn multiple tough math concepts, propelling us towards one of our last math tests.
  8. With ample warning this time, I was able to be more prepared as a teacher. With that preparation I felt more in control, and the students felt more secure, too.
  9. The luscious weather and new life calls us all outside, and now we have long afternoons to enjoy it.
  10. While all this uncertainty is not fun, I believe it’s building a resilience in us all that we’d not need to develop otherwise.

Why do I share all this here? I believe we live most fully when we take time to process our experiences, both good and bad. In fact, processing our experiences is part of telling our heart that this experience is real: it actually happened.

It’s been easy over the past year to simply not process, to not try to make sense of the chaos. I feel deeply and processing is exhausting. I’m tired. I don’t like seeing the ugly sides of myself these times reveal. I want to escape with another cup of coffee, YouTube music videos, or a mindless novel.

It takes courage to process life.

First said here

Yet, part of living as mature Christians is acknowledging and handling our emotions and attitudes. In the paradox of life we often hold multiple feelings simultaneously.

I’m here to remind us this is healthy, normal, necessary.

I’m here to give us the space to grieve, to give thanks, to rant about the price of broccoli if we need to.

I’m here to remind us that God can handle all our emotions, the good, the bad, the ugly. In fact, He’s honoured when we bring them all to Him.

The Psalmist David wrote some raw prayers, and God called David a man after God’s own heart.

2.Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.

3. My soul also is greatly troubled. But You, O Lord–how long?

4. Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.

6. I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.

Psalm 6:2-4, 6 ESV

In some ways, David’s words make mine look tame, but like him, I’ve paused mid-step and moaned within, “O Lord–how long?” How long until “normal” returns? How long until I can plan and be fairly certain my plans will come to pass? How long before I’ll be able to attend a wedding I’m invited to? How long before I can hop on a plane and visit the friend I’d intended to visit eighteen months ago?

How long until I have complete trust in my Maker? Until God looks down and shouts, “Son, go bring my children home”?

*Written April 15, 2021

What elements of grief and gratitude share space in your heart? How do you make sense of this all? What joys have caught you by surprise?

10 Comments on “Bittersweet: Grief mingled with Gratitude

  1. Your students are lucky to have you. Thank you for sharing your insights. I truly hope we get to return to a life of interaction and loving each other and life again soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this, Yolanda. I resonate deeply with many of the losses you shared. And to be perfectly honest, this time around, I am having an incredibly hard time seeing any good in all of this. But your intentional gratitude reminded me that it is possible to give thanks even in times like this. Thank you for your transparency and wise words…they did my heart some good this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all, Meghan, know that you are not alone. I forced myself to get to 10 nearly stalled out around 7, but somehow got there. I’ve had other people in other spaces say the same thing. Blessings on your weekend as you prep for what next week holds.


  3. I enjoyed this glimpse into your heart and your classroom so much. Thank you for sharing with us. One bittersweet thing about the way this past year has been is the grief of not getting to spend as much time with people that I love, contrasted with the joy and excitement that I feel when I do get to spend time with a loved one. I feel like I have gained a deeper appreciation for time spent with loved ones!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this reminder, that our loss of time together has made us more grateful for the time that we have.


  4. “While all this uncertainty is not fun, I believe it’s building a resilience in us all that we’d not need to develop otherwise.” Good words, Yolanda. May we allow these times to bring about the good work of God in our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

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