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Grief Comes in Many Forms

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for at least two weeks, but I kept stopping because I couldn’t find the right words to tie together all the things I’m feeling right now. But the losses in my life are mounting, so I’ll press on.

My son Jameson was born the week before the country shut down for what we thought would only be two weeks. He’s almost 4 and a half months now, and for the first time, we used his stroller for something other than a walk around the neighborhood or an empty paved path.

People in my family have suffered a lot of loss in the last month. Some of it because of COVID, some of it not. They’ve lost jobs, buried family members, said goodbye to pets, held memorials for friends—moments that are hard to face any day. But now, what feels like a never-ending sentence of social distancing and wearing masks is making it that much harder to face. No hugging. No shoulder pats. No handholding. No indoor funerals. No “let’s go to the bar and drink for an hour so we can forget about how bad it all hurts.”

It’s been in the 90s lately but I keep wearing a mask because I don’t want anyone else I care about to suffer loss, but I especially don’t want them to have to do it alone. I don’t want COVID to continue wrecking us endlessly.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief these days. We’re all grieving right now. It takes many forms. We’re grieving lost time with the people we’re used to seeing. Big Sunday dinners with extended family. Friday night concerts on the lawn. Weekend getaways by the community pool. Annual picnics and reunions by the lake. Shopping in a store and making an actual impulse buy.

Kids are grieving proms and last days of school and graduation ceremonies. Summer camps they look forward to all year. Sleepovers with friends. Family summer nights where everyone isn’t huddled around their laptops working because they didn’t have enough time to work during the day and keep the kids occupied.

My brother-in-law’s kids are much older than Jameson. And he said something to me weeks ago about how lucky I am that my son’s too young to remember COVID. But the trauma is real no matter the age. it’s just different.

I got to spend a few months learning to be a mom, watching him grow, and then one day, we just stopped playing during the day. I stayed home, but i started spending hours at a computer, stopping every so often to look over and check on him, only to turn back to my screen or my phone or my notepad. He hated it. I hated it. It was miserable.

He’s growing up in a world where he’s barely met anyone, where he’s barely seen anything, where a mask is scary but normal. We went to the pediatrician the other week and the look on his face while I sat next to his stroller wearing my mask was so sad. He looked so scared and unsure. Was that mama? What was on her face?

Now, he gets to spend the day with a few other kids at daycare, and I get to focus on my work, but that time we spent piecing together childcare hurt my heart. He won’t remember it, but I will.

Everyone’s grieving something during this time. Whether it’s a person, a place, a memory, an expectation of what this spring and summer (and soon fall) would bring and didn’t. All our experiences are incredibly similar and yet vastly different. We’re suffering losses in all shapes and sizes. And the neighbor next to us has no idea what we’re facing. Extend some grace. Check on your people. Remember you’re not alone. Someone, somewhere, is thinking of you and itching to reach out. Pick up the phone. We may not be able to stand side by side, but we haven’t forgotten how to care about the people in our lives. I know that much is true.

Community, Genuine Happiness, and Motherhood in the Midst of a Pandemic

Someone I’ve known for a long time shared some good news with me the other day. You know the thing you do when you say, “I’m happy for you!” or “That’s awesome. Congratulations!” but it’s half-hearted? Like you’re scrolling through your phone and you don’t even look up? 

Maybe this only happens to me, but I catch myself doing that often and I hate it. Social media has made it easier to know everything about everyone and often not feel moved by any of it.

This time, that’s not at all how I felt. I felt deeply happy for the person. To the point where I catch myself thinking about what they said and my reaction here and there over the last few days. I had become so accustomed to feeling numb to what I was learning about people’s lives. I was used to feeling on the fringes of this giant community, of knowing so much about strangers and old friends alike, but never really feeling most of it.

This global pandemic we’re in is terrible. Truly. But if there’s one thing we’re getting out of it, it’s community. Which I knew. You can watch all the sappy commercials and read all the articles and hear all the people talk about how we’re alone together. But I didn’t know if I felt it in my life. I didn’t know if it had reached out and grabbed me. 

I’m about a month postpartum. I’m learning there’s nothing like raising a child in the middle of this pandemic. But there’s really nothing like first learning to raise a child in the middle of this pandemic. 

When babies are born, people are so excited to help. Never has community felt more present in my life than in pregnancy. I saw all these people show up for me in that season of preparing for motherhood. Friends, family, coworkers. People who gave their time, their energy, their talents, their hard-earned dollars. People who knitted or crocheted blankets. Who helped decorate for my showers. Who carried gifts out to the car and stayed around longer to pitch in. People who called to check in over the months. People who genuinely wanted to know how I was doing as the weeks ticked away.

When Jameson was born, we were fortunate to have my mom help for a week. When she left, that’s when things really hit the fan with COVID-19. States went on lockdown. Stores shut. Schools closed for not just weeks, but months. Cases went from the hundreds to the thousands to the tens of thousands to now the hundreds of thousands.

For the last few weeks, it’s been just us. No one can come by when we’re exhausted and haven’t slept and just want someone to hold him while we nap. People who wanted to come share a meal and just catch up can’t do that. Family members who wanted to take a trip to meet him for the first time can’t do that. My mother-in-law jokes that he’ll be walking by the time she can see him again, and it’s true. We’re all wondering when it’s over.

And yet. I’ve spent more time on video chats and exchanging messages with people than I can remember. Some, yes, because I have time on my hands to just be (and also no time to breathe at all, it feels like). But also because I know something big they’re going through. I know they might need a check-in. It’s hard to check in with people who you miss when you stop checking in. You run out of knowing what’s going on in their life so you feel like you don’t know what to talk about. But we are all having cyclical conversations here about how life as we know it is different. And it’s never been easier, in some ways, to just show up for people.

I’m really glad to feel like that. I’m really glad to see people showing up—albeit virtually—for the people in their lives who they may or may not have talked to much in recent years. Maybe this is a reset for genuine community. Not just tapping the like button on Instagram and scrolling past. But sending the message. Having the conversation. Making plans. I’m hopeful it continues.

A locker, a keeper, a carrier.

Some days I catch myself thinking of her, eighteen and at her high school graduation rehearsal, learning in a sea of classmates that her father has died. Suddenly and unexpectedly.

She must have felt like her life was just beginning. And then, not anymore.

It must have felt like nothing mattered. Like her life was ending too.

Some days I think of myself learning similar news. At 8 or 13 or 22.

How grief sneaks up on you and even though the wave has already crashed, the news already broken, it can take days for the rumble of the wake to shake your legs and pull you down.

I think about those three days of disbelief in 2003. How on Day 4, the floodgates opened. How I couldn’t close them back up. How hard it was to push push push that door closed, the water streaming in.

Those are crossroads moments. Some of us catch them and some of us point as they drive past. Some of us lock them up tight and some throw them to the wind.

I was always a locker. A keeper. A carrier.

And though it might feel heavy at times, mostly I like it. Mostly it reminds me why I do what I do. Why I am who I am.

At sixteen I was messaging this guy back and forth on AIM, and I remember him saying, “you’re a very emotional person.” I don’t remember what prompted it or if anything did at all, but it’s stuck with me.

When bad news comes and the clouds roll in, it might seem harder. But then it’s the reason we feel so much for the people and things we lose.

All those moments that add up to a life well worth it. Because they mattered to someone like me. Or you. Or him or her or them.

6 Money-Saving/Rebate Apps I Love

I don’t know about you, but I’m at that age in my life where I want my money to stretch to meet all my goals and needs. And every so often, I’ll talk to someone and realize it’s not just me. It seems like it’s everyone around me. And maybe it’s just because it’s December, but it seems like it’s more apparent right now than it has been before.

We want to save for a fun vacation or weekend getaway, save for retirement, save for the big life purchases, save for wedding expenses or babies. We need to pay off student loans and car loans and mortgages. We need to pay rent. We want to treat ourselves once in awhile. And maybe even test out the investment world.

I’m constantly leaning on apps and websites to help me, and sometimes I’ll be in conversation with someone and mention one of these below. So I thought I’d do a quick roundup of some apps and sites that I absolutely love that help me automate saving, or get a little back for the purchases I’m already making, or get me points toward future purchases. This is definitely not an ad, but a few of them have good referral codes so you get a bonus for signing up that way, so I’ll include those below. Some of them will also give me something if you sign up.

Get Upside – Before you shop for gas or groceries or takeout, you can go to this app, open it up, and see if you can claim an offer for cash back from a local gas station or grocery store or restaurant. Mostly I’ve used it for gas. You can cash out and have it go to your Paypal account. I’ve gotten as much as $0.20/gallon off the price just by using this. You also get “upside credit” which can be used for $3 off a car wash, for example, or a percent off an in-store purchase like food at the attached convenience store. Use code “KALEIGH227” for an extra 20 cents per gallon cash back on your first gas purchase.

Ibotta – This might be my absolute favorite. You get rebates for items you buy (mostly groceries and health/beauty products and alcohol). James LOVES it for beer because you get like $3 or $5 back on a case of beer. If you drink wine or liquor, the rebates are really good for those too. Like GetUpside, you have to search by the store you’re going to and then select a rebate based on what you’re planning to buy. Use code “jejvgqh” for an instant $10 bonus. You can cash out to Paypal once you hit $20. They’re doing a lot of deals where you get a 10% back on shopping via your phone too. Like 5% cash back on Target purchases, for example.

Qapital – Hannah Brencher Sheats raved about this to her Instagram followers back in the summer so I checked it out and I’m hooked – full credit to Hannah. You basically create basic rules that trigger the app to pull small amounts of money from your checking account into a separate goal account – so I used it to try and slowly save for Christmas, for example. You could do this for vacations, to save a little more towards your mortgage or student or car loan, etc. For example, I set it to round all my purchases from my credit cards to the nearest $2 and to also send $5 if I walk more than 2 miles per day. You can have as many goals and as many rules as you want. You can also set certain rules for certain goal accounts. I love the idea of using it for extra mortgage payments or other loans. Use this link for $5 when you create your first goal.

Checkout 51 – Same concept as Ibotta. Just another place to look for rebates before you go shopping.

Shopkick – This one’s hard for me to remember to do, but if you open the app before entering a store, you get “kicks” for that store if they have a “kicks” deal that day. Target’s usually got a 30 kicks deal. You can also get points for purchases at various stores and for scanning items (not even buying them). It’s an easy way to get points toward gift cards without even making a purchase. I have enough for a $10 gift card for Target and I didn’t even make a purchase to get there. Use “SHOP621802” to get 250 kicks for your first walk-in to an eligible store (as long as it’s within 7 days of you downloading the app). You have to have Location Services on your iPhone when you’re using this app.

MyPoints – This one’s not an app (it’s a website) but I love it. Casey, my college roommate, introduced me to it in 2008 and I’ve been using it ever since. You get emails with bonus points for clicking through or for making a purchase (XX points per dollar). Just go to their site and log in and then search for the retailer and click through to it to buy and get points per dollar. You can also do surveys to earn points. Then you redeem points for gift cards. I’ve earned a bunch of $10 Target cards over the years just by doing surveys or clicking on the email links. They also offer coupon codes and grocery coupons.