Did she notice the tears welling up in my eyes? I don’t think so, she was very focused on her job. But they were there and I was caught off guard and quickly composed myself. She carried on with her task, oblivious to the quiet sob I choked back. Or maybe she was being kind and ignored this burst of emotion – she probably sees it often in her role at the blood donation clinic.
As I reclined in the lounger and listened to the whirr of machines around me, I did some self-analysis. My emotions had snuck up on me and it was unsettling. It didn’t take long to think of another time I was ambushed by my feelings.
Covid-19 has caused me to become emotional many times, that’s not new or unexpected. When I drove by the local high school and the sign out front said “School Closed” I felt the tears rise with the realization that we would not being going back for a long time. My grief for the students was logical. Telling my children we wouldn’t be going to Disney like we’d planned was hard news to deliver and understandably sad. Finally seeing my parents after months of only phone calls had me sobbing as it was twinned with the knowledge it would be months before we could be together again. Those instances made sense.
Then there was the time, few weeks into the lockdown this past winter, when I was at the grocery store. Covid protocols were still being implemented and adapted. As much as I craved getting out of the house, I found it was upsetting to see the realities of our new situation: long lines, two metres distance, and masks. This trip was different, though. I was more relaxed and felt less like a scavenger scouring the shelves during a zombie apocalypse. But then I turned a corner and there it was: the bottle of hot sauce I needed to buy for the soup we were having for dinner. And along with that were the tears.
No, I’m not adverse to spicy foods. And no, it wasn’t out of my price range. The bottle in question was the exact same type that a student in my class brought along in his lunch bag. It was the topic of many lunchtime conversations with my classroom family. The hot sauce made me miss those kids in a way I hadn’t anticipated.
Grief is funny that way. It can sneak up on you when you least expect it. The smell of coffee brewing on a summer evening makes me miss my long-departed cousin. Wearing a cozy sweater brings with it the sadness of the loss of my sweet friend who definitely would have loved it. Jellybeans instantly and unfailingly connect me to memories of my grandpa who always had some in his pocket. And hot sauce was a tangible reminder that I would never teach that group of kids face-to-face again.
I have given blood before. I have been poked and prodded and had medical exams. Needles do not faze me, nor does blood. In fact, the kind nurse hadn’t stuck me yet when I felt the tears gather. All she had done was take my hand.
It was not about the hot sauce, or the needles, or the masks, or the two metres, or the lack of human touch. It was and is all of it. And we all carry it differently on a given day. Let’s be kind to each other and gentle on ourselves.