I saw it coming.
I shed preemptive tears.
I even admitted I was aware that sadness would soon follow. I dropped off my roommate at the airport. As I pulled away, I was a tire with the air let out.
I barely cracked open my journal. I fell asleep with a heap of books and clothes on the other half of my bed—night after night. The first three days I feasted on drumstick ice cream cones and popcorn when Walgreen’s was out of my favorite chips.
I didn’t take Ivy for walks or step away from my desk at the office. I didn’t make meals—even though I’d become confident about my cooking-for-one competency in the kitchen. The reality is eating is much more pleasurable with company and conversation. There’s no getting around it.
An overseas friend kept me company over the phone and agreed with the conclusions of my career counselor and spiritual director: my roommate moving away was a real loss, and this sadness was an appropriate response.
Besides the few activities I have listed above, the rest of that period is a blur. I worked and felt supported by my team. I went to bed early and texted with my teen. I have identified that for many of my hurdles, I have intellectually powered through. I have thought my way through the difficulties. It works for a time, but it can never avoid the accompanying fatigue. It is different from being tired. Fatigue settles into the marrow. It sends you to bed early and makes getting out of bed a chore.
This deflation lasted three weeks. The three-day weekend lay before me with swaths of unscheduled time. It was time to pick up the tire pump. I filled those hours with nurture and fun. I returned a library book on foot (a four-mile walk) with Ivy by my side and a grocery bag captured the litter I found along the way. I logged on to three Zoom calls with friends and fellow writers. I watched two movies in the theater on two separate days. I talked to a friend for hours and in between those calls, I cleaned the bathroom sink and mirror. I put summer sheets on the bed, and started the laundry. I watered the hanging flower pots on my porch and surveilled the mama bird incubating her eggs in the fourth flower pot as her presence threatened the flowers with thirst. I binged David Letterman’s Netflix show. With each activity, I felt the tire inflate. I could almost hear the rush of air.
What I continue to learn is that my practices of walking, writing and reading, gardening, and cooking are the habits that keep me physically, mentally, and spiritually buoyant. I did not panic when I set them down. I directed my low energy to the work of grief. It’s hard work, and sometimes requires every ounce of stamina. I have come to trust myself and knew that I would recognize when it was time to reengage.
My sadness is not gone. I miss my roommate’s company, and will for a long time. My sadness stems from the end of a really beautiful time shared with this friend. I didn’t know I needed her friendship until she appeared at my door.
Grief signals that goodness was present. In the form of people, meaningful work, passages of time. For me, it’s a strange form of celebration that I experienced that goodness—even briefly.
Five days have passed since I made the decision to grieve AND nurture myself with healthy practices. I am amazed by the surge of energy I feel coursing through my veins. I am ready to tackle my creative pursuits again and to see where they take me this summer.
When my roommate and I worked toward our individual goals of studying for her comprehensive oral exams for her PhD and launching my new website, we created a chart. Each day we worked toward the goals, we initialed the chart I taped to the linen closet door in the hallway. That chart helped us stay accountable to ourselves and to each other. It also fostered great conversations over dinner. The next semester I made a new chart with new goals.
Last night, I made a chart for myself. It reads Healthy Habits at the top. The left column has the categories: write, walk, garden, cook and bake. I’m logging progress in columns labeled for May/June, July, and August. I look forward to filling the white space with check marks—a reminder that I’m showing up for myself.