It was supposed to be our last trip together before he got married. 

A mom-son trip, just the two of us. He needed to get from Canada to North Carolina with all of his worldly belongings, to begin his new life, and I needed some time with my son before he got married and our relationship would be forever changed. So this was going to be a perfect solution for both of us! And he was excited when I suggested it to him. (Thankfully he likes spending time with his mom. :))

My husband and I (and our two younger children) live overseas, and so when my son graduated a few years ago, he left us to return to Canada to pursue his post-secondary studies. It was hard saying goodbye then, knowing he would likely never live under our roof again. But I had no idea it would be so final. And so soon.

And so this was my chance, my last chance, to get 10 whole days with my sweet son. I would fly from Central Asia back to Canada early, we would load up a car with all of his belongings, and I would drive with him down south. Along the way, we would hike parts of the Appalachian Trail, which we were both super excited about, since our family loves hiking. It is one of the things we grew to love, living near beautiful mountains in Central Asia. 

I ordered a couple of books from Amazon, and scoured them, figuring out what parts of the Appalachian Trail we should hike, which hikes were the best, what “must see” scenic spots we must see, what route we should take. I took notes. I highlighted restaurants with names like “Spelunkers” and “Let’s Taco Bout it”. I planned our exact route, and booked hotels. It was months of thinking and dreaming and planning.

And then, it was no more. 

Coronavirus hit, and it looked like I might not be able to make the wedding, never mind a 10 day trip beforehand! If I was able to fly, my itinerary had me flying into New York, and then transferring to Canada. Would they quarantine me in New York? Toronto? Winnipeg? Some combination?? I didn’t have a month to quarantine!!

But then borders began to shut. My future daughter-in-law and I video called almost daily. Plans changed by the day. The wedding went from 250 to just 50 people. Then 10. Then, if my son got his visa, he would just jump in a car and head down and they would get married as soon as he got there…quickly, before they shut the US/Canadian border!

And then the government shut down the visa processing at the US Embassy in Canada. With my son’s documents and passport trapped in an office inside. And they shut the border.

Now he had no way of crossing the border and making it to his own wedding. 

His fiancé in North Carolina. 

He in Canada.

And me in Central Asia.

No wedding. No last mother-son trip.

And so, here we are. With so many losses. All of us. Author Jen Hatmaker posted on Instagram and Facebook awhile back, giving a space for people to say what they had lost as a result of this pandemic. The responses were heartbreaking.

Parents whose kids had worked hard to train for a race and now there was no race. Weddings postponed. Siblings planning a surprise for a sister graduating, coming from all around the world, now canceled. Single mothers unable to work because their kids were home from school, and now they had no income. People scared because they had pre-existing health problems, and now they were sick and scared they might die. 

Wow. It helped me put things in perspective. Yes, I have experienced loss because of this situation. But so have so many people! We will have a wedding…it just won’t be when we thought it would be. Maybe I will even still get that mother-son trip…who knows?

But I think it’s important that we do grieve our losses. I have come to believe that we cannot move on and heal if we don’t take time to feel the hard emotions, to give them the space they need. To acknowledge our losses, and grieve. To say, “Yes, this hurts. This sucks. I hate this!” 

Once we have grieved, then we can move on. But if we don’t take time for this important step, we can often get stuck. In depression. In anger. In bitterness.

It is okay to be sad, and disappointed and angry. Important even! Feel those feelings. And then, when you are ready, move on. Let healing come.

Challenge #3

, everydayWhich leads me to Challenge #3. For this challenge, we are going to go in the complete opposite direction. I want you to photograph what is bringing you joy right now. Yes, we need to feel hard emotions, but we also need to actively be seeking and pursuing joy. A few years ago, Ingrid Fetell Lee did a TED Talk about finding joy in our surroundings. I highly recommend watching it. You can find it here. She talks about common, everyday things that bring joy…things you wouldn’t necessarily think of…things like “cherry blossoms, and bubbles. Swimming pools and tree houses, hot air balloons and googly eyes and ice cream cones - especially the ones with sprinkles!”

So how are you pursuing joy? What is bringing you joy? Right now. Whether big or small, deep (like your faith), or not so deep (like funny memes on Facebook! :)).

But what if you’re not feeling joyful? Which, as we’ve just talked about, is totally understandable. You may not be feeling joyful right now, and that’s okay. But, at the same time, I think, just as it is important for us to grieve well, I think we actively need to seek and pursue joy. Sometimes it doesn’t just come. We have to go after it! And to be honest, this does not come naturally to me. I am naturally more of a melancholic personality, and my heart more easily goes in that direction. I really have to intentionally pursue joy!

So, if you are not feeling joyful now, what has made you feel joyful in the past? What could potentially make you feel joyful? Watch the TED Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee for some ideas. (She also has a book, called Joyful if you want to dig more into this idea.) 

Maybe this exercise will remind you of what brings you joy, and start you down the path towards joy again.

So, show us your photographs about joy, of things that bring you joy!

As usual, you can post your photos on my Facebook page or on Instagram, #deepsoulphotochallenge.

I look forward to seeing your photographs!

In grief and in joy,