All of these apps that find you pictures and posts from the past and show them to you daily are a blessing and a curse. I get to be reminded of different stages of my kids life, place we’ve been, moments in time. And also things that have taken on an aura of sadness now, picture that remind of what wasn’t, what has been lost, upcoming trauma.

It was just a picture of a cake. I took it and sent it to my mother because I was in Montreal for a conference but also was going to be able to celebrate my birthday with my brother and parents. It was chocolate and raspberries which are my all-time favorite. After the conference and after the kids came home from a rented cabin on a lake with their grandparents, on the day we were having dinner to celebrate my birthday, I opened the fridge to find…a strawberry shortcake.

“I thought everyone would like it more.”

And so I saw the picture and remember the events following the day I took that picture, having long banished them from my working, conscious memory. Seeing the picture caught my breath and then tears welled up in my eyes, tears I had to keep in because I would have been admonished for crying over cake, being selfish, making a scene, so I smiled and ate the cake and cried later after everyone had gone to bed.

My husband’s former boss just passed away, rather suddenly. And the next day, a friend and colleague passed away from a cancer many of us didn’t even know he had. And then my husband’s grandfather fell down the stairs and died from the injuries. We are stuck, literally, in place, unable to mourn collectively the way we would like. There are wounds these deaths, like all deaths, expose again, and we feel all the feelings all at once and I have never been good at mourning so I just stay sad.

We get together and drink and cry over our colleague and friend’s death and I bear witness and hold space for those whose pain over this loss is deeper and greater than my own because it feels like the right thing to do. I validate the grief, however futile or inappropriate a gesture it is, but I do it as a way to try and extend grace. We all wail and feel it acutely – he was one of the good ones, one of the great ones, and he is gone. We imperfectly mourn on our screens, unable to hug or touch or be near in ways that are comforting during these times.

Our friend and colleague was overwhelmingly kind and generous, which is why we all are mourning his loss as much as we are, even those who were not close, but he made us feel like long-lost friends whenever we would see each other. I think about that generosity, we all think about it, and we work to be generous in that moment with each other over the screens, to be generous beyond these screens into these still-uncertain times.

There are others, I know, who are suffering worse losses, whose hearts are more broken, whose lives are more torn apart. My sadness isn’t the kind that lingers, sticking to my heart like tar. These were people I knew but I was distant, now, from all of them, and their memory will make me sad but it won’t devastate me all over again. I will remember, do the work to commemorate them, and the sadness will linger, but a sadness about the shortness and relative futility of life, a sadness to reflect upon loss.

I shared the story about the cake on Twitter because that’s what I do, and a friend saw it and offered to buy me and mail me a cake. This is a friend who has suffered a tremendous and devastating loss this year. I think of her often, about how she is doing, how her family is doing, and how that day will forever be linked to tragedy, and I send her strength, from afar. But she sees me crying over a cake that I never got so she finds me a chocolate raspberry cake that can be delivered to me, and my sadness gives way to gratitude.

This is what loss and sadness and grief can do. It can hurt you over and over again, but it can also create space for moments of grace and humanity and connection.

Thank you, friend.

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