How To Move Forward When Everything Stops

Selvia Tjandra-Stothers

What a crazy time we’re living in!

We are on 8 weeks of quarantine and the actual end is still unknown. Our community is still hurting, grieving, and longing for solutions, comfort, and recovery.

COVID-19 has changed so many things — global health, the economy, employment, and our personal lives. Many of us face the unexpected new normal which, for some, is hard or even heartbreaking. 

As I’m writing this, my heart goes out to the loss of how our beautiful world used to be. For many of you who have lost jobs or businesses, relationships, connections, or even worse, lost their loved ones ~ my heart goes out to you. 

When we deal with loss and grief, it seems like everything stops. When people lose their jobs their paychecks stop, and the relationship connection around that job stops. Of course, in a pandemic people who have lost their loved ones lose hope, comfort, and joy. 

Our dear friend, Cari Pattison is a minister, wellness coach, fitness instructor, and blogger. In this special interview, Cari shares how to deal with inevitable loss, how to keep moving forward, and how to change mindset, habits, and actions to keep us grounded and sane. Stay healthy and well everyone!


Selvia: What motivates you to keep your daily routine interesting during this quarantine? 

Cari: What motivates me to do anything right now, is the sense that this is not just a waiting-in-between time: this is real life right here and now. This time- for all its strangeness and unwanted change- is a gift from God that has something to teach me.

This is a time to learn and look around and love the people I’m with. 

S: What is your daily routine or habits that make a HUGE impact for your mental health? 

C: [The] daily routine that really keeps me grounded and sane:

1. Do something outside daily.
Hiking, sitting by the river, or just walking around the garden are just a few ideas.
2. Do something each day that’s physical.
A walk, yoga or stretching.
3. Do something each day for your mind and/or spiritual practice.
For me that is the daily prayer services here at the monastery, and also worshiping with online church.
4. Eat or drink something healthy.
I like green smoothies or tea.
5. Do something for the community.
Here at the Monastery, I eat meals and garden with the brothers. I also call a friend to catch up.
6. I also love doing something creative (some days).
At the moment I like watercolors or writing. It was quite a creative endeavor to color my hair by myself for the first time! 
7. Listen to informative and uplifting podcasts and audiobooks, but mostly limit media consumption.
I read the New Yorker every week and feel like I get the basics of what’s happening in the world. I don’t do TV, radio, or internet for the most part- I want to protect the psychic space around me and in me.
I am also learning slowly to be more comfortable with silence.

S:  When people lose something, whether it’s a job or a relationship, what can we do so that we don't dwell on losses? How can we instead take action and move forward?

C: You know, that’s a hard one. I think there is actually a place for dwelling on what one has lost. That means you really loved it. You loved that person or that role or that job or that usual activity that enriched your life, that you no longer have during COVID. 

With the biggest losses, due to death, loss of your health, or the end of a relationship, I don’t think you ever fully get over those. But as one author wrote so beautifully, “You learn to love the space they left behind.” That rings true for me. I am a big believer that we have to move through a loss before we can move to the next phase. Or as my friend Leslie says,

“This too shall pass, but first this too shall suck.”

As far as how to move forward: 

1. Invite yourself to “act as if.” That is, one can choose to do simple things to anchor our day and encourage some motivation and confidence.

Small things like getting up early, making your bed, and getting dressed in a way that makes you feel beautiful - even during quarantine when maybe no one else sees (or cares)!
For me, action steps to move forward in life, especially when I am in a fog of pain or confusion, often means literal steps: getting outside and walking. Especially in the woods or near water. St. Augustine is credited with coining a Latin saying: “In walking it is solved.” And I know for me I almost always feel clearer and kinder and more expansive after I walk in nature.

2. Ask for support.

I call a friend who gets me. I read a chapter of a favorite book. I write in my notebook. I eat a meal with the monks here, even if I’m in a funk and am tempted to self-isolate down in my basement apartment. I do a few reach-outs that make me feel like I’m not alone. I think there is a time to call a therapist too. I reached out to mine last month, and even though we only had one session, it was so nice to feel really heard and seen, and like she normalized what I was going through. 

3. Take the small step of nourishing your body.

Try cutting way back on sugar, dairy, wheat, and caffeine. This makes a huge difference in my gut health, skin, and state of mind. I had no idea how much these substances affected my moods! Until I cut them almost all the way out.

S: For people who have lost loved ones during this time, and I include my personal experience too, the amount of grieving and mourning seems unending. How do we deal with grief?

C: Oh Selvia - I'm so sorry! I think whether the loss of a loved one is due to Covid or due to another illness or accident, death is so compounded during this time of quarantine. Not being able to visit someone in the home or hospital, or to even grieve at a funeral, is unthinkable! Loss added to loss.

One thing my dear friend Christina did, after her dad died a couple weeks ago, is she wrote a lot about him, she created a beautiful website with photos and stories about him, and she even hosted a zoom-style wake- like a viewing where friends and family could set a 15-min. slot during a 2-hour window one Wed. and Thur. afternoon, so they could talk and view on video live with the family. This was so beautiful and touching- I felt even closer to them than I would in a normal wake/viewing, where there is a crowd of people. It was so intimate and dear. 

As far as the grief itself: just allow it room to breathe. Feel it. Picture its color and shape and weight and temperature inside your body. Walk it out. Scream it out!

Sometimes on the AT (Appallachian Trail), I even had whole shouting sessions where my prayers were more like yelling at God. Because God can take it. The Bible is so full of lament psalms, and faithful believers who had it out with God. We are allowed and invited to do this! God wants us to be real.

I think for some, writing or art or painting or music can help. Some want to talk to friends. Some just need to go numb and inside themselves for a while, and then open up when they are ready.

Each of us grieves so differently. Tears and no tears. So I think it’s most important to be true to what you need and don’t feel bad asking for it. Not trying to apologize for your grief or give it a timeline.

S: Last question, what things we need to look for to help us see the light in the darkness?

C: Oh my, that is the golden question. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. But I do believe we can look for the beauty. To let ourselves laugh even as the ship feels like it’s going down. If one is a person of faith in any capacity, however small, go to that. Go to those ancient words, and that nearby community - even on zoom - and tap into a spiritual container of love that is bigger than you and can hold even your emptiness and sorrow.

Take stock of one thing each day that is not wrong right now. To savor a delicious square of dark chocolate, to marvel at the magnolia tree just beginning to open, to sit by a small stream and be mesmerized by the flowing water.

Reach out to Cari Pattison at: facebook , instagram, or email

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