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‘Southern Voices’ is a reader-submitted platform for stories from the heart. Today’s submission comes from Amy Sward, an award-winning journalist and writer who lives in Middle Tennessee. If you have a story to tell, see our guidelines for submission here.

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You hear the words: “new normal.” It never really hit me, because it always felt like a definite amount of time. I took the time in quarantine to purge all the baby stuff, clean the playroom, clean out and organize my closet, finally set up the dining room, and all the other little projects that have been on my “to do” list forever. But, recently, it hit me. This is indefinite. It appears this state of flux has no end. Even as some states start to reopen, it still doesn’t feel like life is back to what it was before. Even though we can technically go out and sit down at a restaurant to eat, that doesn’t quench my desire to have a “normal” life.

I think it hit me hardest when we had to all start canceling trips. First, it was our kid-free trip to Mexico. That one I took in stride. Then it was a visit from my best girlfriends in Colorado — that one stung. Then, it was a visit from more friends to celebrate Mother’s Day — that one also hurt. Right after that came the real doozie — a family and friends cruise to Bermuda to celebrate my milestone 40th birthday. One of my dearest friends turns 40 the same week that I do, and we spent months researching, planning, and booking the ultimate fun ship for our family and friends. What a way to enter a new decade! But, as our final payments approached, the cancellations started rolling in. I expected it, but still held out hope. Then, my parents called. They were pulling out. I get it. I don’t fault them; I completely understand why they can’t go anymore. They are in their late 60s/early 70s. My dad has a heart condition. It would be completely irresponsible for them to climb on board a floating vessel filled with thousands of people who could infect them at any moment. They would spend the entire trip stressing and anxious. Quite frankly, it would be a waste of money, time, and precious energy. This reality, while totally understandable, hit me hard. I spent the next few days contemplating what I wanted to do about the trip. It seemed weird to go celebrate a big birthday without the people who made it happen. I struggled.

Amy Sward Southern voices

Amy is pictured here with her family. Image: Submitted

I found myself crying a lot. At first, crying for the canceled trip, but then it morphed into crying about everything. I finally spewed all of my feelings to my husband. It came out as a sobbing, jumbled mess of frustrations. I was mad about the state of the world, something I have zero control over. I then became mad at myself for being mad about trivial things. I have a husband, two healthy kids, healthy parents and in-laws … that is what’s important. I know this, I truly do, but all this other “stuff” was weighing on me. At one point, I told my husband I hated myself for sounding so entitled. I was so mad about not being able to go on a cruise to Bermuda. Woe is me. Ugh. I want to slap my own self in the face, trust me.

But, what I’ve come to find out is that it’s not the actual cruise I am upset about. It’s the time spent with my family. It’s the memories I wanted to make. It’s the time they would have spent with their grandkids and the memories they all would have made together. It’s the time spent alone with my husband someplace where phones and computers don’t work. Time we could spend reconnecting, laughing, and celebrating. It’s the experience for my kids. It’s the time spent with one of my closest friends who hasn’t had the best birthdays. A chance to show her that there’s an extended family who loves her and wants to celebrate her. I mourn all of that.

And, after many days of crying, I came to the realization that it’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to be upset about the time lost, the memories not made, the celebrations postponed indefinitely. All of these things are things lost. I am thankful for the positive aspects of my life, but I can also at the same time be upset about this crappy situation. I finally gave myself some grace to feel the way I needed to feel in order to process everything that’s happening. I needed a minute to be upset, to cry, to grieve. It is okay. It’s only when I am able to adequately process all those emotions that I can move on to brighter ones. I simply cannot pretend that all is good when there are underlying fissures of discontent. It’s important to own your emotions, own your frustrations, be true to how you’re feeling, meet them head-on, have a good cry, have a good scream. Let it all out, because only then are you able to let all the good in.

Amy Sward is a four-time Emmy Award-winning journalist and writer. Her articles on parenting and travel have been published on several websites, including ScaryMommy, KidTripster, and Travel Awaits. Currently, she is a stay-at-home mom to two kids and lives just outside Nashville.

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