I often have said that Oaks Day and Derby Day are an equine version of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for me. The days leading up to them leave me giddy with anticipation and excitement. It’s a whirlwind of festivities and a feast for the senses. The consumption of cold Mint Juleps. The delicious eye candy served up by the ladies in their gorgeous hats and the gentlemen in seersucker suits. The majesty of the thoroughbreds. The athleticism and skill of the jockeys. The roar of the crowd. It is truly something to behold.
As many times as I have attended these two events, they still leave me in absolute awe. It’s an indescribable feeling to be in the midst of the throng of spectators, singing along to our state song, My Old Kentucky Home, and preparing to bear witness to the fastest two minutes in sports. The run for the roses is over almost as soon as it begins, but the winning horse and jockey are immortalized in racing history. But not this year, at least not on the first Saturday in May.
No, this year will be remembered for a different reason altogether. The Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, and all of the fanfare in the weeks leading up to them, became casualties of COVID-19, leaving the first Saturday in May eerily quiet. Instead of kicking off a month of other celebrations and special events, such as graduations, Mother’s Day gatherings, end of the school year activities, vacations, weddings, and so on, it ushered in another month of grieving.
While death is the ultimate loss to be grieved, it definitely is not the only loss that we experience. Grief and loss are integral parts of life. They have been part of our lives before the arrival of COVID-19, and they will be our companions during the pandemic and long after it ends.
Sometimes, though, it is easy to discount or dismiss our own grief or the grief of another person, especially when the grief is not associated with the loss of life. During the pandemic, we have experienced, and continue to experience, a variety of losses. Loss of our normal routine at home and work. Loss of physical contact with colleagues, friends, family, neighbors, etc. Loss of celebrations and milestone events. Loss of travel plans. Loss of income. Some losses are more significant than others, but they are all losses nonetheless.
With a loss, it is normal to experience some degree of grief, even if it may not feel normal. Our natural human tendency is to try to avoid pain and to feel good, rather than allowing ourselves the space and grace to experience the emotion. It seems like a good idea at the time, but emotions like grief tend to persist the more we resist, and they will emerge eventually.
Although the chorus of our state song advises us to weep no more, my lady; oh, weep no more today, as the pandemic continues to serve up more losses, we need to mourn. There’s no need to judge or justify our losses and the grief that accompanies each one or to berate or shame ourselves for how we feel. So, weep or whatever else you need to do to safely sit with the grief for as long as it takes to loosen its intensity and begin to heal.
Yesterday, this lady wept both tears of joy and tears of sorrow, as I traded a beautiful Derby hat for a well-worn bandana and a fancy dress for trail running gear. Instead of heading to historic Churchill Downs for a day at the races, I headed to Cherokee Park for a long trail run. As I wound my way through the beautiful paths on a ridiculously stunning morning, I wept for the absolute beauty of it all and out of sheer gratitude to be alive to enjoy it. I also allowed myself to shed some tears for the loved ones I miss, especially my amazing boyfriend, for the loss of a sense of normalcy in my daily life, and, of course, for the loss of my favorite Kentucky Derby traditions.
As I wiped away the sweat and tears after my run, I felt the pangs of grief give way to a greater feeling of acceptance and gratitude. I will continue to allow myself to feel how I feel each day and take heart in the belief that we really will get through this together, and I can cry if I want to along the way.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story