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Marina Gomberg: How we can honor the struggle that was 2020

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marina Gomberg.

December with a Santa-believing kid is pretty special. The depth of gleeful anticipation coupled with the power to encourage good behavior makes for a very magical month.

And we’ve needed it. The last nine haven’t been so sweet.

I’m actually a bit taken by how much fun we’re having. This unrelenting joy. It’s not that kids loving presents is a big surprise, but that anything could fracture my newly hardened shell is an unexpected and quite welcomed relief.

It got me thinking that not everything about 2020 has been a total disaster. I mean, it’s been close, but we have definitely found some treasures among all the trash.

In fact, I thought that for my final column of this year, I could assemble a list of Things in 2020 That Didn’t Suck. The promise of democracy was restored; I know of some particularly special babies on the way; we have a new airport.

It could be uplifting.

Except, as of this week, the American death toll from the coronavirus passed 300,000. The economy, particularly small businesses, has suffered greatly. Bias and injustice remain devastatingly rampant. And so many who have experienced unimaginable loss — pandemic-related or not — have had to grieve in painful and ongoing isolation.

So, while I like the idea of trying to spread cheer when times are dark (and I hope someone does make a glorious list), this time, I’m taking a different approach.

It seems like finding the silver linings, as powerful as that exercise can be, is only part of surviving grief. The other part is noticing and managing the insufferable discomfort without necessarily trying to mask or dismiss it.

I saw a meme the other day that said, “Imagine living with a scream inside you. And the scream is yours. And no one else hears it. That is grief.”

The scream is hard enough. So, having to experience that deafening and painful cacophony without our regular ways of connecting and healing seems like too much for any one person to reasonably bear. I’m not sure I’d want someone suggesting, under those circumstances, that I should focus on the good.

In the past three months alone, I’ve witnessed as many losses of life — a baby, a young child and a family’s matriarch. They’ve not been my losses, but close enough that the grief has been palpable. This loss-adjacence has been profoundly impactful and has broadened my understanding of what it means to be a person who shares hope.

In a way, it reminds me of my wife’s strength during our son’s 33-hour childbirth. I had wanted to have an unmedicated birth, and she was integral in helping me do that. But she didn’t hold my hand and tell me how great it was going to be to have a baby to take my mind off things. She didn’t pepper me with platitudes or expect me to feel anything other than raw pain.

She was with me as I was.

And her faith in my ability to withstand the pain was the biggest gift.

I’m learning that sometimes the best way to handle sadness is to sit in it. Take a soak. Be marinated. Sometimes even so long that you get fingertip wrinkles. And it’s nice when you can do that without being made to feel bad for feeling bad.

So, for this final column of 2020, I am not going to blast happy music in the hope that it drowns out anyone’s scream. Instead, I’m going to sit quietly. Hear my own scream and see if I can carry the vibrations of someone else’s.

Here’s to honoring the struggle.

Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.

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