Maggie Newey: Pandemic lessons in the obituary section

  • Maggie Newey. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 10/14/2020 12:55:30 PM

In the midst of the pandemic, I recently left my job to become the primary caregiver for our 2-year-old daughter. It was a difficult choice, but one that now seems clear and certain in hindsight. After five months of trying to work full time from home alongside my husband while juggling the care for our toddler, we were stretched thin and struggling. Our family could not move forward on this path, even if a changed financial picture would present its own new challenges. So, I stepped away from my professional career to take on the rhythms and pace of toddler life. I entered into this transition feeling grateful for the resources to even have this choice to make and also nervous about moving further away from my pre-COVID self.

Now, a big question looms: How is this pandemic changing the course of my life?

This question may be tucked into the back of your mind, too (although, many of us do not have much time these days to pause and ponder such existential wanderings). I have discovered that it sneaks up to the surface for me at a most surprising time — while I have a few minutes in the morning to read through this paper and sometimes land on the obituaries. In these pages:

I read the detailed stories of lives well lived and lives cut short too soon.

I see support networks laid out in the form of family trees and circles of friends.

I note the turns of fate that once led to new beginnings.

I pay careful attention to the stories of women who raised children, while also impacting others through their careers or community work.

I admire those who fought as soldiers in a war and then came home to build a strong family and meaningful life.

I feel heartbreak for those who were predeceased by a child.

I smile at the anecdotes that speak to what was special and unique about people who I unfortunately never knew.

I witness life’s twists and turns, but mostly what sticks with me is the love and connection.

In these brief moments of reflection in the obituary section, I attempt to gain some perspective on this moment of uncertainty in my own life and our world. I feel myself pulled out of the day-to-day difficulties and anxieties to a mental space where I can contemplate the bigger picture. And I absorb a simple but important lesson: All human beings encounter challenging times of struggle and unexpected events that change the trajectory of our paths, but most of us carry on and make a difference for someone.

Over these past months, many have said goodbye to loved ones sooner than expected due to this aggressive virus. Others across our country have seen family members or friends unjustly torn from their lives as a result of anti-Black violence. For all who have lost people they loved during this pandemic, I am so sorry you have not been able to celebrate and mourn them in the normal ways. But thank you for still sharing their stories. The wisdom and beauty of their lives is a comfort — at least to me. I am not sure exactly what is coming next, but if my family and I are lucky enough to stay healthy, then I feel certain this pandemic will only be one line in the obituary of my own evolving life.

Until recently, Maggie Newey worked as associate director for education at a local art museum. She lives in Florence with her husband, Mark, and daughter, Fiona.

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