Let’s go back a little over a month ago, the day before our world changed forever. February 29, 2020 I woke up at 3 am to get ready to see a client in Virginia before heading to Baltimore for my first wedding of the year. I was tired and knew that the day would be long as hell. I’m not very good about planning for my future body’s limits and agreed to this year 17 hour work day. Happily made it through my first appointment with time to travel the 50 miles to my wedding. The wedding went beautifully and I was so excited to be able to stay around after the ceremony to provide touch ups for the bride and her bridal party. Afterwards, I went home and made arrangements to meet with a December bride to help get her ready for engagement photos the following day. I was tired but loved meeting and working with this beautiful and very happy woman on a windy but sunny afternoon.
I arrived home and my husband, Zachery, was in his usual spot on the sofa playing a video game and chatting with his older brother. I ended up getting on the headset and offered some advice to my brother in law about a personal issue he was having. He had to cut the chat short and we said goodbye so he could spend some time with his family. Zachery and I decided to relax and turn on a movie when he received a call from his brother’s wife. Something had set him off and he had left in her car with personal items their children needed (a blanket for their youngest son that he wouldn’t sleep without and softball gear for their oldest daughter). She asked Zachery to see if he could get in touch with him so she could find him and at least get the kids items back. We weren’t able to get in touch with him and planned to stop at the grocery store for allergy medicine for Zachery and head over to their house to help with the search.
The drive over there was confusing. I could tell my husband was worried, we’d heard from another one of their siblings that my brother in law called him to essentially say goodbye. The police had been called to my sister in law’s house and they were searching for my brother in law in the neighborhood. I spent the 30 minute drive texting my brother in law asking him to drive to his house, come over to our house if he needed a break, or at the very least respond to one of the dozens of people who were worried for him. The last text received simply said “tell dad I love him”. By the time we arrived to their neighborhood, he had been found and we headed there rather than his home. Police cars and ambulances lined the street down to the small beach in his neighborhood. My husband approached an officer and asked if they had any information for him and he was kindly asked to remain in our car.
We waited the next 10 minutes convincing ourselves that this was not happening, they’d found him in time, he was going to go to the hospital for a few days to get things sorted out and then we’d be able to see him again. Unfortunately none of that was true. Zachery received a call from his oldest brother that just said “he did it”. Our hearts sank and I witnessed my strong, cool and collected husband immediately melt as his heart shattered with the realization that he’d never again be able to be with his best friend in the entire world.
The next few days were very weird. There’s no other way that I can describe it. We spent every day at their house along with my sister in laws enormous family on the main level and Zachery falling to pieces in the basement where they’d spent most of their time together. He couldn’t stop crying, he was so angry and lost. He’s described it as losing a piece of himself and I believe that to be true. By Tuesday he was numb. He’d only cry in private and that came rarely. I was grateful that he was getting a little break from the all consuming grief and was able to eat and get even a little bit of sleep. Wednesday and Thursday were more of the same.
Friday was my day to be overcome by it. I’d spent all of my energy ensuring my husband was safe that I hadn’t allowed myself to process for myself. I thought about how he’d worked so hard to build this beautiful life for his family and he wouldn’t be around to see it. I thought about his children and all of the milestones that he wouldn’t be able to be there for. I thought about all of the times he had to silently suffer with something bigger than he was because he was “the strong one”. Lastly I thought about how hurt, alone, and helpless he must have felt in those last moments to not want his future. I was sad for the people he left behind but more than anything, it broke me to imagine how hurt he was to have no other option than to take his own life.
The funeral itself was an eerie experience. Hundreds of people came to pay their respects, share stories, and provide comfort to our family. Even being surrounded by such a huge crowd, I don’t think Zachery and I have ever felt so isolated in our grief. My husband was so important to my brother in law and strangers kept coming up to talk to him because of the many stories he’d told of Zachery over the years. We’d hoped for a little closure after the funeral but it did not come. Following the service, we went to dinner with a bunch of my brother in law’s coworkers who took turns coming up to Zachery to share their stories of mischief, pranking, brotherhood, and happier times. He was loved so deeply by so many and they wanted to make sure that Zachery knew he would always be loved.
Another week of rescheduled appointments to ensure I was by my husband’s side whenever he felt vulnerable enough to share his feelings. It happened often, sometimes 8 times a day. He’d ask me to go back to work and my response was always “I have weddings coming up. We’ll be ok financially. My priority is making sure you’re alright”. We finally felt ready to go back to work after 2 weeks. I was looking forward to routine, purpose, and allowing myself to feel joy again. Then the rest of the world ended. It’s not very often that when you experience a life altering loss, the rest of the world is right there with you. In some ways, I’m grateful to have a large community to grieve with, even if it is for different reasons but I know a lot of people in my family needed their routine back to start healing. Instead, we’re just frozen.
I spent some time catching up on what the Coronavirus (still unnamed Covid-19) was doing in America. Department stores and other cosmetic retailers changed their policies to prohibit makeup applications by any artist in store. “Good”, I thought, "the sanitation practices in those places are so horribly enforced, this would be the place to pick it up." I was glad that they were taking their artists’ safety into consideration as well. I knew myself though; I've received training through The American Cancer Society, I work with Johns Hopkins Prom every year to provide hair and makeup to youths receiving treatment for illnesses that would prevent them from attending their own school dances. I know the measures I need to take to ensure my kit is safe for anyone, especially the immunocompromised. I teach these practices and am really strict about how my students care for their kits, themselves, and their clients. I’d be safe and able to continue working.
Wrong. Over the weekend, I received an email saying my classes were postponed indefinitely with only 2 remaining days until their graduation. The wedding I had scheduled for that weekend was scaled from several hundred at a large venue to 17 guests and vendors combined in the groom's parents' front yard. I spent the evening before that wedding wiping every compact, tube, palette, bottle, and pencil with a Clorox wipe and transferred my kit into a smaller bag that had recently been sterilized. I carry between 17 and 22 full sets of brushes at all times so I don't have to spot clean between clients. Everyone gets a freshly washed brush that is separated from my clean bag to be fully shampooed as soon as I return home and left in the sun to dry. I requested that my setup be separate from anyone who wasn’t receiving services at that time and the bride was happy to accommodate me. I washed my hands after every client, had a clean towel draped across my lap if I needed to rest my hands, and used so much hand sanitizer throughout each application that I eventually developed an allergic reaction to my hand cream. I’m very conscious about not touching my face unless I’m washing it, so the chances of me picking up or transmitting germs with another person were very slim. Later that night my brother in law and best friend came over to celebrate my husband and my birthday which had passed the previous Thursday.
The week following was one of the worst for me. Stricter limits for social distancing were put in place as more businesses were forced to stop operating. There were horror stories coming in from Italy who were fortunately being far more transparent with the gravity of the illnesses than the Chinese and American governments had been. I was worried for myself since every piece of information I've read has listed those with diabetes have a significantly higher risk of complications from the virus. I picked up my insulin from the pharmacy and then didn't leave my front porch for 6 days.
My remaining March and April brides reschedule their weddings and all hope for making up the income lost in the first two weeks of March was gone. No last minute weddings, no weekday appointments, no bridal trials, no tiny escape from the grief consuming my household, no end in sight. My husband works in IT at Johns Hopkins in a department entirely occupied by the immunocompromised and has been deemed essential so we do have about 1/4 of our household income still flowing in every 2 weeks but it’s not enough. The rules for financial assistance for self employed people are still a little unclear and the process for receiving relief from the state or federal government doesn’t seem to give any timeline on when or how those funds will be distributed. Many of my peers are worried about the same things.
I do feel far better this week. Zoom Wine Wednesday’s with a few of my favorite people have been happening weekly and I cherish the virtual time I get to spend with my friends until we can be in the same room again. This past Wednesday was the first time I'd put makeup on in weeks and it was a big turning point for me. I see my Therapist bi-weekly via Zoom as well and that’s been really helpful in being able to unload and process a lot of what’s been happening. For the first time in over a month I am feeling hopeful and surrounded by love. The change in weather has been amazing. Seeing that the world is still moving forward and we are entering a new season reminds me that I’m not just stuck in hell. I’ve started changing my daily habits to be more productive and am trying my best to support my household with small acts of service since I’m unable to contribute financially. My younger brother in law has been staying with us from the beginning and my friend who lives alone has been here as well. We take the dogs on a long walk in the sunshine every day. I have been preparing most of the meals and challenging my cooking skills with new recipes. I clean the laundry, kitchen, bathrooms, and floors daily (we'd gotten new floors installed in my studio and kitchen 3 weeks ago). I give my husband facials and wash his hair a few nights a week and rub his chest until he falls asleep every night to help me feel a small connection to my profession and also to provide him with a comforting and healing touch that he needs right now.
There is finally a balance in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I want to rejoin society but I know this has changed me.. Worrying myself sick about the future is only helpful if I can actively change it and being able to accept that nothing is certain takes a big load off of my shoulders. Physical time spent with the ones I love will never be taken for granted again. I want to live in the moment with absolute honesty about everything and I encourage all of you to take stock in what’s truly important as well. Life will resume but we will be changed by this event. We’ll come out of this stronger and more resilient. People will fall in love and get married, babies will be born, we will lose people we love. There will be joy and pain and uncertainty every day. It's all going to be ok. 🖤🖤🖤