My three kids have been in virtual school since the pandemic started. Yesterday, after almost a full year, they went back to in-person school (or “person school” as my youngest calls it).

We are on the nervous end of the ‘COVID-worry chart’ and are lucky to go to a school where families can choose between virtual and in-person learning. We decided to go with virtual school, but have recently been feeling like our children needed more social stimulation. Also, I am very terrible at teaching them math. So after weeks of late-night conversations and pro-and-cons lists, we finally made up our minds: It was time.

It started simply enough. We found their backpacks and blew the dust off of them. I went back-to-school shopping at Target (in February). We practiced wearing masks for longer stretches during the day. We took obligatory back-to-school photos on our front step (complete with masks) and I drove them to school.

And after they enthusiastically jumped out of the car and waved goodbye, my tears started flowing—and I cannot get them to stop.

In what has been one of the most chaotic years in history, time has both stood still and warped into unimaginable twists and turns. Perhaps because of that, this milestone of them finally going back into school feels extreme.

Honestly, I have gotten numb. At some point along this road, my emotional self just kind of shut down. I went from crying all the time to crying almost never because I just couldn’t anymore. But this act of sending them to school, of doing what once felt impossible, has completely opened the floodgates.

I am crying because I am so grateful for my health and my family’s health, but also because so many have not survived. The United States has just passed 500,000 COVID-related deaths. So many people have been devastatingly impacted by sorrow; I grieve for them with my whole heart.

I am crying because I am overcome with appreciation for teachers, who have bent over backward to make this whole process as seamless as possible, all while putting their safety on the line every day. And then there are the millions of other helpers—the scientists, the medical professionals and the essential workers who have worked tirelessly to make this all less awful.

I am crying because I am so, so angry. The amount of loss we have experienced is incomprehensible. Of course, the lives lost are the most tragic. But it’s more than that, too: small businesses that have closed, friendships lost, relationships ended, bank accounts emptied, extra-curricular activities abandoned, all while people experience persistent levels of chronic trauma that will take generations to heal from.

I am crying because I am so tired—feel it in my bones, utterly and completely exhausted. The overwhelm, confusion and fear have been all-consuming.

And I am crying because I feel hopeful. Because today, my kids got to go back to school. Because there is a vaccine. Because there is, maybe, a light at the end of this.

So while my kids are at school—meeting their teachers, rekindling their friendships and actually learning math—I will cry in my empty house.

I will miss them fiercely and revel in the silence.

I will attempt to get through some laundry (or maybe I’ll do that tomorrow).

I will attend my work meetings without interruption.

And I will promise to never forget what this feels like.