When I Google “grief and coronavirus,” I’m met with a list of articles about mourning a loved one via Zoom, supporting bereaved friends from a distance, as well as anticipatory grief: the grief of a loss yet to come.
Obviously, given our bleak milestone of 300,000 deaths that came this week, there is a lot of grief over the loss of loved ones, made even worse by not being able to be together in final moments and our views over the way our government (local and federal) has handled the pandemic.
I am so grateful that I have not lost anyone to the virus, and although tears surface when I think about the numbers lost or the families affected, I’m not experiencing that kind of grief.
The kind of grief that I think we’re all experiencing, but have a hard time naming and therefore talking about, is the grief of losing our former lives.
It’s true, that if we compare this grief to that of someone who’s lost a loved one, it may seem trite. Oh, boo-hoo, I have to work from home.
But our bodies and brains don’t see it that way. And denying our grief makes it impossible to move on.
We’re nearing the end of 2020, many of us have been in some sort of lockdown since mid-March: that’s over nine months of having our lives turn upside down.
And yet we still talk about “getting back to normal.”
I get it, trust me. We all yearn for our favorite routines and comforts. And, importantly, we’ve redefined our comforts and realized what we’ve been taking for granted.
But for someone who’s lost their job or their business, there’s no “getting back.”
Holding onto the past notion of “normal” sticks us there. It makes it harder to think about obeying new and changing restrictions, because we’re stuck in the “this isn’t fair, why is this happening to me” phase of grief without realizing we’re grieving.
Grappling with our grief allows us to move forward, rather than living in the past.
In the days after my dad died six years ago, I remember being so angry at the bright Arizona sun that insisted upon shining, even though my world was dark. I’d run an errand and see normal people living their normal lives and be so angry. Didn’t they know that the world lost someone? Why were they laughing?
It was easy for me to recognize those feelings as part of my grief. If I hadn’t, how would I have been able to eventually go out and stand in that sun and welcome its warmth? To accept the hand of a stranger on my shoulder as I cried at random moments in public?
It’s not our fault, exactly, for being ill equipped at this moment to both recognize our feelings for what they are—grief—and to know how to move through them. We Americans are a pretty stoic society, hesitant to show emotion and vulnerability. We post our sourdough bread projects and workouts rather than our inability to get out of bed or stop crying.
I’ll bet more of us know the signs and symptoms of a stroke or heart attack than those of grief.
Grief might cause you to feel numb or empty, angry, or unable to feel joy or sadness. You might also have physical symptoms, such as trouble sleeping or eating, excess fatigue, muscle weakness, or shakiness. You might have nightmares or socially withdraw.1
I’m not a therapist or medical expert, but I do know that if we can collectively give ourselves the space to grief, to identify our need to grieve, and to support each other during the process, we can move through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, and sadness) to the final stage: acceptance.
Acceptance doesn’t mean we’d choose the outcome but it means recognizing reality. Recognizing there is no “back to normal,” but instead movement forward to a new normal that could, if we let it, be better than before.
Thankfully, I did find some resources and articles on this topic, and I’m sharing them here:
- https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coping-with-coronavirus-grief/art-20486392 ↩
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