Grief in a Time of Pandemic

So, Monday was kind of a rough day. For no good reason, really–except irrational optimism–I was really counting on a little loosening of restrictions next week, and so when I heard that Gettysburg is not in the first set of counties being moved to “yellow” in Pennsylvania I was really disappointed, and a little depressed. In the familiar words of the people of God that have echoed down through the centuries, “How long, O Lord?”

Then, someone forwarded me this article, and I found it really helpful and very comforting: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief. It is a brief interview with David Kessler, who has written a couple popular books on grief. Here are just a few quick insights from the article–I hope you find them helpful, too.

First, he talks about “different griefs”–“the loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection.” We’re grieving both individually and collectively, and we are grieving many things at the same time. Second, he talks about the concept of “anticipatory grief”–“that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain.” It results in a sense of a loss of safety; and when it becomes unhealthy, it creates anxiety.

Third, he argues that one way of managing this grief is in acceptance–“We find control in acceptance.” He believes that when we are able to accept the situation, then we are able to exercise some agency, which combats the powerlessness and helplessness that are so detrimental to our well-being. As part of this, he encourages us to “come into the present”–Buddhists (and others) practice this as mindfulness; bringing yourself into the present moment moves you away from anxiety about the open-ended nature of the pandemic and the low-grade stress that it is causing.

He also emphasizes how important it is to just keep trying to deal with difficult emotions actively–he says, “Emotions need motion,” and by that he means, “When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you.” We have to name our emotions and experience them to get through them, to allow them to pass on.

Finally, he reminds us to “stock up on compassion”–isn’t that a great phrase? It’s such a good contrast to the hording of physical goods we are seeing now! “Be patient,” he says, “Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.” Frankly, that is good advice at any time, but especially now, when so many of us aren’t really feeling like our best selves.

He closes the article with this sentence: “Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.” I can do that. I hope you can, too.

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