Huh, maybe we are grieving losses.
Recently, I got together with a therapist friend, (indoors, at a restaurant, both of us fully vaccinated!), to catch up. Eventually, we came around to how we were doing with the pandemic. We reported similar experiences: we were both weary, more tired, general enthusiasm for life was low, motivation low, more cranky, less patient than usual, and regularly tempted by that extra drink or glass of wine, or two. Even though we were therapists it had not occurred to us that we ourselves might be in a “grief process”. Perhaps we were in denial because we had not experienced the death of a friend or family member and on so many fronts our lives were actually going pretty well and there was a lot to be thankful for. We were also thinking that we should not be feeling what we were feeling because so many, in fact, thousands, have lost so much more.
Classic Stages of Grief
Nevertheless, all the signs of being in a grief process were right before us and we didn’t see it. While neither of us had had a major loss, no one in our immediate circles of friends and family had lost anyone to Covid or anything else for that matter. However, all the many “micro losses” added up and were tearing away at our spirits, wearing us down, making us feel lethargic, gaining unwanted pounds, listless, more vulnerable, tears close to the surface, and seeking comfort in eating, drinking, and zoning out in front of mindless TV series.
The classic stages of grief developed by Kugler-Ross were all there: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They didn’t necessarily show up in any particular order but there they were nevertheless. As grief specialist, David Kessler, said at a conference recently, “the stages follow us, we don’t follow the stages”.
Loss of Certain Freedom
During Covid we have all lost certain freedoms, for many it has meant not being able to visit, embrace, engage in person with family and friends. While on the surface this might seem like a trivial thing, (especially when we can face time or zoom) on a deeper level we are very much social, communal creatures who psychologically and emotionally depend on and are healthier when we have full embodied access to our “tribe”, friends, family and community.
How were we doing before the pandemic?
If we were struggling with being lonely and isolated before the pandemic it is even more challenging now. We have also lost the freedom to simply go out to eat, shop, go to the movies, a play, a concert, or worship with our religious community. Many have lost the opportunity to go to a graduation, participate in a sports event, or had to postpone a wedding or other family events. The pandemic has been the death of a world we knew. This loss can feel very destabilizing.
Major losses have been significant.
There are of course the other major losses: the death of a loved one, loss of a job, and economic security and for some this means a loss of identity. There have been over 500,000 deaths and every day there are more. It’s sad when it’s a good day when the death rate doesn’t increase. Never have we experienced death on this scale. We understand these major losses and the grief that follows, what we haven’t understood is that besides the macro losses there are thousands of micro losses that also have an impact on our mental health. So what can we do about it?
What to do in the face of major and micro losses
In the meantime, there are things that we can do to support ourselves.
- Move your body. Being confined can lead to more sitting which can lead to more lethargy which leads to more sitting. Our bodies aren’t designed to sit, we need to move to keep the blood flowing. Exercise is important but if you can’t exercise at least get out for a daily walk.
Dance, play a sport.
- Keep a journal. At bedtime write down 3 things you were able to do today or if you’re up to it 3 things you’re grateful for. This practice can also help you to keep moving forward and balancing out the grief with a recognizing there are still positive things in our life.
- Engage with the bigger world. Grief can sometimes keep us over-focused on ourselves and keep us isolated. Watching world news and/or local news for 30 min to an hour can help to keep us connected to the outside world. However, caution is in order, more than an hour a day can also make us more depressed. Some of us may need to intentionally fast from the media.
- Eat healthy balanced meals. A little comfort food is ok, but staying focused on the healthy stuff will make you feel better and be less lethargic. Lower alcohol consumption.
- Surround yourself with your community. Make an extra effort to engage with friends and family for support. We need all kinds of people in our lives: people with who we can be vulnerable, people who distract us from our pain, people who make us laugh, people who hold us
accountable, and most importantly people who love us.
- Do some act of service. An act of kindness for someone else. Do something that at least for a the moment gets us out of ourselves.
- Finally, develop some sort of practice that helps to ground you: meditate, pray, walk barefoot on the earth.
Fear is a powerful motivator.
Confined, restricted, and all the while fearful of an invisible enemy which challenges our confidence in our government’s and our medical community’s ability to protect us. A loss of a sense of safety engenders fears and those fears can so easily take over and we quite naturally
want to protect ourselves, identify and eliminate the enemy. We are all looking for answers to why this happened so as to protect ourselves from this ever happening again. Looking for the meaning in this is the next step.
The Sixth Stage of Grief
David Kessler in his book “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” says that at some point after our losses we will try to find meaning. Meaning is what happens afterward. He says that there is no meaning in a pandemic itself, or in death. There may never be a satisfactory
answer to “why” this happened, but we can find new meaning in the way we think about ourselves, our values, and our future. After this experience, we will all have a different view of what it means to live life. It can help us reorganize our priorities and it can impact the way we
live our lives in more positive ways. It reaffirms the importance of our embodied, human experience and how much we need each other. I hope we will come away from this experience with an even deeper appreciation for the interdependence of our lives locally and globally which then can be a springboard to personal and communal transformation.