Grief In The Time Of COVID-19
We Are Grieving The Loss Of Normalcy
Recently I canceled the flights for our family’s trip out West that we were planning to take this summer with good friends. It was a big leap for our family to break out of the mold of renting a house at the beach and try something completely different. Now it’s just gone in an instant. In the click of a “cancel” link on a webpage. Every week it’s something else canceled, changed, gone. Dreams gone up in smoke. Do you feel this way too? That your list of loss is longer than Santa’s at this point?
For weeks now I’ve had many days of feeling heavy, sluggish, not myself. The idea of grief came up early on in the conversations I was having with my community. I was leading a group of women through a self-care course and we were talking about feeling feeling sad, unmotivated, a lack of energy, blah, and weighed down while being at home due to coronavirus. One of my wise students labeled the feeling as grief. I recall feeling a wave of relief wash over me when she said this, thinking, “Yeah, that makes so much sense.”
Have you been feeling this way too? Maybe you are also experiencing grief.
It helps to name it. Acknowledge it. Try not to pass off your grief as unwarranted. Try not to fall into comparing your grief: Yeah, my birthday celebration was canceled, but it’s not like I lost my job. Or, So many people are losing loved ones and I don’t know anyone who has died of the virus so I don’t have the right to complain about feeling angry while being stuck at home. Comparing your pain or minimizing it makes us feel worse. It makes us pile shame on top of the sadness or anger. Pain is pain. Grief is grief.
All of us in some way are dealing with a loss of normalcy, which has long been studied as a type of grief. The entire impetus for me to start my writing practice years ago was to cope with the loss of the normal pregnancy that I experienced when my son was diagnosed prenatally with life-threatening congenital heart disease. That is loss of normalcy. You may have experienced it in big or small ways previously, but this is the first time in most of our lifetimes that it is affecting the world collectively.
Uncertainty Is Anticipatory Grief
Maybe you are one of the people trying to cope with a layoff or a loved one who has died from the virus. Even if not, we are inundated with numbers: of deaths, of unemployment, of the stock market. This brings on feelings of anticipatory grief, which describes the grief process that a person undergoes before a loss. We worry about future loss; how much more of a pay cut can my family sustain? Will the kids go back to school in the fall? Will there be a resurgence that coincides with the flu and will it be even worse? When will I be allowed to see my elderly mom? For me, anticipatory grief and all these questions fall under the umbrella of uncertainty. Uncertainty is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and processing through. I’ve written about it pretty extensively. I don’t know that I’m necessarily better in dealing with uncertainty because I’ve waded in it for so long, but I can recognize it for what it is and how it makes me feel. Again, simply naming it can be quite helpful in regulating the discomfort it brings.
The Five Stages of Grief From A COVID-19 Perspective
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross originally constructed the five stages of grief to describe the process people go through when they are dying, but the stages are commonly adapted for grief. There is no prescription for grief. Everyone grieves differently. The five stages can give us some sense of normalcy: we are the not the first person to feel downright angry about a loss, for example. The stages can provide some grounding when we feel lost in the sea of grief. Giving a name to what we’re feeling (oh, there’s bargaining) helps us to process it. Here are the 5 stages of grief and a window into how I’ve experienced each of the stages during the pandemic.
They want us to do what? Surely this will pass by quickly and the kids will be back in school after a month. There’s no way the world can simply stop.
We moved to this county for the school system and they can’t get their act together until the seventh week of the pandemic?! This is outrageous and unacceptable. This system is failing us and our children.
I can handle a lot but the thought of the pool being closed this summer is beyond what I can manage. If I follow all the rules exactly this spring, can they find a way to open the pool?
I don’t want to open my journal. I don’t have anything to write about. Will I ever hug my mom again? How is the country going to recover? I can barely lift my legs to keep walking. I’ve been sitting in front of this screen for an hour and written only one email; I can’t think straight.
I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m doing the best I can. This is a time when I’m going to need to work much longer hours, but it’s not for forever. I can figure it out.
Remember, the stages are not linear. You can go in and out and circle around to all of them in one day.
Writing Prompts for COVID-19 Grief
If you are looking for ways to process this grief, let me suggest journaling. Writing has the power to influence the body and the mind in positive ways. Plus, it’s cheap and easy to access. Here are a couple of coronavirus grief prompts to explore:
- Right now grief feels like…
- My grief is telling me…
- List the five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) and describe your experience of them since we’ve been physical distancing and staying at home (or, if you are on the front lines describe how you’ve experienced the five stages).
Consider sharing your writing with me or someone you love and trust. Witnessing each others’ stories of pain is one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other.