Everything has changed since COVID-19 came crashing into our lives. What can we do to get through this overwhelm we are feeling? How can we live with such ongoing uncertainty?
Because we are human, we will suffer losses. We all lose our youth. Some of us lose a child. We lose our parents, our partner or our pets. We lose jobs that we care about.
Since COVID-19 arrived, we have experienced losses we could not have anticipated: fractured families unable to visit with one another, thousands of people dying alone disconnected from their loved ones, diminished activities, loss of employment, school closings, and losses due to climate disruption and wildfires. All this occurring amid social inequities, injustices, and given the rising political divisions that the coming election on Tuesday will likely amplify, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
All of us grieve the uncertainly of the times, the lives we once led, and some of us feel the loss of hope that we will be able to return to “normal” again. We are living in what The New York Times columnist David Brooks called “a river of woe.” Sometimes all we can do is offer a random act of kindness to someone in our life, and perhaps lighten their despair. In doing so, we lighten our own.
Individually and collectively, we are grieving even if we don’t recognize our feelings as grief. For some, grief may show up as sorrow, fear, anger, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, irritability, impatience, despair, or disorientation. And somewhat surprisingly, even positive feelings and experiences like relief and gratitude. Gratitude is part of the grieving process, often referred to as first cousins.
How do we hold all this? How can we be with what is and put our sorrows to use?
We can begin by bringing an attitude of kindness to ourselves. Amid all this pain and chaos, it is kindness that feels like a reliable anchor, perhaps the only reliable anchor. Through kindness — which begins by being kind to yourself — we become part of a larger community of people who all bear their own sorrow. Kindness is a path through grief to a life you might not yet be able to imagine.
We can treat ourselves as we would a child we love who is hurting. We start by embracing our vulnerability, our irritability, our impatience, and even our resistance to feeling this sorrow, and seeing it as a deeply human response to separation and loss. Being tender with ourselves allows us to better understand and connect with others.
There are activities that have helped with the grieving process such as starting a journal; picking up your paint brushes or starting an art project, maybe making a collage of a future you’d like to have; hiking in nature is exceptionally healing and good for your body; joining a bereavement group; or taking a cooking or gardening class, or any class for something you’ve been longing to do but didn’t have the time for. Meditation is always very helpful, and it’s much more than sitting on a pillow stopping your thoughts, although stilling the mind is very healing.
Unfortunately, many of us live under the weight of assumptions and cultural expectations of how grief should look and how long it should last. We may have been told we were too emotional, too sensitive, or we need to “suck it up” when we are upset. We may carry judgments or shame about our grief. It’s important to know that grief has no time line; it lasts as long as it lasts.
Grief has as many expressions as there are people who grieve. It does not move in stages or in a linear fashion. Some of us grieve with anger, some with irritability, some with sorrow and some with gratitude. Grief and love are deeply intertwined. We grieve who and what we have loved. Our grief is an expression of the continued love we hold for those who have left our life. It is a precious part of being human.
We can think of grief as a sacred passage. We are torn from the life we knew before. We are not who we were, and we are not yet who we will become. Like everything else, we are changing. We are, in a very real way, between identities. This experience — profoundly different for each of us — is confusing, agonizing, and potentially life-transforming.
A heart that is broken offers a precious gift — a chance to become more authentic with ourselves and with other people. These times offer us an opportunity to allow grief to be a companion and connect more deeply with one another.