Grief is not something we typically handle or understand well in North American culture. 2020 has unleashed a torrent of events that are leaving most of us experiencing loss of one kind or another. There has been loss of life, health, employment, income, financial security, social connection, pursuits we love, physical and emotional wellbeing, and, on some days, a loss of hope. The tolls it is taking are high and they continue to escalate each day as the losses multiply. The pandemic is causing an epidemic of grief.
Permission to Grieve
And yet, we expect and are expected to ‘soldier on’ and make it work. Survival demands that we continue to arise each day and get on with it. So, we shall. But it is also important to pause and permit ourselves time to grieve.
Resilience is something we need to make it through a time when so much of life as we knew it has been ravaged. Recognizing what we miss and giving ourselves permission to feel sad about what has been lost helps us to be more resilient. The alternative is to stuff down feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger which increases stress and depletes our physical energy and emotional wellbeing. Allow yourself some time to take an inventory of what you miss.
Permission to Rest
We conjure up our coping strategies and push through the day, only to find ourselves abnormally exhausted. While we may be doing our best to be ‘business as usual’, somewhere in the background resides the stress of living through a pandemic without much of a clear idea of when things may improve.
Chronic stress can take a significant toll on our bodies and our minds. If you find yourself needing a nap, heading to bed early, or having to say no to something, do so. It is your responsibility to take charge of your wellbeing. Only you know your limits. Say yes to guilt-free rest periods from time to time. Experiment with what helps you maintain your energy and focus. There is no handbook for the unprecedented challenges of 2020 so write your own.
Forget About Silver Linings
Well-meaning people sometimes lean on the idea of looking for the silver lining. While being optimistic has its value, we need to recognize that some situations simply don’t have a bright side. There was no bright side or silver lining to being widowed and losing my beloved husband. His cancer diagnosis was not a gift. Searching for the silver lining in situations where there is none can lead to feeling defeated, frustrated, and sad.
Instead of asking myself where the silver lining was in my loss, I was eventually able to ask the question, ‘what’s next for me?’ This allowed me to go through the process of grieving while also, at some point, to start recreating my life without my husband. There is no silver lining to COVID-19. There are lessons we will learn (hopefully) and choices we will may make going forward that are different from those we’ve made in the past.
As one cancer survivor said of the concept that cancer can be a gift, it is a gift they’d like to return. Certainly, we can learn from challenging times. We can find possibilities and opportunities as we move forward. But I’m not wasting my time with magical thinking that there is some shiny object wrapped up in COVID-19 that’s waiting for us.
Instead, each day I focus on one step I can take that makes a difference in my life and the life of others that I can accomplish even during the turmoil of living through a pandemic. ‘What’s next?’ leads me to an action I can complete that will be one more thing accomplished in a year that has taken so much from us. It can be little things like learning to make a darn good latte at home or mastering a recipe or a new fitness goal. It can be bigger things, too.
What now and what’s next thinking helps me put one foot in front of the other and take one step at a time – and on some days, many days right now, that’s all I can do…and that is enough.