Loss is any experience that destroys a significant piece of that which makes our life normal. We are catapulted, without a map, into new territory and a new way of life. Many of the changes we are being forced to accept will not be permanent but most of us will come away from this period of time having changed.
Our experience of living in a time of a pandemic absolutely parallels that of other life changing losses. Therefore, we can expect to follow stages of grief as outlined by grief experts.* As with any grief or loss, we will respond differently according to our own needs, personalities, past experiences and abilities but it will take work. It is important to name this crisis for what it is, a universal loss. Some people may be further along with acceptance of what is happening and not all of us will go through or grow through all of the stages of grief. People do not necessarily experience the stages in order, (or even all of them) but experience some of them and then return to them again.
Disbelief, shock and denial
We are stunned by what has happened and some of us have taken longer than others to accept the impact this virus is having on our world. We are being forced to accept that the loss is a significant life event. It is stressful and we are being forced to adapt to something which we can’t control.
Anger (and maybe bargaining)
Anger is a natural response to things we aren’t responsible for and don’t deserve. This pandemic is both personal and universal. We want to blame someone, which might give us the illusion of being in control. We wonder why. It might be helpful to remember that we live in a mortal, frail, imperfect world; one in which “fair” doesn’t always apply. (Some people bargain. For example, they may tell themselves that they are not sick so it isn’t necessary to strictly follow quarantine).
Depression, reflection, loneliness
Depression is often characterized by loss of interest in daily activities, which cause significant impairment in daily life. Often the causes are temporary and situational as in the case of this period of isolation. The responses are not pathological but predictable and are ones that need attention. Depression and loneliness can be expected but made more tolerable or better through the practice of honoring this solitude. It is a time for loneliness for many, but also an opportunity for each of us to be alone with ourselves, long enough to think about, meditate and pray about what it all means.
NOTE; please be aware that it is not uncommon to feel a past loss keenly when new ones occur, especially if you were unable to explore your feelings the first time. New loss can activate old traumas. If you are having extreme feelings of hopelessness or have a history of depression it is a time to reach out for help.
Many are experiencing loss of loved ones through death and are suffering isolation as well. Now it is particularly important for those bereaved to reach out to others. But, even more important, is for others to reach out to them. Just listen. Let them tell their stories. Keep up contact with cards, calls and emails.
Acceptance and hope
As hard as it is to think about the current situation and acceptance of it, it helps prepare us for other losses. We are being reminded that everything is temporary and comes to an end. We have all experienced several losses before and have survived. Perhaps those loses have taught us, or reminded us, of how important it is to live and appreciate the here and now.
Four pathways that might be helpful to people in moving beyond just acceptance:
With Spirituality you transcend the self to connect with a greater divine spirit.
With Outreach you transcend the self to connect with others.
With Attitude you transcend the self to develop a personal philosophy on life and death.
With Reinvestment you transcend the self to reconnect with love and life.**
Transcending the loss is affirming that the loss is a significant life event.
Transcending the loss is about striving to make the experience an ultimately positive one.
Transcending the loss is about making the best of a very difficult situation and about allowing the loss to teach us about important life lessons.
Grief is not a sign of weakness. Nor is it a lack of religious faith. It is not meant to be done alone. We are in this together.
Christine Butler, MA
* Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler
**Transcending Loss (Understanding the Lifelong Impact of Grief and How to Make it Meaningful) by Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW