Grieving During A Pandemic

Grieving during a pandemic

Our new reality of social distancing is such a departure from how we typically live our life. Going to work, dropping kids off, picking kids up, running errands. The thought of staying home all day, every day, for an undetermined amount of time can be tough to wrap your mind around. Because it’s such a deviation from what we consider to be ‘normal.’ I mean, it really is a new world. And yet, there might be something deeper going on that’s triggering our anxieties about being quarantined, too.  For sure, we have all kinds of great reasons to be feeling some really big emotions right now, like fear, panic, and even grieving during a pandemic.

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Pandemic Grief

Grief because the world as we know it has changed, and so have our lives. You know how when you wake up in the morning, there are a few moments before you remember that we’re in a new corona reality? And then it comes rushing back to you? That’s a hit of grief, every morning. It is a completely understandable reaction to what’s happening in our world. Our lives have changed, and that is a loss. And loss goes hand in hand with mourning. 

Grieving during a pandemic takes time, space, and willingness to process. And if you are feeling like there’s no way in heck you are going to be able to take this quarantine, I’d like to gently suggest that you might be having a resistance to grieving. Because a really common way to distract ourselves from grief is to get busy. Stay on the go. And now we can’t do that. We can only watch so many shows. It’s like grief is a 50-pound dog that’s come to live with you. It may be able to hide under the bed for a few hours. But sooner or later, you’re going to bump into each other. And that can be scary. 

I Can Tell You This—Grief is Scary

It can feel like it comes out of nowhere and crashes over your head like a rogue wave. But it also recedes. It comes and goes and while you can’t control the rhythm you can trust that its intensity will fade and you will get periods of rest. And grief always leaves gifts behind when it moves on. Things like acceptance, and meaning, and appreciation, and gratitude, and feeling awake like never before.

So if you think you might be feeling antsy at home because you don’t want to deal with your sadness, know that it’s here for a completely understandable and loving reason. It’s not going to stick around forever. And the more you can just allow yourself to feel each individual feeling as they come up, the more cleanly it will move on. 

Anxiety In Staying Home

Grieving during a pandemic is a biggie. But there are all kinds of reasons why you might be feeling twitchy about the prospect of staying home for however many days, weeks, or months it might take.

Some of them are very practical. Like, staying home might mean you’re not able to make money and you fear what that’s going to mean not just for your bank account but for your future. 

Look, I’d never wish for a deadly global pandemic but there’s opportunity in everything. In addition to giving our climate a chance to recover and helping us remember what else is important to us aside from being productive and making money. Being forced to spend time at home can help us find the time and space to feel our feels. I think one of the toughest parts of feeling depressed is that it can seem like you’re the only one in the world who is feeling that way. And right now I think it’s fair to say that there are hundreds of millions of people around the world feeling big feels like fear, worry, anxiety, and yes, grief. We might be isolated from each other physically. But emotionally we’re all in a similar space. 

When The Wall Hits

It’s also important to know that even if your life is pretty well set up for quarantining—you’re an extrovert, you’re able to work from home, you enjoy the company of the people you live with–there will come a point when you will hit a wall. Extended isolation isn’t a natural human state. The wall may make you feel like you can’t go on. Like just the thought of another day, much less another week or even month is too much to bear. It’s really not a question of if, it’s a question of when. When the wall hits, I want you to remember that it is ok. You knew the wall was coming, and now it’s here. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong, or there’s something wrong with you, it’s just that you’re going through a process and now you’re at a new phase in the process of grieving during a pandemic.

Honestly, just knowing what’s happening can make the wall a lot easier to get around. It’s like during childbirth, there’s a phase called transition. And that’s when most laboring women will say, “that’s it, I’m done, I can’t do this anymore.” And midwives actually get excited when you say that because that means you’re getting close to being ready to push the baby out. So when you hit the wall, remind yourself that you’re just at the transition between when things were basically ok and when you might have to dig a little deeper, but that there’s a gift waiting for you on the other side. 

Be Present In Your Current Scenario

I know it sounds crazy to contemplate now, but I truly believe that there will be a day when we can look back on this time almost with nostalgia. I’m not in any way being dismissive of the fact that many people are going to die—heck, I might die. I am headed to the grocery store after this because we’re running low on food and who knows, I could catch the virus and become one of the thousands who will die of corona, or worse, one of the people I love the most could die. I’m not saying we’ll miss the devastation and loss.

But we are getting an opportunity to live into a different side of ourselves that rarely gets accessed in normal, busy, zooming all around times. We get to be more contemplative, quiet, accepting, humbled. And one day, when we’re back to zipping around, we’ll miss how deeply we got to live into those parts of ourselves. 

Open Yourself Up And Let Others In

When I was in my early 30s, I went through a big breakup, when I got dumped by the man I thought I’d marry for someone in her early 20s. I had moved from New York City to New Jersey for this relationship, and only two weeks later, it was over. I knew no one in that town. Every day I took the bus in to the city to go to my job, and pretty much every day, I’d sit next to a stranger who would ask me how I was and I would answer honestly. I cried to more people I didn’t know than I ever have again.

One bus ride I cried so hard I got the hiccups, and the people in the rows just in front and behind me got into trying to make me laugh or scare me so that my hiccups would go away. Do I want to be that sad again? No. But you know what? I do miss how open I was. How I could just be completely real with total strangers. It let me see how kind people can be. It made me see that I was supported even when I felt utterly alone. We have those same kinds of opportunities now. We just have to be open enough to allow ourselves to experience them. 

And That’s What I hope For You

In one way or another we are going to come out on the other side of this, and what happens now we’ll bring forward with us into our future selves and future lives, even though we can’t see exactly what those are going to be like. The more you can open yourself to the precariousness of life the more you can incorporate the knowledge that truly every day is a miracle.

Ironically, grieving during a pandemic and feeling loss helps make you more fearless. Because you know that you’ve faced loss and taken care of yourself through it. All I know for sure is that we’re going to need to be brave and open-hearted and vulnerable to stitch our world back together, so give yourself over the process and trust that you’re getting exactly what you need. We’re all in this with you, and we’ll get through it together. 

Phew, wow, this episode went deep! Not exactly what I had planned, ha! But hey, we all need a pep talk from time to time, I hope this episode helps you keep going. 

Come back tomorrow, when I’ll talk about how to isolate yourself without feeling lonely—and make sure you have an avenue to express the openness that these unprecedented circumstances is seeking to create in you. 


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