If you’ve found it difficult to focus since corona entered the scene, all I can say is, come sit next to me. It’s hard to focus on work, sure. But it’s also been tough to enjoy things that require focus, like reading. Even listening to my kids when they talk is hard sometimes. It feels like I’m a kid in the Peanuts gang and they are the adults whose voices are always garbled and muffled.
I have an educated guess why our focus is lacking: All of us, collectively, are experiencing loss. Loss of income, loss of life, loss of childcare, loss of a way of life, loss of a feeling of control. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, you might be feeling loss of hope, or loss of innocence. And the way we react to loss is grief.
The tricky thing about grief is that it’s a slippery little devil. You may not recognize it for what it is, and if you don’t, it may be making you feel like there’s something wrong with you for not being able to motor on as usual.
Here’s an example of how grief might work.
I had a very dear high school friend. He was the closest thing I had to a brother growing up, and one day he had a massive heart attack and died. He was in his early 40s. There was this one moment, before the funeral happened, when I was trying to just do my daily life, and grief did a sneak attack on me.
It was when I was dropping my son off at daycare. He was 2 years old then. And something about the sweet way he held my hand on the way to the door of the daycare just slayed me, and as soon as he was inside, I turned back to the car and started sobbing. Just at that moment the very lovely woman who worked at the daycare was heading inside and she saw me. She asked if I was OK. I managed to squeak out that my friend died, and she asked if I needed a hug. I nodded yes and we had this very non-awkward, wonderful hug in the daycare parking lot next to the big green van where they piled all the kids in every day to take them to a different playground. And that’s kind of how grief acts; it can pour itself all over you like someone booby-trapped a door with a bucket of water and all you did was open the door and then the next thing you know you’re dripping wet.
It can also show up as a lot of different things, not just big salty tears or big sadness. Anne Lamott wrote an amazing essay about grief a million years ago when she was a columnist for Salon.com, it’s called Diving Into the Wreckage. In it, she wrote:
“Grief… is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next day it spins and then stops at loud and rageful, and the next it is wounded keening, and the next day numbness, silence.”
And a hallmark of grief is confusion, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating.
So if you’re feeling something now that you don’t recognize or understand why you’re feeling that way, chalk it up to grief, which is an appropriate response to loss. There is nothing wrong with you.
Grief can break your heart wide open, but the good news about that is that it makes it so much easier to really connect with other people and feel the beautiful tenderness of life.
Whether it’s a little grief or a big grief, just be ok with the fact that it is here. Let it have its way with you. Tell someone you feel sad. Or tell your journal. Or both.
We are all feeling grief about something we’ve lost to some extent right now, and because of that it’s even easier for us to be able to go there with each other. So don’t be afraid to share with someone you trust — or even someone who just happens to be there, like the woman who worked in my son’s daycare happened to be in that parking lot–that you’re sad.
Geez, this got deep, huh? Maybe you’re just miffed that camp is canceled. I don’t mean to tell you how to feel. I’m just saying, if at any point during this pandemic journey, you can’t focus and you’re confused about the way you feel, ask yourself if this could be grief. You’re entitled to it, after all.
This blog post is adapted from one of this week’s episodes of the How to Be a Better Person podcast. This whole week is devoted to the theme, “Welp, That Sucks,” and each day I’m taking a look at what’s flat-out difficult about this time so we can look a fact plain in the face and be clear-eyed about how to remedy it. Come listen (and subscribe!) here.