"I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process." C.S. Lewis
As we transition out of lockdown and into a new normal, many of us may feel bittersweet. We are grateful for the opportunity to gather once again together and do the things we have been restricted from doing for so long, but we also may carry with us deep grief over what has happened this past year and a half. Whether we personally know people who have died or gotten very sick from Covid or just felt the trauma of a year of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety, it seems wrong to move forward without acknowledging the different losses we have all experienced. But to acknowledge our grief, we first have to understand what it is.
Many may want to choose to skip the mourning and run from the pain or numb their feelings of this past year with work, substances, alcohol, food, shopping, or engage in risky or destructive behaviors. Grieving is necessary because it helps you validate, understand, and acknowledge what or who you lost, but you don’t need to do it alone. Seek the support of safe friends and family members now that is possible. Also, seek professional support if you notice you are struggling on addressing it. We’ve all experienced loss to some degree this past year, so we all need the tools to understand our grief so we can move forward.
What is Grief?
Grief is defined in the dictionary as “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death.” There are different stages of grief, which we will discuss next, but it is essentially that heavy feeling of sadness due to a loss that doesn’t seem to lift over time unless you process through it. People typically think it only has to do with someone they love dying, but you can be grieved over many different types of losses.
Types of Losses
While many people are grieving the loss of loved ones due to Covid, some are grieving the loss of friendships due to a lack of in-person connection, a marriage due to stress, missing celebrating special occasions like weddings, a new baby, graduations that were not possible to celebrate with family and friends, the loss of the sense of safety, loss of jobs, financial stability, the loss of time and not be able to work on goals, the impact of online school on students and parents, the loss of their mental stability trying to cope with everything going on in the country and world.
Stages of Grief
There are five generally understood stages of grief. They are:
Not everyone goes through the stages in the same order, or even all the stages, but this is the generally recognized pattern of grief. There is also no common pace at which people move through the stages–it is different for everyone.
It is our mind’s natural reaction to feeling so overwhelmed by a loss that it feels it has no choice but to deny it. It is a self-protective mechanism–if we were to feel the pain of a great loss right away we might be completely crushed by it, or so our minds think. It’s easier at first to pretend it didn’t happen than to acknowledge something so precious to us has been lost. At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us (myself included) denied the seriousness of it. We thought it would be over within weeks. None of us could have foreseen just how destructive and all-consuming it would become. It was easier to see it as a small threat or inconvenience than to anticipate the incredible havoc it would wreak on our world. Only as it became apparent that the rates were going up and things were looking more and more grim were we forced to move from denial to anger.
On this stage we realize we can no longer deny the problem or loss and have to confront its existence. Naturally, that makes us angry. It is the second line of defense, the only way our fragile psyches know how to take some kind of action against the pain. Wherever we direct that anger (to God, to our spouse, toward ourselves), it has to be directed somewhere. And unfortunately, that usually causes more harm than good. Nevertheless, it is a step most of us must work through before we can move to the next stage. We’ve seen so much anger and outrage this past year over various political and social issues that have seemed to come to a head during the pandemic, amplified due to the already grieved state of our country. Anger is a natural response to a deep loss, but we must not stay stuck in it or there can be dangerous consequences.
The third stage of grief, bargaining, is when we get desperate. It’s when we’ve moved out of anger and simply are begging for some kind of relief from the pain. It can take on many forms, perhaps most commonly as trying to make a deal with God to relieve the pain. We are searching for any kind of reprieve we can get for our heavy souls, no matter what it takes. It may also look like regret, chastising ourselves for what we could have done differently to avoid the loss. While anger often turns outward, bargaining can become more inward-focused.
The fourth and sometimes longest-lasting stage is depression. This is what many people equate to grief itself, but it is in fact only a stage of grief. Most people are familiar with depression in general, but this kind of depression is specifically related to your loss, which in some ways can make it easier to heal from than general depression that has no seeming “cause.” Please take into consideration that children and youth signs of depression may be demonstrated with anger.
Finally, if you are able to move through the previous four stages, you will eventually come to acceptance. Acceptance is not forgetting or being completely okay with what has happened, but rather acknowledging that the loss impacted you but you are able to move forward with hope. In this stage, emotions have been recognized, accepted, and expressed. In this stage, one can realize the magnitude of the experience and understand that he/she will be fine. As the pandemic seems to come to a close, I pray that we can collectively reach the stage of acceptance and allow the losses that we have experienced to shape us into more compassionate and loving people who don’t take health and community for granted.
Going through the five stages of grief is a painful but necessary process for true growth and healing. Wherever you find yourself in this cycle, know that you are not alone and so many people are in the same stage as you. Reach out for support from your community, family and friends. If you notice that this is not enough, seek the help of a professional counselor to help you work through the stages. There is no loss too small or too great to heal from!