For millennia, human beings have navigated the pain of grief and loss. They are a universal and natural part of the human experience and something we face with the death of loved ones and transitions through the phases of life. Addressing existential angst and facing the reality of our mortality, are at the foundation of most religious traditions and psychotherapeutic approaches. And yet, we still struggle to comprehend and cope with their impact on our lives. This is partially due to the lack of clarity in definitions. Grief can be defined as the response to loss in all of its totality – including its physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and spiritual manifestations – and as a natural and normal reaction to loss. With shared language, we can face the pain of grief and loss during these unprecedented times.
How the Pandemic Has Changed Our View Of Grief & Loss
Today, we face grief in a novel way through the COVID-19 pandemic. As I am writing this, the number of confirmed cases in the United States and the death toll from the virus continues to steadily increase. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand grief and loss, and its role in our lives.
As a society, our world has changed entirely. We are not only experiencing the deaths of the people we love but the loss of a sense of normalcy we find in the flow of our daily lives. This experience has led to a societal epidemic of collective grief, which can be defined as the umbrella term for the grief that is felt by a community, society, village, or nation in the wake of an event such as a war, natural disaster, act of terrorism, or the death of a public figure. Individually, we are experiencing an ambiguous loss, which are physical or psychological experiences of families that are not as concrete or identifiable as traditional losses such as death.
In the face of this constant pressure and emotional weight, how can we continue to function and show up in our lives? Meaning-making offers us a path forward. This doesn’t mean that we rejoice in the face of death and suffering, but rather we identify the moments in the midst of the pain to be grateful for. The ability to spend more time with family, taking a calming walk with the person we love, or embracing a slower pace to life. This doesn’t change the impact of our lives being turned upside down, but rather provides us with glimpses of light in the midst of an all-consuming darkness.
Recovery is the process of change, born from brokenness and pain. Collectively, we are all in the midst of a recovery process. This time spent in isolation has stolen our connection, opened us up to ourselves, and broken us down to our core. But through this process of change and brokenness, we can begin to build and create those moments of connection once again and journey back to healing.
5 Tips for dealing with grief and loss
- Honor your pain: acknowledge that you are feeling pain, grief, loss, and honor that in your daily life. Recognize it, feel it, and let it pass.
- Be patient and kind: Be kind to yourself and show yourself grace for what you are feeling. Be kind to others and know that everyone is experiencing similar feelings in one way or another. Don’t let your fear dictate your behavior.
- Find places for ritual in your life: Ritual is a key antidote for grief. Create rituals in your life to help create that sense of normalcy. A Friday night zoom call with your family, or a virtual game shared among friends. Picnics in the park with your significant other. These new experiences can become the rituals that allow for us to create meaningful moments in our lives.
- Be of service: If you can, help the people around you that need it. Make and leave your neighbors dinner. Buy them something at the store that you know they like and leave them a little package on their doorstep. Donate supplies, or time where you can to help make masks.
- Allow the process of change to happen in your life: take this time to create the change that you’ve been avoiding. Create a practice of gratitude. Start an exercise routine. Read that book that’s been on your shelf. Journal each morning to start your day. There’s no better time to start than now!
Put simply, grief is the price we pay for love…so love deeply and fully. Grief can come in all forms, and the things we are grieving can be big, like the loss of a loved one, or small, like hugs from your family and friends, or time spent doing an activity you love. Grieve your lost loves however small, and remember that resilience and purpose are born through pain and challenges.
Director of Emerging Adult Services