Pandemic Grief

Short Reads

We are all grieving.

With the closures, cancellations, and confusion about the future, we are all in a state of grief.

In a previous post, I outlined my theory that the human condition is one of grief with grief defined as the emotional reaction to loss or change.

I developed an image to illustrate the impact of grief when our expectations or hopes are suddenly changed.

grief

When I wrote that piece a few weeks ago, I could not have known the situation we would find ourselves in with the pandemic spread of COVID-19. Nor could I have predicted the pandemic spread of grief.

We are all grieving.

Some of us are grieving canceled plans and dashed hopes. Some are grieving financial losses and insecurity. Some of us are grieving for the sick and those who have died. Some are grieving for the sense of control that exists in times of normalcy.

So what are we to do with this pandemic grief?

My advice is the same advice I give to anyone who finds themselves caught under grief’s riptide: feel it.

Write down what you are feeling. Talk to a trusted family member or friend. Express the emotions as they come to you.

This is a weird moment in the life of the world. Nothing like this has ever happened, at least not in modern times. It is okay to not be okay, but if you don’t express the full constellation of what you are feeling those emotions will express themselves on their own terms in their own time.

Here is something I have learned in my life and ministry: grief waits.

It will wait to be felt.

You will find yourself crying in your car in the grocery store parking lot or lashing out over something mundane or minor. You will feel a weight build on your shoulders over days and weeks.

Grief also connects with or triggers previous grief. The dramatic and sudden loss we have all experienced in the last two weeks has no doubt brought up other times in your life when you felt a sudden and dramatic loss.

At the beginning of the outbreak in America our dog, Jackson died. I found myself in the veterinarian’s office sobbing much like I did after my parents died. It was as though the death of my beloved companion tapped into a well of grief that always exists deep in my soul.

The grief that has come with this pandemic has probably tapped into your own well of grief. You may find yourself feeling what might seem like a disproportionate level of grief in this moment. Once you see that grief compounds and waits, it becomes clear.

This brings me to my second piece of advice: be gentle with yourself.

As I said above, this is an unprecedented moment in modern human history. It is okay to not be okay. It is okay to not understand what you are feeling. It is okay to be grateful and scared – at the same time. It is okay to feel whatever you feel.

The key at this moment to hold everything loosely. To watch your feelings as they arise and float away.  No feeling is forever or final but you must feel what you feel.

We are all grieving. The path we were walking has been interrupted. The work now is to accept the new path we find ourselves traveling. To mourn what has been lost and look with clear eyes to the road in front of us.

God is still God.

God is with us here on this new road.

God is more present to us than we are to ourselves.

God is for us – even now in this new moment.

May you feel what your are feeling. May you hold it all loosely. May you be gentle with yourself and those around you.

May we all hold each other’s grief until the way becomes clear.

 

 

 

 

Crying During The Nutcracker: Grief and the Holidays

Short Reads

This time of year is hard for everyone.

The breakneck speed of life these days makes even normal tasks seem more difficult. Add to it the pressures of the holiday season and you have a recipe for overwhelm and burnout.

For many people, there is a layer on top of all of these pressures: grief.

No one is immune from grief. In fact, I would argue (and will be doing some graduate work on the thesis) that grief is the fundamental human condition.  

Never is this reality more evident than the holidays: memories of family traditions come flooding back with the opening notes of a Christmas carol or the images of that favorite Christmas movie. Preparations for the holidays dredge up long forgotten losses.

For me, the flood of emotions came back as I sat in a church pew and listened to the Lessons and Carols program of a local boarding school. As the middle school orchestra played a selection from The Nutcracker, I was transported immediately to my childhood trips to The Kennedy Center to see the production.

Every year my parents would dress my brother and me in our finest suits and drive us from Charlottesville to Washington D.C. to see the ballet performance of the Christmas classic. In the time between visits to The Kennedy Center, I would watch the VHS copy of The Nutcracker starring Macaulay Culkin.

When the middle school orchestra pulled their bows across their mistuned strings and played the first notes of the Overture I was washed over with the sweet, sharp pangs of grief.

I remembered Christmas mornings and birthday parties. I remembered days home sick in bed and days spent playing in the snow. I remembered where I was when I heard that my mom had died. I remembered what the fake grass at her graveside felt like as it crunched under my eight-year-old feet. I remembered what it felt like when I was told my father had died. I remembered standing alone and realizing that I didn’t know what to do without him.

All of this came back in the time it took a preteen orchestra to struggle through Tchaikovsky.

The holidays can be a minefield of grief: around every corner, there are memories and emotions and deep joys and deep pains waiting to reemerge.

pexels-photo-699380

This is only a problem if grief is a problem.

You see, grief is not something to get through. It is not an easy process with a clear start and finish date. Grief is a state that emerges after any loss, no matter how big or small.

The reality of grief is that it is always with you, just under the surface. At the holidays, the facade that our daily routine offers fades away and we see our situation for what it really is: we are always grieving and this is not a problem.

When the wave of grief crashed over me in that church pew I sat there and felt it. I listened to the music and was transported through the sadness and pain and joy. When the songs were over and the evening done, I still grieved the loss of my parents – as I will every holiday season.

I stood up from the pew and walked out of the church to go about my life, surrounded and supported by the people I love but see no more.

The holidays are hard for everyone because everyone is grieving: people they’ve lost, childhoods that are gone, opportunities and hopes that will never come true. We grieve the ideal Christmas dinner that we can’t cook or the perfect family photo that we can’t take. We grieve the person we wanted to be but can no longer become. We grieve our plans for the day that fall apart with the unexpected phone call from home.

There is a good chance you are grieving this holiday because grief is a fact of life and the holidays bring this fact to the surface.

My prayer is that you find time to sit with it, to listen to the music and let it wash over you. When the song is over, get up and keep walking.

Grief is only a problem if grief is a problem.