Grief. When you hear that word it provokes something inside you. Perhaps a memory or a feeling floods your mind and body while others may experience an all too familiar numbness. For many, a major loss, specifically the first one, is like a stamp on the brain. I know for me, it was like a line drawn in the sand - a clear before and after. In other words, a life before knowing loss and a life after. No matter what age or season of life you are in, loss brings about significant change.
I was 17 years old when my father died unexpectedly on our family vacation. It felt like in an instant everything I knew to be safe and secure was cut loose and out of reach. Now, with 20 years of maturity and a deeper faith, I can look back and see that was not my reality, but in the moment it very much felt that way. I believe that this feeling of grief is an undercurrent of what many of us are feeling in our present circumstances with COVID-19. I have read many articles over that past four weeks, but the one that stands out from the rest is from the Harvard Business Review entitled, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” by Scott Berinato.
This article highlights the importance of naming an emotion (in this case - grief) or identifying what we are feeling in the present moment. In our typically fast-paced world, we don’t always take the time to sit with an emotion and dig into what it may be, or what its root cause is. We are too busy for that; we’ve got things to do and places to go. Or at least we did until the world took a collective pause for an undetermined length of time. The Harvard Business Review turned to David Kessler, one of the world’s foremost experts on grief, to see if he could share some thoughts on why it’s important to acknowledge the grief you may be feeling so you can manage it and maybe even find meaning in it. Here are some potential griefs you may be experiencing:
- The world has changed and will be different now (a before and after the pandemic)
- The loss of normalcy
- The loss of economic stability
- The loss of connection (community, celebrations)
- The loss of safety (peace)
I am sure we have all thought about these but maybe not through the lens of grief. There are nonlinear stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist who proposed the now famous “Five Stages of Grief” as a pattern of adjustment. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is widely believed that the final stage of acceptance is where the power lies; this is where we find some sort of control. Kessler gives the examples: I can wash my hands, I can keep a safe distance, I can learn how to work virtually. We oftentimes have to let go of what we can’t control because it causes undue anxiety that can keep our minds looping and bodies in overdrive. These things can lead to worst case scenario thinking. In those moments it is important to draw yourself back into the present moment and remind yourself what is true and that nothing you’ve anticipated has happened.
Kessler ends his interview by commenting on how honored he is that Kubler-Ross’s family has given him permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. Anyone who has experienced deep grief knows the desire to attach meaning to those darkest hours. We cling to the promise that joy comes in the morning - not that the cause of our grief will necessarily become “worth it” but that we will see some of the Lord’s purpose behind our suffering. That is what grace is all about. I firmly believe that we will look back on this time and see His hand, His love, His goodness, His faithfulness, and His purpose behind this time of stay-at-home orders. Faith compels us to believe this. And to have hope.
Angela Liner (’00)
Lower School Counselor