When a crisis hits and you’re already feeling depleted, suddenly everything becomes more challenging. This is certainly the case with the young widow who attended a virtual bereavement support group for the first time. She said, “Grief takes every ounce of energy that I have. I am exhausted, physically and mentally. Now with social isolating, I can’t be with my family and friends.”
Grief is always challenging to navigate, but the circumstances of COVID-19 make it even more so. Our “safe” world has changed so much and these changes are creating a deep sense of loss and grief. We are collectively grieving and often find ourselves responding with a variety of reactions, including confusion, despair, and fear.
Tremendous losses have resulted from COVID-19. Obviously, the loss of loved ones, loss of health, and the anxiety of not knowing how long this worldwide crisis will last, weigh heavily on our minds.
In addition to the tragic losses of life, health, and jobs, we also grieve the losses of graduations, weddings, sports events, and the ability to buy eggs or get a haircut.
While we know that grief is normal, natural, and necessary, loss is not something we embrace willingly or with ease. With good reason, the term bereavement comes from a Latin word which means, “to be robbed.” We indeed feel that something has been taken away from us. Our world as we know it has changed.
During these unprecedented times, it is important that we give ourselves permission to grieve losses, large and small. Don’t suppress feelings. When grief surfaces, it is important to allow ourselves to experience the feelings and not deny or push them aside. Talk it out, walk it out, write it out! Let tears roll. American author and spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, says, “Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.” Healthy grieving enables healthy living.
When encountering a worldwide health pandemic, acknowledging fear and anxiety is natural and necessary. Fear is normal and an automatic response to danger.
Fear serves a purpose when it can keep us from harming ourselves. Healthy fear motivates us to change our habits and perspectives. But it is important to create some safeguard so we don’t allow fear to turn into panic.
In the case of COVID-19, fear helps us make a commitment to assist in mitigating the spread of this virus by practicing physical distancing, frequently washing our hands with soap and water, and not touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Fear becomes unhealthy when it turns into panic. Panic affects our processing and thinking.
If we don’t self regulate, we start making assumptions, and assumptions can turn into projections. It becomes a downward spiral from there.
This “run-away” thinking might be described as looking at a blade of grass, but instead of seeing the blade, you visualize the whole lawn. Everything becomes magnified, including our problems and our ability to cope with them. Whether it is loss, grief, or fear – naming the problem is the beginning of experiencing hope and healing.
Recently, the World Health Organization announced it was officially changing the language of social distancing to be, “physical distancing” because they recognize the importance of people remaining connected to one another. Since the very beginning of this journey, we have witnessed the triumph of the human connection.
The Italians, despite not being able to leave their homes, inspired us by serenading one another in a high-rise apartment building and playing music. Communities of all sizes, including our own, continue to demonstrate compassion by creating telephone befriending services, elderly shopping slots, and human resources centers to assist those who are vulnerable and isolated. In this time of loss, death, and COVID-19, we are reminded that we are and will be surrounded by those who care.
Children’s television host Mr. Rogers said his mother responded to scary news by telling him, “Look for the helpers.” Excellent advice both for when we are the helpers and when we are the ones being helped.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” – Fred Rogers
Written by: Darwin L. Huartson, M.Div. BCC, Porter Loring Community Coordinator