An entire world is gripped by grief and loss.
What do we do?
What a truly unique time to be alive, where an entire world of people is in the throes of some form of grief. Trying to comprehend the magnitude feels extraordinarily complex and nuanced.
Meanwhile, even my five year old is able to communicate her grief. She will say things like, “Daddy, I really miss going to (fill in the blank with a special place), or I really miss being able to see my (fill in the blank with a special person). I generally listen to her, provide some comfort in listening to her, let her know that I hear her grief and reply that I’m not sure when we will be able to do any of the things she is grieving. Loving listening and honest communication is one way my partner and I support our daughter through her understanding of loss and grief.
How do we shift the paradigm of our relationship (and position of vulnerability) to one another, inside of our individual and collective concurrent grief?
Might we start by shifting the often underwhelming and inauthentic conversation starter with friends, family and colleagues from, “So how are you?”, to “Is there someone or something you are grieving today, and how can I make space for you?”
I was reading a blogger, educator, and social justice activist I really admire (Elena Aguilar) and she gives voice to the number of us who are feeling exhausted, overburdened, and run down. Is it the weight of our grief? She writes, “If you, or those you love and support are experiencing “hitting a wall” I’d offer that what you are feeling might be unprocessed grief.” Yes.
Grief as it relates to countless loss of life (the US just surpassed 500,000 deaths), housing insecurity, food insecurity, unemployment, domestic safety, and the list continues. Do you find yourself exhausted, run down, and teetering on edge, with grief? Are you able to recognize where in your life you are holding grief and name your grief?
As we approach almost a full year since some of the initial cases of Covid-19 were identified in the United States, of being in some form of lockdown, continued isolation, and the full reckoning of how life is forever changed, it seems like an important moment to reflect and continue to take stock of all the loss that has touched us in deeply profound and life-altering ways, and to actively name the loss and the grief.
Loss by the way, in my mind does not equal grief. I believe grief is the feeling and nonlinear process that is born out of dealing with loss.
Almost a year ago today, I left California, with one piece of carry on luggage in hand, a mask (a friend provided) and a flurry of questions and uncertainties. The borders between the United States and Canada were closing in a mere matter of days, and in a dizzying and disorienting time, I packed in a moment’s notice, so that I could be with my family, and not surrender to my fate of living in an apartment by myself before the world shut down entirely. I’m certain the anticipatory grief of not making it to my family, motivated me to move as quickly as I did, even though I delayed already.
I did not anticipate that I was packing for, and saying goodbye to one world, and readying for another, unrecognizable world. If I knew now, what I knew then, I wonder how I would have packed that one piece of luggage differently? What items from our California apartment, did I foolishly prioritize, and what items and keepsakes did I not hesitate to even consider? In hindsight, that was all stuff, even the mementos.
What of my colleagues, friends, and family? Who did I hug? Who did I give a proper goodbye to? I grieve not properly packing with more sensibility for my journey out of one world and into the next, for leaving my job, my healthcare, my friends and family, without a proper hug, a meal…anything that would have communicated some closure, an acknowledgement of a transition, or properly marked goodbye. I will never be able to return to the world I left, to do any of those things. In addition, I grieve not being able to pick up the phone, and call my mother in a time of doubt or need, who I lost before the pandemic. I have none of those things so I hold grief for all of them.
I am learning, sometimes daily, that it matters, for me, to name, and make space for all of my grief, in addition to making space, or at the very least, having an imagination for the grief that my family and friends and fellow humans may be holding.
In the past 5 years, I almost lost my partner and daughter (simultaneously), almost lost my mother in law, almost lost my daughter again, and more recently I lost my mother. I say that almost like a mantra for my grief, or like I am offering my credentials to be admitted to a local grief circle. I have had a full share of reasons to grieve before the pandemic and I’m learning to appreciate (though not always) the particular nuances of grief, and how deeply personal and individual grief and the processing of grief unfolds. Perhaps unfolds sounds too gentle. Unravels, burns, disorders, surrenders us.
Referencing a recent publication shared from CAMH (Canadian Mental Health Association), some of the initial grief I experienced was ambiguous grief… “a loss that occurs without closure or clear understanding and often results in unresolved feelings.” CAM H — Loss & Grief
I have been in Canada for almost a year, and I’m observing new feelings surface about my own grief, and losses just inside of the one experience of packing up and leaving. I cry, I write, I run, I listen to music. I sit quietly when I’m able to, to try and name, and hold, like a stone, the named and unnamed grief I’m observing, moving ever so slightly like a steady current, before turning into an overwhelming swell. I often find that if I am present, there are daily opportunities to experience and sit with my grief. While I cry, while I run, while I listen to music.
Anticipatory grief refers to our feelings of loss and grief, even before a loss actually happens. CAM H — Loss & Grief
I have been experiencing that a lot these days, uncertain about when I will go back to work, when it will be (safe by our standards) for our daughter to return to in school learning, for our family to share in the important markers of birth, and death.
We have lost too many and so much and yet many of us are still here.
In thinking more about grief, I thought about loss and how even in our traditional relationship to loss, we are generating more compounded grief.
A loved one passes and you are unable to reach them, be in person at their funeral, or share in the important celebrations of life you might have participated in as a family, before the pandemic. What a deep, deep pool of cumulative loss that generates and how do we adequately prepare for more losses to come, given that so much is out of our control?
My wish is that you find a way to name one thing you are grieving today, and then to be still with your grief. We have to start somewhere.