Over the past week, I’ve heard from many people that they are experiencing a feeling that they just can’t place. It’s something different than being just unmoored or anxious. Something they just can’t put their finger on. These are not people who necessarily know someone battling COVID-19 or have lost someone to COVID-19, if that were true they might feel more in control of their feelings. At least they could pin them on something. These are people just living in the world at this time like the rest of us. But then one person I spoke with last week was able to name what was happening for him and it clicked, I am grieving, he said.
In an article written by Jane Fisher and Maggie Kirkman, Australian psychologists, the two women note that what many are experiencing might be considered disenfranchised grief – grief that stems from loss that may not be readily recognized.1
And then they went on to give a list of just some of the losses you may be experiencing. It includes the more obvious tangible things like milestone celebrations that have to be delayed or cancelled such as weddings, graduation ceremonies and birthday celebrations. But their list goes beyond that.
Fisher and Kirkman say,
We are losing liberty, autonomy and agency as everyday activities are restricted, some precluded. Privacy is being lost as we're scrutinised increasingly closely for adherence to health behaviours to reduce potential to infect others. At the same time, paradoxically, participation is lost because privacy is enforced through required isolation and seclusion.
Occupational identity and capacity to earn an income are fundamental to adult individuality, sense of purpose and meaning, and autonomy. Losses of these are profound, and associated directly with demoralisation and depression.
This is important to remember. This is a type of loss that most of us have never experienced before. While we may have experienced one piece of this loss at any given time – we have never experienced all these losses at the same time while everyone else around us is also experiencing the same loss.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review, David Kessler puts it this way
…we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.2
And Fisher and Kirkman note, that because we are experiencing a collective loss, we feel like we must constrain our emotions for the public good.
Two weeks ago we talked about the gift of the sacred story that we are given by our Christian faith. The stories and writings in the Bible can ground us and provide us with guideposts. Guess what, grief is in there. Our sacred text contains stories of grief and lament. Stories of people who are angry at God, stories of people who are crying out to God for help and relief. And these stories don’t always neatly resolve themselves. Sometimes we are just left with the cry. But these stories and writings affirm that our experience is valid. God does not want us to stuff down or deny our feelings. Expressing frustration or sadness or anger does not ruin our relationship with God. It’s all right there in the sacred text. God does not require us to deny our human experience – instead -- God remains present.
Many of you are already familiar with the stages of grief and the fact they are not linear. In regards to the present situation in the world, Kessler explains them this way:
Denial – the virus won’t affect us
Anger – You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities
Bargaining – Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right?
Sadness – I don’t know when this will end
Acceptance – This is happening, I have to figure out how to proceed
The key to grief is to try to find a way to welcome it in. Try to find a way to be in conversation with it. To acknowledge how you feel and to remember that your feelings are absolutely valid. You don’t have to tamp down what is happening to you just because it is happening to everyone else – because yes, it is happening to you.
I encourage you to take some time to think through the losses you are experiencing – to name them. I encourage you to remember that our sacred text codified stories of lament – they are not taboo. And while we all know that it can help to stay in the present and to focus on what we can control instead of what we can’t, I encourage you not to judge yourself. Feel your feelings. Reach out if you are comfortable and share them with others. If someone reaches out to you, do your best to listen. And remember that God continues to love you and embrace you during this surreal time in the world. Amen.