Grief comes in an assortment of sizes, tailored to fit each type of loss. When you feel like the entire world has changed, grief can’t be far behind.
It’s been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. I don’t know about your taxes, but if you’re reading this, I’m thankful, at least, the grim reaper is AWOL. Death drops by with nonchalant regularity, taking with him parents, friends, siblings and spouses. In fact, I can include one or more of each in my list of losses. But these are different days, first in lifetimes days when illness and death seem only a sneeze or cough away. And the perfectly fit the MO of a brutal, worldwide pandemic we have come to know as COVID-19.
Worries about, and results of, this coronavirus epidemic have touched nearly everyone around the globe. With each generation, the world becomes smaller, enabling shared experience as well as shared disease from countries oceans away. Since the virus arrived at our shores, we’ve watched death rates climb with frightening velocity each day. Sure, we lived through SARS, Swine Flu, and Ebola but nothing has struck fear in our collective hearts since the flu of 1917. Some infected become merely carriers; some present with mild symptoms. The unlucky others feel the savagery of the disease — and many, too many, die of it.
And that’s where death’s natural partner, grief comes in. Grief is the way we process trauma, death, and losses of all sizes and flavors. It can devastate us enough in normal times, but in the era of COVID-19, grief can be unnaturally derailed. Where do we put grief, when loved ones die alone? How do we express it, when the people death leaves behind are dumped into socially distanced shock and loss?
Mourning rituals are critical to healthy grief and healing yet, uniquely absent in a pandemic. Instead, overloaded funeral homes greet no grieving families. Masses, wakes and shivas are non-existent. In their place, awkward digital groupings are becoming common as family gathers on Zoom to mourn. The basic comfort of connective touch is absent, making grief as grim and devastating as can be.
Losing my husband in a blink of an eye one night was obviously an unparalleled shock. Yet, many have endured similar experiences; mine was not an anomaly. But, to lose a loved one without warning, in a lonely COVID-19 cocoon of masks and humming ventilators, is incomprehensible. My heart breaks for every single one whose grief is quarantined, without the ability to offer last words or touch. Long ago, when my 19 year old brother died of leukemia, half the town turned out to grieve with our family. My parents deaths, 12 years apart, saw their friends gather to grieve, and when friends died, I shared my grief along with others they loved. These are not those times; this is fear and grief on steroids.
Thankfully, most will not lose loved ones during this horrific epidemic. That fact, however, won’t stop our hearts from hurting for those who have and will. We may suffer different, yet still heart wrenching losses. Those who catch the disease, mild or difficult, and survive may feel a loss; of health, confidence and belief that it wouldn’t happen to them. Right now, and in days to come, there will be losses of income and jobs, which bring their own brand of grief. Theirs will be the pain of being unable to provide for families, as well as the forfeiture of security and sense of purpose their job ensured.
Grief comes in an assortment of sizes, tailored to fit each type of loss. When you feel like the entire world has changed, grief can’t be far behind. After 9/11, life was forever changed. Those changes were different for every person. In these Twilight Zone days, we feel the loss of normalcy, of economic loss, of connection and of safety. We took much for granted until a phantom virus hit us, literally, where we live and we collectively grieve.
Will your family miss your child’s first prom, or cap and gown diploma walk? Is that painstakingly planned wedding celebration postponed? How about the ability to even get a haircut, (or that oh-so-important touch-up so ‘blonde’ doesn’t revert to 50 shades of grey?) Misssed sports practices and game schedules. Chick get- togethers, long awaited Broadway shows and vacation plans. All on hold.
We could argue that it’s ‘only’ anxiety, but even at that, I know first hand anxiety really sucks. But, when things we hold dear or even take for granted are unceremoniously removed from our lives, grief holds court, too. The loss of touch, as any widow will attest, in itself is a mammoth loss, one we feel every day. If you’re a natural hugger like moi, giving air kisses to kids, grands or best friends really doesn’t cut it.
There is no hierarchy of grief. Mine is no worse than yours, nor yours, mine. We all get our turn and our very own brand of it. Health, emotional or economic, there’s always plenty to go around. This too shall pass. Eventually, we will safely hug and even touch a door knob without fear. We will grieve – and celebrate together. We will go to the movies, for pizza, have family dinners once again, but this time in a new normal. We will work again, but maybe in positions designed more virtually and economically in a drastically changed new world. Professions once overlooked will be more honored than they were before, and some, the heroic, courageous among us, we will be forever grateful.
When I swam through my deepest grief, it was hard to envision ‘better days’. But I also knew that, ultimately, I wanted the bad stuff to mean something, to find the positive, the light. I realized that even the darkest days have a pinpoint of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and as we journey, the light gets brighter. But for now, if we embrace the fact that COVID-19 has robbed all of us, we can give ourselves permissions to mourn. We can extend a figurative hand to one another, know that indeed we are all in this together. And we can be assured, that better times will come, as all who’ve experienced loss and grief can attest.
Until then, stay strong, stay safe.