Grief is Grief

An Epidemic of Grief

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.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

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.

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Copy that., Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

MARCH On.

For some, March is a springboard to a blooming new season. For others it’s a slippery slide into grief or depression.

March was always the stuff of angry lions — and I’m not talking about the weather. The month’s windy grayness matched somber memories of my brother, whose birthday and death day at 19 forever book-ended it with shrouded memories. That is, until the year a kooky March wind blew in the guy who would become my husband. That year, March saw a first date in the restaurant that became ‘ours’ for every important celebration. One year later, that month saw a courthouse wedding, totally off script, but when the cancer dragon rudely inserts itself and you need new health insurance, you ad lib. But, since we were crazy romantics, a few weeks later, we also squeezed in both church wedding and casually cool reception, complete with rubber ducks swimming in a margarita fountain. Go figure.

With happier new markers in place, I was able to feng shui the month with brighter bookends. Yes, far too soon Death did come again to end this happily ever after but at least it picked a different month. This is not about how the story ended, however. It’s about things can be revised, with new defaults. If we allow ourselves, we can often see clearly how much a month can really hold, how everything can change according to how we view it and how we embrace it. Time can be inhabited with both good — and painful memories; love and loss, joy and tears. Happy times are no less happy when they are joined by the sad. As both lion and lamb, they can inhabit the same space and, while they are polar opposites, they are part of the same equation.

March is a month of expectation. Emily Dickinson

The flip side of joy is pain. That’s life’s eternal dichotomy. No one complains when the pendulum swings the fun way, when life seems perfect and all in our little world is balanced on its axis, spinning merrily along. But when it hands us things that really suck, things we are helpless to change, whoa! Yet, that IS life; the conundrum of all things good and bad. Like a seasonal temperature inversion, a peaceful, balmy day can morph into a hair wrecking windy storm in a nanosecond. And just as quickly the sea calms, the weighty fog lifts and, if we pay attention, we just might see the big picture with stunning clarity. We find our aha moments.

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