As we enter into the third month of life in quarantine, we are all confronted with the experience of loss in some way. Grief is a normal response to loss but can feel disorienting when the losses we experience don’t fit our definitions. For most of us, a loss is typically defined as something specific and tangible — death, the end of a meaningful relationship, or the loss of a job.
But in just nine short weeks, our lives have been transformed. “Normal life,” as we knew it, feels like a distant memory. Basic activities like grocery shopping, spending time with others, or just going outside have become challenges.
We have adapted to manage this change. After all, this is how we work. Yet, our ability to adapt quickly does not mean that we don’t feel the impact of sudden change or loss. Daily death toll reports on the news, online memorials, milestone celebrations missed or reimagined, important plans and events postponed — life is on hold in so many ways. This is surely worthy of acknowledgment and likely, grieving.
Grief is a normal part of the human experience, but we live in a society that has little room for it. We often shy away from grief in others due to our own discomfort, and perceived inability to make it “better.” When we experience grief ourselves there is a tendency to hide it away, wanting to protect others (and sometimes even ourselves) from our pain or our fear.
Right now, one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and each other, is to create space for grief and sit with it. Talking about your feelings, acknowledging shared experiences with others, and allowing yourself to feel loss fully are all meaningful and necessary.
Honoring your feelings is also an important part of grief. We often have unrealistic expectations of how we should feel, when we should feel it, and how long it should last. A common fantasy is that we can experience profound loss in a neat and linear way. The reality is that grief can be messy. It’s a process that moves at its own pace and can look different for each of us. Anger, sadness, confusion, fear, general discomfort, irritability, or feeling shut down are just some of the feelings associated with grief.
Moving through this process requires us to be kind and gentle with ourselves, allowing our feelings to be whatever they are without judgement. Compassion and patience for yourself and others is essential.
Although we each experience grief differently, we are all experiencing a form of collective grief unknown to most of us. The pain associated with the loss of normalcy and control, coupled with our own personal losses, is profound. We can allow this experience to separate us from ourselves and each other by denying the experience or we can use this as an opportunity to come together, support one another, and mourn as a collective. Now is a time to take care of ourselves and one another. Reaching out for support from friends, family, colleagues, therapists, and other mental health professionals is important. We’re all in this together.