Coping with Grief During the Pandemic

As I settled into week 4 of our family quarantine, I was struck with a new emotion. It was
different from the anxiety I felt at the beginning of this crisis. It was closer to sadness, but to say
it was sadness or depression would not be right. There has been a desire to run away, to escape
from this experience and yet, there is literally nowhere in the world I could go right now that I
would not be met with the same circumstances. It is like ‘wherever you go there you are’ on a
global level. I proceeded to push it down for a few days.

But each time I pushed it down, it came back up stronger.

Each time I began to feel it, I quickly reminded myself of everything I have and all the things I
am grateful for. But each time I pushed it down, it came back up stronger. As I went on my
morning walk, I felt it rise up inside me. I felt the familiar choking in my throat and heaviness in
my heart. What is this? I asked myself.

Oh…This is grief.

I have been practicing my own healing for long enough to know that if I don’t allow myself to
feel uncomfortable things, they metastasize and become destructive. So, there I was, in the
middle of an empty sidewalk trying to breathe through each wave of grief as it hit me. I was
overcome by the amount of loss we are experiencing communally and globally.

Loss of physical lives, loss of normality, loss of freedoms, loss of physical contact, loss of
community, loss of the world we once knew. This pandemic will change the world the way 9/11
changed the world. There will be the world before the pandemic and the world after the
pandemic. And even though we will get through it and some wonderful things will come about
because of it, there is still the loss of what once was in that realization.

Grief comes after the initial shot of adrenaline that crisis creates has left our bodies. It comes in
the calm not before the storm, but after it. After someone you love dies, and the funeral is
over, and everyone goes home and back to their lives. Meanwhile, grief wraps its arms around
you. It seemed appropriate that it would come to me now, now that we have settled into our
new normal.

My grief was twofold – the one I felt for others and the one I felt for myself. As I felt the grief
for my personal losses, I was aware of how I wanted to push it down by comparing them to others. I will lose at any comparison. Every single time. And I also know that who-has-it-worse (or who-has-it-better) is the type of thinking that keeps me tied to my own suffering. I am reminded that empathy is not finite, and if I do not extend it to myself, I cannot fully extend it to others; much like love, empathy and compassion are exponential and we are all deserving of them.

And then, just as I tell my clients that shift happens, it shifted.

Grief stayed with me for a few days, I could not shake it. It was an undercurrent, a low buzzing
that followed me around. And then, just as I tell my clients that shift happens, it shifted. I woke
up noticing a difference in my body, in my thoughts, and in my emotions. Most noticeably,
there was a reopening of creativity and gratitude.

I’m always amazed at what I learn from pain. This time, it showed me that just because I
recognize it and let myself feel it and bring love and empathy to it, does not bypass it. I still
have to be in it, experience it. The only choice I have is how I will be in it. Will I push it down?
Run away? Compare it? Shame myself? Bring awareness to it? I’d much rather be in charge of
the length or level of pain I experience, but I’ll take whatever agency I can get.

“The greatest loss, is always our own.”

Grief expert David Kessler tells us that, “The greatest loss, is always our own.” My hope is that
as we navigate through our own emotional journey during this time, we can show up for
ourselves with awareness, empathy, compassion, and love. For these are the virtues that allow
grief to come without leaving more suffering in its wake.