Last week, people were sharing with me that they felt angry.
Angry at forced isolation, no canned beans or tomatoes at the grocery stores, sharing the living room with our whole family at once. Angry with feeling misinformed, and angry because of the constant, day-to-day shifting information from the media, politicians, Facebook. Where there’s anger, blame can be following close behind, because blame feeds our anger and helps us to hold on to its indignation, resentment, and sarcasm. Anger is a natural response to a tremendous, sudden shift in what we take for granted in our world and lives, and to some extent we NEED anger as a shield of sorts.
Anger also protects us from deeper emotions, and as our daily rhythms slow down most of us have ample time to turn inwards and engage in self reflection.
That’s when anger for some of us turns to fear, sadness, and a profound sense of loss.
David Kessler, one of the world’s thought leaders and responders to grief and loss, talked to a journalist about how living with the uncertainty of the coronavirus creates something called anticipatory grief. Teens, parents, and adults in my now-virtual office have been expressing it like this:
- “I am (angry, anxious, sad, scared, irritated) that I have to deal with this. And then. You won’t believe it, but ____________ happened! What’s next?!”
- “I don’t know how I’m going to work from home and keep my kids on track and skip my exercise class, for who knows how long. I feel depressed”.
- “I feel tense all the time and I don’t know why I can’t shake this feeling like something even worse is going to happen”.
- “I’m so mad I can’t see my friends, and if I don’t find a way, they’re going to drop me”.
Kessler tells all of us that we’ve lost something. When we name part of our experience as a loss, we validate the thoughts, feelings, and actions that accompany loss.
Have you noticed the losses in your life? Some of us are naming tragic losses: of life, health, jobs, relationships, even feeling safe at home. But there are the small but very significant losses for everyone that also add up to grieving: any amount of income, the security of routine, getting to be playful or companioned by others, taking care of our health, our diet, our haircuts or teeth. There’s the loss of not being able to celebrate big life wins, share in the excitement of achievement, or mourning together if we have to.
See if relaxing into these can soften the edge of grieving:
Naming that we are grieving gives us permission to move into the emotions of grief. And that’s really hard. We’re usually moving so fast, that if we do suffer a loss we can bury it in busyness. I don’t have to tell you that’s pretty near impossible right now. So- open the door and let it in, even if it’s just a little bit. Feeling less does not equal feeling better. Tell someone else who you trust that you are really sad you can’t go to the movies and know your willingness to name your loss, no matter what size it is, helps you to take care of yourself.
Notice the feelings, and body sensations, that go along with being vulnerable to loss. Don’t minimize or rationalize this process. Each point of tension, tightness, or uncomfortable body sensations that goes along with a strong emotion is our bodies’ natural processing mechanism. Take a deep breath in, maybe encouraging a sense of accepting or letting go on your out-breath. Find a calming, positive statement as a response to the body discomfort of grief to reassure your exquisitely designed nervous system that it can grieve and feel safe at the same time.
Your grieving doesn’t have to be exactly like my grieving. One person may really be struggling with not getting to see co-workers; another may be relieved to stay home and isolate. You might hate school and welcome the time to catch up on late assignments in your online classes; I may hate staying home and not be able to figure out the assignments without face to face time with my teacher. No one grieves in the “right” way; that’s what makes us resilient and supportive. Humans have the abundant and ancient wisdom to experience grief and comfort those we love who are grieving, a uniquely human legacy handed down the generations. Let your grief be yours, and mine be mine.