Right Now, We All Have Something to Grieve
I had been planning on writing a blog post on grief for you for many months. Long before the Coronavirus was a word on the tip of everyone’s tongues. It was a post about the grief that comes along with motherhood.
(I asked around and moms were all too eager to share what they missed most, from missing their pre-baby bodies, their friends, their freedom, the simplicity and spontaneity they used to have in their lives, the uninterrupted conversations they used to have with their partners, to traveling and live concerts, a loss of identity, and sleep….so much sleep!)
And then the pandemic happened. I guess this just goes to show that you can’t plan for everything.
Paying attention to our grief now is more important than ever.
I hear from so many that they just feel like they could cry at the drop of a hat lately. Sometimes from reading the news. Sometimes just from a stranger’s kind smile while out on their walk. Or from a cute puppy on Instagram.
Sometimes (OK, maybe more than just sometimes) it’s because working from home AND homeschooling the kids AND maintaining a house is so damn hard. And mothering a new baby without any support besides your partner due to sheltering in place is so damn hard too. We feel alone in this, doing it all.
It would seem that the “big-ness” of our collective grief would dwarf any complaint a mom might have about her loss of freedom or identity, but actually I think this is a great time to talk about both. Both have a tremendous impact on our experience in the most intimate and the most collective of ways. Everyone’s struggle is different, but the hard stuff is always hard no matter what it looks like.
I think on some level all mothers (possibly since the beginning of time?) have always understood that change, grief, loss, and surrender are all part of our experience. From the moment our pregnant bodies start changing, we learn and begin to feel really complicated emotions. What is this sadness that comes with the joy?
As mothers, we are constantly learning to let go of what we once knew. Our bodies are never exactly the same ever again. What worked for our babies last week suddenly is all wrong this week. Then, our babies eventually start kindergarten, and seemingly in a blink, they’re moving out of the house. If we do it right, motherhood is a process of them needing us less and less and us relinquishing and trusting.
But not all losses are forever. Some need to be reclaimed--and are worth reclaiming--even if they look a little different than they did before. Like our identities, our freedom, our safety, and our connections to each other. This is true whether we are talking about motherhood or pandemics.
There’s no point in encouraging the “Grief Olympics." Pain is pain. Grief is grief. And, as grief expert David Kessler says, “the loss that matters most is the one that has happened to you.”
In this current pandemic, some of us have experienced a literal loss of a loved one from the virus. But all of us are experiencing a collective grief for the suffering of humanity, for the world we will come back to after this, for the “normal” we once knew.
It’s so pervasive that many of us don’t even recognize our grief for what it is.
So, let’s clarify: Grief is the loss of someone or something in your life.
The passing of a loved one, of course. But also, loss includes:
a move or losing your home
miscarriage or infant loss
loss of a limb or other body changes
dropping out of school
loss of a social circle
phase of life changes
loss of identity.
Any inevitable or irrevocable change can cause grief.
And now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all collectively grieving the world we once knew. We miss our freedom, our support systems, our sense of security, our jobs, coffee with friends, hugs.
If you're feeling stuck on part of your past, longing for what was, feeling regret, missing a person, feeling less joy today than you used to… you probably need to grieve something. It’s even possible to mourn the loss of something in the future, like someday you or your partner will die or someday your daughter will no longer want to hold your hand in public (though we do have to be careful here, as the line between future or anticipatory grief and anxiety can be a fine one).
“Loss just happens. It is not a test or a blessing,” says David Kessler, in a recent Brene Brown podcast episode. And though the circumstances around our grief may look different, make no mistake: Loss happens to all of us. The meaning is what we make of it. But finding meaning can take a while.
Part of what makes grief so hard to heal is that the world doesn’t stop and wait for you. The bills still need to be paid. The kids still need to be fed. Eventually, you do need to shower. Or sleep.
You could consider a lot of these things “unglamorous self-care." We all do these things the best we can. But we also need to give ourselves space and permission to feel. We can’t bypass them with a jam-packed schedule or overgiving to everyone else.
A friend of mine--a mother of two and high-achieving career woman--told me recently that after her step-dad passed away, she powered through her work obligations and then scheduled time to go to the beach and grieve. But, once she got there, she was surprised to discover that the tears just wouldn’t come. And then, days later, while getting her usual monthly massage, she was surprised to find the tears couldn’t stop flowing.
“Turns out you can’t schedule grief,” she told me. We shared a laugh over it.
So, as much as I would love to tell you that healing our grief is as simple as scheduling time for it--which I recommend for most other things like date nights for reconnecting with your partner and self-care time for reconnecting with yourself--that just isn’t how it works. Grief is really good at upending all of our productivity-maximizing programming.
Author and activist adrienne maree brown wrote on her blog that tears are one of the ways the body says ‘slower’. I love that so much. It might feel disruptive, but our bodies and our minds need that pause.
The grief will come and go for us all in various ways. When it happens, I want to encourage you to make space for it.
Grief needs our permission, our non-judgment, and sometimes, a safe witness. So while you can’t pencil it into your day, you can figure out how to handle it when it shows up.
Here are some ways you can do it. Choose what works for you.
Cry it out. In private or with a friend.
Journal your feelings.
Scream. Go outside to do it or scream into a pillow.
(Safely!) Punch or throw/break something. In the “Staying In” podcast (Episode 1, “Fumbling for Normalcy," at about the 37-minute mark), Co-Host Emily V. Gordon half-jokingly recommends saving your old electronic devices for times when you just need to smash something in the alley to take the edge off. But a good old-fashioned pillow punching session can also do the trick.
Make some art. You don’t have to consider yourself an artist to do this. Sometimes it can even be just as cathartic to destroy what you made at the end as it was to make it.
Exercise. Go for a hard run to get the rage out, or a slow easy one to clear your mind. Dance your heart out to feel immediate access to joy and emotion. Try a yoga sequence with extra hip or heart openers in it. (Know that it’s not unusual for deep hip openers to bring out the tears seemingly out of nowhere. Any good yoga teacher will understand this and should make you feel safe to be in your feelings. Or, if you’re sheltering-in-place, you don’t have to worry about strangers seeing you cry anyway.)
Try meditation. If you’re angry or anxious, this can help to calm and release some of that anger enough so you can observe and understand it on a deeper level. It can also teach us about our identities and interconnectedness.
Watch a sad movie or TV show. So many people I know love to watch This is Us, for example, because even though it’s a heart-breaker every time, it helps them to tap into their own grief and have a cathartic cry.
Find a hobby. This tip isn’t to avoid your feelings. Rather, a simple activity like crochet, gardening, scrapbooking or even taking walks can feel grounding and help your brain to process, while also allowing you to reclaim parts of yourself that you might feel you’re missing by doing an activity you enjoy.
Stop comparing your life or your struggle/pain to others. Everyone grieves differently and no one’s struggles are exactly the same. But we can find commonality in that we all grieve and struggle.
Talk to someone. A trusted friend, your partner, or a therapist. We all need a witness.
Whenever possible, slow down. When you feel big emotions bubbling up, give yourself permission to let it out in a safe place. And whether you’re having big feels or not, just simply do less as much as you can.
Our grief points to what matters most to us. Grief, loss, hurt... it all comes with the experience of being human. It’s not fun, but weirdly, it does have the capacity to make the joy and beauty in life feel even more amazing. The meaning is what we make of it.
Many are saying our world will never be the same after this. Maybe it’s time to start discerning which parts are worth reclaiming and dreaming up the ways we can build something better.
*Not sponsored. I don’t receive anything for recommending these to you.
Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning - print copy or audiobook
Christina Rasmussen’s Second Firsts - print copy or audiobook
David Kessler and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss - print copy or audiobook
Unlocking Us with Brene Brown, “David Kessler and Brene Brown on Grief and Finding Meaning”
Staying In With Emily & Kumail, Episode 1: “Fumbling for Normalcy”
Harvard Business Review, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”
The Washington Post, “Motherhood gave me an identity crisis. Solving it was simple, but it wasn’t easy.”
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