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Grieving our Pandemic Losses

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

On March 11, our lives took a sharp U turn when the WHO declared the corona virus outbreak to be a global pandemic. Not quite a week later, on March 17, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a state of emergency for this province, forcing the shutdown of all non essential businesses, schools, universities, provincial parks. Large gatherings were forbidden. Suddenly, our world as we had known it was turned upside down.

As a grief counselor, it has struck me how we as a society are in a state of grief at this unprecedented loss. Grief is a normal reaction to significant loss of any kind. Just as we grieve and mourn for the loss of a loved one, we also grieve for major life losses.

In grief counseling, I stress the importance of naming the loss that has occurred. In this current situation, the losses are huge and numerous. We have lost our communities: social, religious, academic and work colleagues. Many of us are dealing with financial angst and uncertainty, not knowing when or if we will be able to return to our former employment. We have lost the ability to hug our grandchildren or visit our elderly parents in their senior’s homes. We have lost familiar routines. We have lost many of the activities that used to bring meaning and fulfillment to our lives such as volunteering and being productive through the work that we do.

Every individual will have their own list of losses that are specific and unique to their situation. It is important to become very clear about what exactly you have lost. Name each loss and recognize that it is normal and necessary to experience grief over the void that has been created in your current life.

Another important aspect of grieving is that no one can grieve for you. Even though the losses we are experiencing are societal in nature, each person must go through their own grief process as an individual. Each person has their own personal story and experience of what this pandemic feels like to them.

So often we hear “we are all in this together,” or “we will get through this together.” These phrases are true and meant to be encouraging. There is a certain amount of comfort in the realization that others are hurting too. However grief is a lonely journey that can only be taken by you alone. So take time to look within and ask yourself how this difficult time is affecting you personally.

I am wondering if the losses we are experiencing are creating a situation of disenfranchised grief. This results when a particular type of loss is not acknowledged as a legitimate cause for grief. Consequently, we hear comments like, “get over it and get on with life”, “everyone is going through the same thing”. This leaves us with the feeling that we have no right to be experiencing sadness or grief at the situation we are facing.

I encourage you to be honest with yourself. If you are feeling sorrow and even a form of depression as a result of our current situation, then you have the right and need to grieve in your own way.

The “new normal” is being thrust upon us. Grief normally intensifies when we realize that a loved one is not coming back, that the loss cannot be reversed. What was once predicted to be a brief temporary hiatus of several weeks or a month at the most, is now being viewed as a necessary long term change. Are we ready? Social distancing. Standing in long lineups when going to the store. Muffling your way through conversations while wearing a mask, with a Plexiglas barrier and at a distance of 6 feet. No sporting events or concerts. No summer festivals. Restricted travel. Working from home. Remote learning. No church, synagogue or mosque.

I encourage each of you to be aware of what has been lost and name that for yourself. Recognize that your path through grief is individual and that no one can grieve for anyone else. Give yourself permission to grieve, even if others around you don’t acknowledge this as a legitimate response. My philosophy is that it is difficult to embrace a new normal when we have not really grieved what has been lost. If we allow ourselves the self compassion needed at this time, we will be much more prepared to accept the challenges that lie ahead.

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