Permission to Grieve
I got married during a hurricane, Tropical Storm Allison to be exact. It hit Houston with full force causing massive flooding the day before my wedding in 2001. It was the definition of a disaster. We had planned this day for a year and had put all the details in place. We had chosen dresses and flowers and musicians and food for the reception and cake designs. Our family had traveled to help us celebrate. It was going to be perfect....until it wasn't. Nothing went quite as planned. Phone lines were down all over town and it took hours for my husband and I to even reach each other to confirm that we were going to try to get married despite the flooding. Roads were closed and it took several hours through back streets to even get to the church. Once we got to the church, there was no power and the whole ceremony happened under generator run flood lights and candles. All the planning went out the window and we were forced to adapt or postpone the wedding. We adapted, and it makes for a great and memorable story now, but it was not without some loss. Loss of the vision we had for our wedding, loss of some important people who should have been there but couldn't get there (my grandmother), loss of hours spent planning...it was nothing like what we had planned and that came with a little grief.
So many people think of grief only in the face of death. That is perhaps when it is most deeply felt and most profoundly visible to others, but that is definitely not the only time that humans grieve. We grieve when we have lost something, and we have all lost something in this pandemic. In the face of coronavirus, some people have lost everything; their most beloved person, or even their own life. Because of this, I see that many of us do not feel that we should acknowledge all the things that we each have lost, because they seem minor in comparison to what others are going through. The problem with this though, is that it is untrue. Failing to acknowledge loss does not erase loss. We have lost things. Humanity has lost things because of this pandemic:
Our sense of safety
Our financial stability
Our ability to congregate and worship together as church communities
The traditional end of the school year with awards and farewells and proms and graduations
The connections we had before social distancing
The freedom to travel and gather together as we have always done
Our role in our own lives - moving from executive or creator or manager to simply provider of education, entertainment, conflict management, and snacks for the children who are stuck at home
Yes, these are minor when compared to the loss of life that some have had to endure and that makes us excuse them as not important or as something that we should just accept and move on from. The problem with this is that loss causes grief and unrecognized or unresolved grief rears it's head in other ways. When we as humans fail to grieve our emotional losses, we can find ourselves dealing with repercussions for months or years, and the further we get from the loss the harder it gets to connect the dots. The ripple effects of unresolved grief are:
Irritability or anger - at everyone, for everything, without a clear reason
Obsession - hours spent reading and poring over the news and every theory out there
Hyper alertness or fear - hand washing, sanitizing, isolating at home
Addiction - food, alcohol, Netflix, yes even TikTok
Anxiety and Depression - mild to severe, this has been a very common theme in my practice lately
So....what do we do about it? First and foremost, we need to give ourselves permission to grieve. To grieve the big and the small things that we have lost during this time. Simply acknowledging the loss and giving yourself permission to feel however you feel takes away some of the power. Journal, talk about it, pray about it, commiserate with friends or family because there is an excellent chance they are feeling the same way you are. Secondly, move away from problem behaviors; if you have become apathetic, set a schedule and stick to it. If you are eating or drinking too much, set some limits. Finally, don't minimize your feelings. Don't pretend that things are normal - they definitely are not - and don't just say you are OK and move on. Grief takes time. It cannot be rushed and it should not be ignored. Take some time to examine your losses, large or small, and give yourself permission to grieve.
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