I am not a grief counselor or a psychologist, but I am a bereaved person. I am still in mourning for my beloved parents, who died within six months of each other in 2019. In fact, I became the sole survivor of my nuclear family when my mother died in September, having also lost my brother in 1980.
It seems to me that we are all suffering a sort of collective grief right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. And in far too many cases, people are mourning the specific loss of parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and even children.
When I think of the thousands of lives this virus has claimed and the grief their family and friends are feeling, it resonates deeply with me as someone still experiencing this most heartbreaking of all emotions.
Sadly, another person’s grief often makes people in our culture feel uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say or do, so some say nothing or even disappear until they think you might be “over” it (and sometimes they are gone for good).
Others, particularly if you are still grieving past some arbitrary date in in their minds (not yours) when you should be “feeling better,” practice a little armchair psychology and let you know exactly what you should (or shouldn’t) be doing or feeling. They make it known to you, in ways both subtle and overt, that the expiration date on your grief has passed.
You can’t help but wonder if these people are right — that the grief you continue to feel after losing someone you love is somehow unnatural, even shameful — something to be hidden away like a family secret.
It helps to remember that most people aren’t trying to inflict more pain on grieving friends or family members on purpose. They just want us to be our old selves again, without realizing that who we were prior to suffering these terrible losses, no longer exists. Our sense of safety and normalcy have been decimated. The world looks vastly different without the people we love so much.
And the realization, which finally comes to us after the shock dissipates, that we will never see our loved ones again in this life, is beyond any sensation we can describe. The word “agony” might even be an understatement. And this same visceral sense of devastation is likely to strike us for many months and even years after someone we love has died.
The other day, I was shuffling through some papers and a couple of my mother’s grocery lists fell out. She loved to cook and was always pouring through cookbooks and magazines for new recipes. Seven months after her death, the surprise appearance of my mother’s handwriting nearly brought me to my knees.
Thankfully, the feeling of being on fire with grief slowly fades over time. But it will always hurt, and we will always miss the people we have lost. The friends and relatives who understand this are the ones who help us the most.
These are the people who call and write long after others have gone on with their own lives, or are just gone, period. They know how to simply be with us, to sit with us in our pain and suffering. They know it isn’t what they do or say that comforts us, but their willingness to listen and to accept us as we are, wherever we are in the grief process, which is as individual as snowflakes. And they realize that one day, we will find our new “normal,” and life will go on for us — maybe not like before, but with a renewed sense that life itself is precious, and joy is still possible to find and to feel.
Again, I am not a specialist when it comes to dealing with grief, only a grieving daughter. All over the world right now, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors, are grieving the loss of their loved ones to COVID-19. As a society, we must give ourselves and others permission to grieve not only our departed loved ones, but the world we knew before this pandemic struck.
We must also find opportunities to be there for each other in ways that are healing and helpful rather than distancing and rejecting. Grief is a natural human response to loss, and no one should ever feel rushed to get “through” it or ashamed to share our feelings of grief for whomever or whatever we have loved and lost.