Grief and Acceptance During the Coronavirus

The world as we knew it has been flipped upside down and may not return back to “normal” for a long time, if ever. This is upsetting for most of us. We feel as if we have been deprived of our day-to-day lives and privileges for reasons we are not responsible for. It’s ok to not know what you are exactly sad about because of the uncertainty that lies ahead, but what can be acknowledged in this moment is that we are experiencing grief.

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As we sit in quarantine, chewing on the idea of what life has become, because quite frankly we’re too bored to do much else, we reflect on our previous lives, and mourn them. We don’t know what is happening and when it will end. There are so many terrible and sad things in the headlines that it can be hard to keep your chin up and proceed through the day and muster a smile. It feels as though there are more reasons to be sad than happy, which is valid. We are separated from our friends and loved ones, we cannot enjoy our normal routines, and millions of Americans are experiencing the economic damage to top it off. While this may all sound negative, there can be hope. We all know that the last stage of grief is Acceptance, and there are ways to get there. Acknowledging our current situation is a part of the process. As Scott Berinato from the Harvard Business Review shares in his article “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”,

Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

Berinato writes that seeing the stages of grief is a crucial part to managing the distress we are experiencing. Each stage of grief can be applied to the situations we are living through the coronavirus. Berinato outlines some examples, “There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.” It is within acceptance that we can begin to manage our lives while acknowledging the circumstances. We begin to find ways to fill our time or prevent getting the virus and being innovative with ways to stay connected with the people in our lives. And it is in this stage that we build resilience.

Staying grounded can help us be present and not stuck wallowing in the past. Journaling after each day forces us to reflect on what today was and what its presence means. The days can blend together, but every day should mean something different, should be a step towards acceptance whether that be a day where you are navigating virtual work with a good attitude, or mourning the Cinco de Mayo plans you had. Keep in mind how much power our attitudes to the present have on our mindset.

Sometimes we suppress our feelings of sadness because there are people in the world who have it much worse off than we do. That way of thinking can diminish the validity of our emotions. Affirm to yourself that there are many experiencing pain…and you are also feeling a type of pain that it is completely legitimate. Don’t diminish your feelings; you can feel a certain way while also having compassion. Compassion and giving can make us feel better too. If you are feeling lost and as though you don’t have much to contribute to humanity, help out. Donate, write letters to health care workers, order a pizza to be delivered to your local fire station. While I can’t promise it will make life go back to normal, it will give you some meaning, help others, and maybe inspire some hope and acceptance.

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