That nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach. The worry that you just can’t shake. The anxiety that you’re feeling. It’s easy to recognize stress, fear, and worry. But at its core, these feelings of stress, fear, or worry could really be expressions of an even deeper emotion—grief. During this time of uncertainty with COVID-19, we are grieving a loss of normalcy; a loss of safety; a loss of finances; a loss of health for people we love and care about deeply; a loss of milestone moments for our kids—graduations, proms, sports; a loss of connectivity to our family and friends; and a loss of events and regular activities that bring us together, allow us time to destress, or provide us with an escape from the daily grind. The list goes on and on with the challenges and changes that our new social distancing practices have put in place. It’s okay to feel these emotions and to recognize your grief. Recognizing your grief does not diminish all that you are thankful for. For example, you can grieve a loss of work but still be thankful for your time with your family—time that you might never would have taken, otherwise. Or you can grieve the expectation that you are now an employee, parent, and teacher all in the same moment while still being thankful that your children are home safe and that you have a job. Grieving one does not lessen your joy of the other. Seasons of life, even the really difficult ones, are not strictly one-sided or black and white. These moments are Bittersweet and point to the fact that something can be both bitter and sweet at the same time. Much like this, joy can exist, intertwine, and mingle right alongside our grief. We can feel the hurt and the loss, yet look around and find moments of joy, happiness and hope. This bittersweet feeling is one that our patients and families often describe. A loss of independence, health, and ability to perform tasks that bring joy can cause grief, but periods of togetherness, closure, acceptance, and comfort can provide sweetness and enrichment to the lives of our patients and their families. Our staff feels this complex grief too – grief upon our patients’ passing but also a comfort and peace that our patients and their families found moments of joy during a difficult time. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, grief expert David Kessler discussed these feelings of grief and how to combat those feelings. To summarize, he said:
- “Find balance in the things you’re thinking.” – Don’t just dwell in the worst-case scenarios. As it relates to the Coronavirus—think not just of the people who will be sick but also of all the people who will not because of our efforts to flatten the curve. As it relates to hospice – think not only of the passing of a loved one but also of the joy that your time with that person has added to your life.
- “Come into the present.” – In this present moment, your anticipatory thoughts are just that—thoughts, which may or may not come to fruition.
- “Let go of what you can’t control.”—Focus on what you can control. As it relates to the Coronavirus – practice social distancing, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face. As it relates to end of life– focus on what you can do, what you can enjoy, and what makes you happy.
- “Stock up on compassion.”—Fear and emotion manifest at pivotal times, such as a pandemic or at end of life. Recognize that a behavior may seem magnified out of fear. Give grace to those who behave out of character due to fear or emotion. Recognize them for who they typically are.