A Collective Grief

Recently I was in conversation with a friend. We mentioned current events, and she admitted that she had been feeling quite sad as of late, and even issues unrelated to current topics seemed to be surfacing and getting her down. For myself, having recently experienced my sixth miscarriage, and having supported a number of grieving women through pregnancy loss, her response (though having nothing to do with miscarriage), made a lot of sense to me. I recognized it immediately as grief. In fact, I would venture to say that our whole nation is experiencing a sort of collective grief right now.  Even for those who have not personally lost a loved one in the pandemic, who have not experienced economic upheaval, who are not members of George Floyd’s family, or who are not directly impacted by the events occurring since his death, may still be experiencing grief. Obviously it is a different level and kind of grief than those more directly impacted by these events experience, but it is a grief nonetheless. So I thought it would  be appropriate to share a few things I’ve learned about grief.

  1. You can postpone grief, but you can’t avoid it entirely. It’s not healthy to shove it down and pretend everything is okay. It’s also not healthy to tell yourself you have no right to grieve. Even though others might have it a lot worse than you, and we certainly want to keep things in perspective, likely every person in our country has lost a way of life and the loss of what they thought their lives would be like right now.  Obviously, Black, Indigenous, and other persons of color have a whole complicated set of emotions and reactions right now, but even White people are grieving. From my perspective, I’ve seen a number of White people losing their sense of innocence about the extent of racism and how much people of color still are affected by it, whether outrightly or through implicit bias. As Black people and other minorities spoke about their personal experiences of injustice and racism en masse, I saw a number of White people genuinely shocked and surprised. For me, I was surprised at White people’s surprise, but I wasn’t surprised by stories of racism. I myself would be incredibly shocked if any visible minority in the US has not experienced racism, but I would also guess that the darker one’s color, the more racism they have experienced. The point is, however, whatever our skin color, we probably all have a lot of complicated emotions happening right now, (some more complicated than others), but whatever they are I think you have a right to feel them. So, feel your feelings. It’s okay.
  2.  I’ve said this before, but I think I should say it again. For every new grief you experience, all previous griefs that have not been fully dealt with will come up and you will have the old grief added to the new. (This is why it’s really important to allow the grief to come in the first place.) Like my friend discovered, experiencing the hardships and losses of the present are going to bring up unrelated losses. I’m sure that, for a lot of people, tons of stuff is rising to the surface right now. Again, feel them, and try to deal with them in healthy ways.
  3. We’ve all been experiencing several months now of disruption, and that’s not even taking into account any kind of issues that we might have been experiencing before everything started. If there’s one thing repeated miscarriage has taught me, is that it’s okay to take a break from sadness.  Sometimes when we are deep in grief, in quick moments when laughter occurs or joy seems to be rising to the surface, we can be tempted to push that down too, feeling like we shouldn’t feel joy right now. Something that has been helpful for me, is to consciously allow both sorrow and joy, and maybe even to schedule both if needed. I’ve had times when I was grieving and all I wanted was to lie in bed and cry, but I had little kids to take care of, so I had to pull myself together and just do what needed to be done. Maybe I had a job to go to and I needed to not be a blubbering mess. In those times, it was helpful to schedule grief, that is, to actually set aside a time when I would feel all my feelings, and cry, and do what I felt I needed to do to mourn. At other times, when I felt like grief had settled over me and accompanied me wherever I went and whatever I did, it was helpful to consciously allow and even schedule joy. Maybe that meant allowing myself enjoy a gathering with friends for an evening, or even letting myself laugh while watching a comedy at home.

I’ve learned that soul-wrenching grief can happen simultaneously with soul-filling joy. One doesn’t necessarily exclude the other, and, in fact, in this life, those two usually go together and exist in the same moment. However, if we can allow ourselves space to feel our own feelings, process our thoughts, and to listen and try to understand the perspectives of others, I believe we will all be the better for it. Peace.

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