A Collective Grief

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.

Keeping Your Kids Calm During a Crisis

Keeping Kids Calm During a Crisis

It just so happens that I have been re-reading one of my favorite parenting books in preparation for a talk I was scheduled to give at my alma mater next month. I don’t know if the talk will actually proceed as scheduled now, but the book, fortunately enough and so fresh in my mind, has so much excellent advice to parents on what and how much to share with your children about Covid-19.

The excellent book is titled Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne. He has been a school counselor, researcher, and educator, and a family counselor. In the book, he discusses how he had worked with children living in refugee camps in war-torn countries who, with little surprise, exhibited many signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After this time, he then spent some time in a school with children in London, and began to see some surprisingly familiar behaviors.  Payne writes:

I had been trained to associate PTSD with very large wartime events, with life-changing traumas that leave their victims shaken in no small measure. My work over the last twenty years has taken me to many war-torn areas: Africa, Israel, and Northern Ireland, as well as to Russia and Hungary during and just after perestroika. I didn’t expect to find “War-torn” children in this relatively affluent area in England, but sure enough, that’s what I was finding. What struck me first were the similarities in the problematic behaviors adopted by these seemingly disparate groups of children. After so many instances of clinical deja vu, I couldn’t ignore my instincts. Certain of the symptoms and behaviors, I was becoming more and more convinced of the cause. And as I looked more closely at their lives, I realized that for both groups the sanctity of childhood had been breached. Adult life was flooding in unchecked. Privy to their parents’ fears, drives, ambitions, and the very fast pace of their lives, the children were busy  trying  to construct their own boundaries, their own level of safety in behaviors that weren’t ultimately helpful. The children were suffering form a different kind of war: the undeclared war on childhood. (8)

Payne goes on to explain that the first-world children, though never having experienced the horrors of the refugee children, nevertheless, experienced such a consistent threshold of small stresses, and rarely dissipating, that they developed a form of PTSD, that Payne coined, Cumulative Stress Reaction, or CSR for short.

Nadia in tree (1)

The cause of CSR was too much. Children’s lives are often led at the same pace as adult life with too much information, too many possessions, too-filled schedules, and too few grounding rhythms. The rest of the book is dedicated to explaining how many families have been able to reduce or entirely alleviate their children’s behavior problems by implementing a program of simplification.

Although I recommend the whole book, the one aspect I’d like to discuss in this post is Payne’s advice to protect our children (and their childhoods) by being careful of how much information is presented to them. Payne describes how one couple was so proud of their “citizen of the world son” who was incredibly well-informed about the issue of climate change and seemed to be on his way toward becoming a little activist. Payne writes, “James’s understanding of global warming seemed to rival Al Gore’s. That much was apparent. James was also, clearly, becoming a very anxious little fellow.” (4) Payne advocates treating childhood as a sacred time to be safeguarded and protected which allows for the slow development of identity, well-being, and resiliency.

One aspect of children is that they exist so effortlessly fully immersed in the present moment. The younger the child, the more “in the moment” they are. However, not having lived life long enough, children don’t have the perspective of adulthood that comes with time. We may have learned that there are times in life that can be really challenging, but the difficulty doesn’t last forever and things can get better. Children may not know the human history of survival. They may not know of past generations surviving war, threat of starvation, plague, natural disasters, and all the other things anyone’s ancestors are sure to have experienced. For children, when the “now” is scary and uncertain, it can be so much more stressful than for an adult.

Mateo and cake

The solution then, is to protect childhood. Don’t give your kids all the information. Tell them what they really need to know. Obviously probably nearly every child in our country has been affected by the pandemic, there is a certain amount of information they need to know. Don’t lie to them, but don’t make them privy to too much information. They don’t need to hear about the coffins piling up in Italy, the numbers of people dying around the world. They don’t need minute-by-minute updates from the constantly-on news channel on how fast the virus is spreading and if its getting ever closer and closer to you or spreading there. Tell them the necessary information, but strive to make your home a safe place, safe from Covid but also safe from the stress of too much information.

In this time when so many adults must be feeling enormous stress and many must be facing the real possibility of losing their livelihoods, protect your children from these fears and burdens until they need to become informed of them. Confide your fears, worries, and stresses in other adults, and protect your children’s childhoods. Of course children will experience some stress—it is part of life—but by safeguarding childhood from the constantly encroaching adult world, we are actually wiring them for resiliency.


Work Cited:

Payne, Kim John. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2009)