At This Point in COVID-19: Living with Loss
When it comes to our experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of us are “living with loss”.
The experience of living through COVID-19 and the pandemic has led to pretty significant losses for very many of us, and yet we may not be used to thinking of them as losses. The pandemic may lead to changes in our pattern of life, and we may think of these as impositions, or as adaptations or adjustments that we would rather not make. Yet often, they can be more than this.
Today, I was out on an errand, and I drove by a major intersection in Oakville, where a large colourful resto-pub with an outdoor beer garden is located. It was a pleasant enough early spring day. On a normal spring Sunday, you’d expect to see families enjoying a lunch or brunch, and groups of friends laughing, joking and enjoying one another’s company, with friendly hospitable staff winding their way between the tables. But, alas, today there was none of that, because, once again, we’re facing a stay-at-home order here in Ontario, which has closed down restaurants for all but take out.
As I drove by and realized this, I felt a distinct sense of sadness. Why, exactly? It’s not that I personally couldn’t go sit at the outdoor seating. It was much more that something that I’d expect to see as part of the delight of the gradually lengthening days of spring was painfully absent. Initially, I didn’t recognize that there was a dimension of grief around this experience—yet it was most certainly there.
Many of our experiences of loss and grief at this time have this kind of initially hidden character. It isn’t until we really acknowledge and stay with what we’re feeling that we can really understand what’s going on.
What Loss or Grief Does to Us
It may sound like playing with words, but the experience of loss leaves us bereft. There is the sense of a “hole” or absence in our lives of which we may or may not be conscious. As renowned grief expert Dr. William J. Worden asserts, there are four challenges with which loss or grief confronts us:
- Accepting the reality of the loss;
- Experiencing the pain of the loss;
- Adjusting to the new situation; and,
- Emotionally investing in the new state of affairs.
Unlike some models of grief, Worden sees these four challenges as states that we can go back and forth between rather than stages that we pass through in a sequence.
As I hinted at above, with COVID-19 issues, we can get stuck in failing to accept or acknowledge the reality of the losses that we’ve incurred. It can be very easy to not recognize or acknowledge that we’ve actually experienced a loss. We write it off as an “inconvenience” or a “frustration”. When it involves our sense of social connection to others, or our sense of security and and our sense of a predictable, manageable future, what we’re experiencing is not inconvenience—it’s loss.
Heaviness, Hope and Self-Care
Depth case studiess know that individuals living with loss are often burdened by a sense of immobilization and heaviness. Again, this can often go unnoticed by the person suffering or grieving the loss. This is especially true with the sense of loss that stems from many different situations in the pandemic, because people are often completely unsure of whether it’s legitimate for them to acknowledge or grieve any of their losses. So, what people are often left with is a sense of heaviness or stuckness that they just can’t explain. We commonly don’t know what to do with it.
As grief experts often observe, the “heaviness” of grief can sap our motivation to reach out to others. This can be a particularly big difficulty during the pandemic, when we’re already challenged to connect with others as a result of social distancing, closures etc. It can be essential for us to creatively find some means of social connection, as a means of sharing our losses and finding meaning within them.
Last week’s blog post discussed the importance of social contact in maintaining our hope, and that is also an important part of living with loss. Another thing that is essential to keeping our hope is self-care. Working out what exactly that means for each of us individually, and then developing some concrete ways to care for ourselves is an essential part of self-compassion in our place and time.
Meaning and Our Losses
Also, we should not lose sight of the element of meaning on the journey of living with loss. Finding meaning in what we experience is centrally important, especially as we deal with grief and as we go through major life transitions.
Often in life, finding meaning in what we are undergoing involves exploring what is undiscovered. It can often be that learning something, or exploring something previously unknown is a way of finding meaning in the face of loss. This might mean exploring something unfamiliar or creating a new pattern or routine in our lives. It might also mean deepening an already existing commitment to something valuable, and exploring aspects of ourselves that we haven’t opened up before.
One of the fundamental elements of Jungian /a-midlife-transition is finding meaning in our individual lives. This certainly includes the centrally important soul work of finding meaning in our experiences of living with loss. A supportive therapeutic relationship can be central to finding the means of living with loss during the pandemic period and beginning to integrate it into our journey to wholeness.
Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,