Grief — The Other Pandemic

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COVID19 is not the only pandemic we are currently experiencing. There is also a pandemic of grief, and it is not only because we are grieving the deaths of those we love, but also because we are grieving all the other losses we’ve experienced as well. Additionally, COVID has greatly complicated our grief processes.

Understanding Grief

When we think of grief, we think about mourning the deaths of people we love. During our grief process, we are faced with accepting the reality of losing that person, which can be especially challenging if their death was sudden or unexpected. We’re also flooded with a variety of emotions that can be very intense and confusing. You might feel a strange combination of sadness, anger, or even fear. Grief is experienced differently by different people, but working through that thunderstorm of emotions is necessary for all of us.

Sometimes we try to avoid dealing with our emotions when we lose someone. We might just bottle up our feelings and try to ignore them. We might believe that we need to keep it together so we can be strong for everyone else. We might be uncomfortable crying or showing emotion in front of others. Or we might be in a crisis situation where it would be unsafe to be emotional — like a soldier in a combat zone or a nurse or doctor who needs to be able to keep treating other patients. Regardless of the reason, when we avoid dealing with our grief, it is called inhibited grief.

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The problem with this is that grief eventually demands that we deal with it, even if it is years later. Inhibiting our grief is a temporary fix. Just because we bottle it up and ignore it does not mean that it goes away. Unresolved grief lives within us and will eventually come pouring out. This can be confusing and might make you wonder why you are suddenly so emotional about something that happened a long time ago. When this happens, it is called delayed grief.

There are times when we are not able to work through our grief and all the assorted emotions and adjustments that it requires. It feels like we get “stuck” in our grief, like we can’t seem to get past it and move forward. Some people feel too emotionally overwhelmed to go to work or school. Some struggle with their marriages and other relationships. Some try to cope in really dangerous and unhealthy ways. And others may even think about ending their own lives. This is called complicated grief.

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It’s important to also understand that grief is not just about death. We can go through a grieving process anytime we experience a significant loss. We grieve divorces and break-ups, the loss of a job or a home we loved, loss of our driving privileges, or leaving behind our hometown when we move away. It’s natural for us to grieve when we lose things that are dear or important to us.

Current Events and the Pandemic of Grief

COVID19 not only created grief but also complicated it. It’s difficult enough to wrap our minds around the number of lives lost, but let’s also consider that, for each person who died, there is usually at least one person left behind to grieve. Some who died left behind dozens of mourners. If we were to do the math on this, we would clearly see that there is a staggering number of grieving people in our world right now.

But grief isn’t just limited to lives lost to COVID. Everyday, people die of heart attacks, cancer, and strokes, as well as in car crashes, freak accidents, overdoses, and suicides; and their loved ones mourn for them as well. But this isn’t all. As a global community, we are also dealing with terrorism, war, gang violence, racism and mass shootings. A condominium collapses, leaving a community to mourn multiple losses. Shots are fired in a high school, leaving a community in shock and grappling with traumatic grief. Tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, and wildfires are claiming both lives and homes and leaving behind destruction … and grief.

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During the COVID19 pandemic, many people lost their jobs, their homes, and their financial stability. They lost family businesses that had been in operation for generations. They lost opportunities for major celebrations like weddings and graduations. And they lost opportunities to be present with their loved ones and say their goodbyes as they died in hospitals and nursing homes, separated from their families. COVID restrictions also limited their ability to have public funerals where they would have received the social and emotional support they needed — all of this greatly complicated their grief.

How This Contributed to Our Conflict and Division

Everyone lost something during the COVID19 pandemic, even if it were just the freedom to go where we wanted to go and do what we wanted to do. We all had to do things differently — teachers had to learn how to teach virtually, some of us had to adjust to working from home (with spouses and kids and critters), and we all had to wear masks whether we agreed with the rule or not. Everything was suddenly different, which was stressful and confusing for us all. People panicked and hoarded toilet paper. Kids and teens couldn’t see their friends in person. Workplaces had to swiftly adapt. Borders were closed between countries. Non-essential businesses were closed. Vacations ceased. And no one knew what was going to happen next.

This swirling environment of change, fear, and stress, combined with the heartbreak of multiple losses, overwhelmed our ability to work through our grief. It is my professional opinion that our society, as a whole, is struggling with complicated grief. We had not worked through the grief of one loss before another occurred — and another and another.

When we couldn’t be there, exhausted medical professionals stood beside the bedsides of our loved ones as they died. They saw so much death, and as humans, they feelings about it. But they had to keep going — they couldn’t stop and deal with emotions. They have inhibited a vast amount of grief for the patients they lost.

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Because we all lost something, the emotions of grief came upon us all — denial, fear, anger, bargaining, depression. Some were able to work through their grief and come to a place of acceptance. Others were not. These turned on each other, unleashing a flood of anger that has resulted in hostility and division. When we are emotionally overwhelmed, we have very little patience or tolerance. And when we are exhausted, we are easily irritated. When we bottle up our feelings, they often morph into anger. And anger is always searching for a target.

All the events going on in our world left many of us feeling uncertain and fearful. We looked to leaders we trusted for guidance and, when it came, we latched onto it for dear life. Being already emotionally overwhelmed, we began to lose patience with those who disagreed with us, and they quickly became the target for our anger.

How to Turn This Around

It’s time that we stop the madness. We have to grieve, but we don’t have to hate each other — and people who disagree do not have to be enemies. It is a perilous thing indeed, when we choose hatred. Voice your concerns, but do it with love and compassion. Debate your differences of opinion, but do it with respect.

  1. We all need to work through our grief. This will mean accepting the reality of what we lost, processing the pain of that loss, adjusting to a world without that person or thing, and finding a way to move on. If you get stuck in your grief, ask for help.
  2. Help others with their grief. They may need someone to listen or a shoulder to cry on. Provide that support. The sooner we can begin to heal as individuals, the sooner our society will begin to heal as well.
  3. When you begin to feel frustrated with others, remind yourself that you might not know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. You might have no idea about their struggles or losses. Maybe they act the way they do because they need to heal. At least offer them the benefit of the doubt.

Published by Julie Bailey, LCPC

I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in the state of Illinois. I hold a master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I'm an author and a clinical manager and my life goal is to help you live your best life possible. I get excited about the daffodils in the spring and the colorful leaves in the fall (I mean like ridiculously excited). I enjoy genealogy, old cemeteries, loud music, and trivia, and I refuse to ever outgrow Harry Potter. I am an empath, which means that I literally feel the pain of others, and from time to time, this requires a visit to a quiet beach so that the wind and waves can soothe my soul.

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