At long last we have a national leader in charge, who is capable of acknowledging our collective grief and the need to mourn our losses. Apart from how his administration goes on to govern, Biden’s self-declared first responsibility of leadership suggests that now more than ever, we need to educate ourselves about the most optimal and empathic ways to deal with grief. Indeed, as many of us recognize, grief has multiple disguises and often shows up in a whole range and depth of feeling states.
Coping with death is full of anguish and challenge, but the journey is facilitated by our death rituals and ceremonies. Electronic flickers of contact are no substitute for communal mourning. Zoom screens and keyboard strokes can help, but can never replace hugs and in-person expressions of sympathy. The pandemic has imposed powerful constraints on our mourning rituals, increasing the risks for prolonged and complicated bereavement. In fact, grief that has been held-back, put-off or attenuated, instead of witnessed (protected and confirmed), is grief that often winds up distorted and displaced, leading to other problems in life adjustment.
To be sure, we cannot lump everything we’re experiencing into the grief category. Clearly, there are many more tensions, anxieties, questions, and complexities than grief alone now. But, it’s critical to attend to our bereavement needs in order to identify and begin mourning our losses. The social isolation, senselessness, and powerlessness that Covid has exacted, can certainly debilitate and even disable our natural recovery processes, and leave us numb, confused or just shut down.
Rarely have we had to go through such deep revisions of our daily habits, choices, and assumptions. One of the most critical and yet often unrecognized losses we’ve had to endure is the implicit expectation that life is relatively predictable; that we have a modicum of control over what happens to us, and that we can protect our loved ones from harm. Under these normal conditions, the world makes sense and appears basically benevolent, yet the pandemic has starkly revealed just how fragile these narratives can be.
On the other hand, perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic is that it might jolt us out of our complacencies and conditions we all have taken for granted, and into deeper self-discovery. Hopefully, this plunge into our inevitable (and shared) mortality has prompted life-review and a deep examination of important feelings and values upon which to seriously reflect. I believe there are illuminating and life-changing lessons to be learned from such introspection! One such lesson is that we will best recover by walking this difficult road together.