Grief is a feeling most of us experience when we lose something or someone important in our life. During this time, the sense of grief can be overwhelming, but remember you’re not alone. Please take a few minutes to read through this letter from our O2X Human Performance Specialist and Resilience Expert, Maria Trozzi, for some advice on coping and overcoming feelings of grief.
Dear Parents, Guardians and Child care-givers,
By now, I suspect many of you would acknowledge that the expression ‘cabin fever’ has new meaning for you. By now, hopefully, you’ve found a familiarity in your days, perhaps even a rhythm that provides some comfort. You have discovered some strategies that help you to get through each day; writing an agenda (even though it may be quite similar to yesterday’s), limiting news coverage, reaching out to old and new friends in a variety of electronic ways, practicing self-kindness (reminding yourself that you are doing your best), walking outdoors when weather permits, and taking a five minute deep breath. (all while many of you are working from home.)
And by now, (unless you are Mother Theresa), you’ve had at least one major meltdown with another adult and your children have had several. As you know, it’s a lot….
Some of you know that for nearly thirty years, my work, as co-founder and former director of the Good Grief Program at Boston Medical Center, has focused on helping families, schools, and communities face crises of loss in a way that promotes resilience.
Hopefully you have not lost a loved one as a result of Covid-19. Surely, some of you know a relative or a friend who has the virus. This alone makes the pandemic real. What to do?
We remind ourselves daily that if by doing what science has taught us to do, with any luck, we and our loved ones will escape the tragic loss of life. And, if you are a numbers person as I am, you get solace in remembering that 98% of those who are positive for the virus recover completely. Whew.
So, where’s the grief? We are grieving the loss of normalcy we have not felt in weeks. We are grieving the uncertainty of future plans- proms, graduations, weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, summer camps for our kids (oh, please…. let there be summer camps!). Our plans for next month, and a new season are written in pencil only…. The answers you and I yearn for aren’t available to us yet. What will virtual graduation look like? How will our children catch up? Will my ‘rainy day’ fund be enough for the months ahead? What if my parents get sick?
We grieve our former, familiar sense of well-being; that all is good enough, and that we have control of our comings and goings.
I think it’s okay, in fact, it’s helpful to understand that the discomfort and weighty feeling we may feel from day to evening to day again is grief. I imagine us carrying our ‘grief’ in boulder filled back-backs. It makes our days longer, our moods scratchy, our burden heavier. And it’s always there….
Intellectually we know that we can be grateful for plenty. Lots of people not too far away are suffering, losing loved ones, fighting on the front lines to save lives, losing businesses and losing a paycheck. We know the pandemic had a beginning and it will have an end, however far away. But how about our feelings as we slog through each day? That’s another story. Our sadness? Our anger? Our fear? Our exhaustion? Is it possible to lighten the load?
I think yes.
All in the Same Boat?
We have been told that we are ‘alone-together’. For me, this conjures up being in the same boat. Except, actually some may have a kayak and others a yacht. Again, only you know your situation- and your capacities to cope. Were you already coping with loss? Depression/ Anxiety? Financial insecurity? A health issue, for you or your loved ones? What are your support systems?
Grief is idiosyncratic. There is no right way to feel as we go through this. My guess is that how we typically cope with loss of control, cabin fever, financial worries, difficult decisions, is how we will face these feelings now. As I am known to say, “In a crisis, a giraffe doesn’t become a lion; he gets taller.” Consider what helps us when we feel overwhelmed? anxious? sad? Who is our ‘go to’ person when we need to ask for help? Our primary care physician? A counselor? A clergy? They are here for us.
Prior losses and other external stressors inform how we cope with this crisis. Picture a tall glass, over-full with water, right to the very top. Now picture the same glass with only two thirds full with water. The first represents much of my patient load—they are coping with COVID-19 on top of their losses. The latter represents me and several of us… Life was going swell until COVID-19. Many of us (lucky ones) have more bandwith that allows us to cope easier when the cellar floods from a sump pump that overheated from the recent rain storm.
What can we do?
1) NAME IT. You may be surprised but by writing down all the stuff you are missing during this isolation period and all that you worry about in an uncertain future, it will feel and be more manageable. As Fred Rogers told me and you, “ If it’s unmentionable, it’s unmanageable.” Make a list. Add to it as needed. Say it out loud.
2) Talk with your partner or friend. Tell him/her what you are most troubled by, what you worry about. Sharing our feelings doesn’t change the situation but DOES help us feel less alone. Besides, nothing good comes from those thoughts bouncing around in your head. Let them out.
3) Reach out and (don’t) touch someone. When I facetime with my grandchildren and my family and friends, new and old, I just feel better.
4) Sleep enough (7-8 hours).
5) Move your body. Yes, you can. Every day.
6) Although it’s tempting, stop being the Police for everyone you see or hear who is not ‘social distancing’ as instructed. It’s bringing you down.
7) Find anything that comforts you (and isn’t destructive) and overload when you need to. For me, it’s music, which has an uncanny ability to lift my mood- (As I write I am listening to my Spotify playlists.) For my husband, it’s Ben and Jerry’s coconut almond fudge.
8) Repeat 1-7.
Are we there yet?
I so wish I could imagine when I will be able to hug my grandchildren, welcome friends to my home, plan beach time…. plan the vacations that were put on hold….basically live the way I want to live, go where I want to go, do what I choose, (get my roots covered).
Over three decades, I have learned from hundreds of grieving patients that all things are possible. In time. Often with learned acceptance and patience. But, in the ‘repair’ or resolution lies hidden gifts. We just don’t know what they are, or what they will look like, or when they will appear. Something to live for.
Maria Trozzi, M.Ed
O2X Human Performance Specialist
Author,Talking with Children About Loss,Penguin-Putnam
Co-Founder, Good Grief Program at Boston Medical Center
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine
Program Director, Joanna’s Place
Psychotherapist/Grief and Resilience Specialist